Tag:Blue Jays
Posted on: June 1, 2011 5:45 pm
Edited on: June 1, 2011 5:58 pm

Jose Bautista: The best player you have heard of

Just a few days back, someone sent me a note on Twitter complaining about All-Star balloting.

"Laughable at best," he said.

Normally, I might agree. But not this week.

Not when the fans make Jose Bautista the leading vote-getter in all of baseball.

Not when Bautista can get more votes than Albert Pujols or Derek Jeter or anybody else in the game, the same week that Time magazine runs a story headlined, "Jose Bautista: The best baseball player you've never heard of."

There's a long way to go before the voting ends, but by June 1 last year, Joe Mauer was already the leading vote-getter. And Mauer ended up on top, with Jeter second and Pujols close behind him. And Bautista -- or any other Blue Jay -- was nowhere close.

That's what makes the Bautista voting even better. This never happens with a Toronto player.

No Blue Jay has ever finished first overall in the voting, not even in the World Series years in the early 1990s. The Blue Jays have had fewer starters elected than any American League team but the Rays, who have 20 years less history.

Last year, Vernon Wells was the leading Blue Jay in voting. He was 58th overall (and with fewer votes than Bautista has already).

Even this year, while Bautista has 1,261,659 votes, no other Blue Jays player has more than 320,874.

This isn't a team stuffing the ballot box. This is a whole bunch of fans recognizing a guy who deserves recognition.

This is a whole bunch of fans, as it turns out, proving Time magazine wrong.

You have heard of Jose Bautista. And you voted for him.

Good for him. And good for you.

Posted on: May 23, 2011 8:36 pm
Edited on: May 24, 2011 9:17 am

He hits HRs, but Bautista is also 'Jays' Jeter'

NEW YORK -- You know that five-year, $65 million contract the Blue Jays gave Jose Bautista last winter?

I thought it was a mistake. Now I'm starting to think it was a bargain.

And not just because he has 19 home runs.

This guy is special.

"Face of the franchise," second baseman Aaron Hill said.

"Our Derek Jeter," another Blue Jays person said.

And the best part is, they weren't even talking about his amazing stats, the majors-leading home run total, the .353 batting average or 1.330 OPS.

In fact, when I asked first-year Blue Jays first-base coach Torey Lovullo what impresses him most about Bautista, he never mentioned anything he does at the plate.

"He's as complete a player as I've seen," Lovullo said. "He never fails to back up a base. He always hits the cutoff man. He goes first to third. He should win a gold glove in right field."

The Blue Jays played Bautista at third base almost all spring, but they never worried about moving him back to the outfield at the last minute because they felt so good about how good a feel he has for the position.

Hill said he loves the way Bautista works, how he "wants to be perfect in practice." He said that when Bautista speaks up in the clubhouse, everyone listens.

Another Blue Jays player talked glowingly about the way Bautista relates to both the Latin American players and to the American players. And about how he runs hard every time, just as he did on two pop-ups Monday night.

And Blue Jays broadcaster Buck Martinez said Bautista "is putting his fingerprints on this team."

Yeah, that's the kind of guy you want to keep around. That's the kind of guy you should feel good about giving $65 million.

It may turn out to be a bargain.

Category: MLB
Posted on: May 23, 2011 8:09 pm
Edited on: May 23, 2011 8:41 pm

Hitting home runs -- but not like Barry Bonds

NEW YORK -- The major-league home run leader looks like a normal guy, sounds like a normal guy and acts like a normal guy.

Same with the guy who is second.

Except for their bulging home run totals, could Jose Bautista and Curtis Granderson be any less like Barry Bonds?

They're friendly with the media, great with their teammates. They're good outfielders and good baserunners, and they're not bulked up like cartoon characters.

And they're still hitting home runs, at a rate that makes you think a 60-homer season is possible, for the first time in this post-Bonds, steroid-testing era.

"It's great for the game," said Blue Jays broadcaster Buck Martinez, a former player and manager. "It sends a great message. These guys are baseball players."

The Blue Jays list Bautista at 6-0, 195, but Monday night he hit his 19th home run. Bautista has missed eight games (five with back spasms, three to tend to a family matter), but he's still just the third player in the last 10 years with 19 home runs in his team's first 47 games. (Albert Pujols in 2006 and Alex Rodriguez in 2007 are the others.)

The Yankees list Granderson at 6-1, 185, but he had 16 home runs in the team's first 45 games. That's the same number Roger Maris had after 45 games in 1961, the same number Babe Ruth had after 45 games in 1927.

"The predictions have been crazy," Granderson said. "After I hit one on opening day, my buddy texted me and told me I was on pace for 162. I never get involved in that stuff."

Like Bautista, he always insists that he doesn't think of himself as a home run hitter and that he never goes to the plate thinking home run. Unlike Bautista, who until last year had never hit more than 16 home runs in a season, Granderson homered 30 times for the Tigers in 2009.

When he was traded to the Yankees, and thus to a more favorable home-run ballpark, there were predictions that Granderson would hit 40. But it wasn't until late last year that he started hitting home runs at a big pace.

"He's just reaping the results of his swing," said Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, who worked with Granderson on last year's adjustments. "It's as good as any swing in baseball right now."

If it's the swing with Granderson, it's strike zone discipline and hip rotation with Bautista.

"His hip torque is unbelievable," Long said. "He turns his body almost all the way to the shortstop or the third baseman, and he's still staying behind the ball, which is amazing."

Like Granderson, he generates power without an oversized body.

"Pound for pound, what these guys are doing is amazing," Long said.

Bautista did it all last year, with his majors-leading 54 home runs. And all of us who said he wouldn't hit as many this year (me included) look right now to be totally wrong.

"It's somewhat gratifying," Bautista said. "I guess I'm proving them wrong."

He says that without any venom. Bautista remains interesting, polite and accommodating. Monday, he did two rounds of interviews with New York writers.

He understands that the home runs bring attention, and he knows Granderson will deal with that, too.

"He is a power hitter," Bautista said. "He might as well embrace that."

Bautista and Granderson go back to 2005, when they were winter baseball teammates. It would be wrong to call them close friends, but they are friendly.

And no, in 2005, there was no sign that they'd one day be 1-2 in the big leagues in home runs.

"At that time, we were both just trying to establish ourselves," Granderson said.

Consider them established. And consider baseball the better for it.

Posted on: May 23, 2011 6:08 pm
Edited on: May 23, 2011 6:21 pm

Farrell switches lineup to help Bautista

NEW YORK -- Despite all his home runs, Jose Bautista has just four intentional walks this year.

So teams are still pitching to him?

Not exactly.

Check out this stat: Going into Monday night's game against the Yankees, Bautista had come to the plate 52 times with a runner in scoring position. In 40 percent of those plate appearances -- 21 of 52 -- Bautista walked.

"They're taking the bat out of his hands," manager John Farrell said, explaining why he changed the Blue Jays' lineup Monday, moving Yunel Escobar from leadoff to cleanup, with Rajai Davis leading off and major-league home run leader Bautista remaining in the third spot. "They're not letting him affect the game, especially late in the game.

"There's a very clear and cut strategy with Jose, and we're trying to respond to that."

Adam Lind would be Farrell's first choice to hit behind Bautista, but Lind has been on the disabled list since May 8 with lower back stiffness. Farrell said that Lind could return to the lineup sometime on the seven-game homestand that begins Thursday against the White Sox. Lind has been running in a pool and has swung the bat, and Wednesday he could appear in an extended spring training game.

Until then, maybe Escobar can help.

"With Adam's absence and Jose's continued production, it's becoming very clear what teams are doing," Farrell said.

Bautista's numbers haven't suffered that much in Lind's absence. In 13 games since Lind went on the DL, Bautista has hit .346 with nine home runs and 15 RBI.

Posted on: May 22, 2011 9:07 pm

3 to Watch: The Halladay (and Wood) edition

When Roy Halladay threw nine shutout innings against the Reds last July, he didn't get a win -- because of Travis Wood.

When Halladay threw his playoff no-hitter against the Reds last October, the guy who came closest to getting a hit was Travis Wood.

So how perfect is it that when Halladay goes against the Reds on Wednesday night, for the first time since that playoff no-hitter, his mound opponent that night will be . . . Travis Wood?

It's a big week at Citizens Bank Park, if only because Chase Utley will join the Phillies lineup for the first time on Monday night. But the highlight of the week's schedule comes two nights later, with Roy Halladay against Travis Wood.

When they met in that game last July 10, Wood took a perfect game into the ninth inning, when Carlos Ruiz broke it up with a leadoff double. Halladay allowed five hits that night, in the first game since 2002 where both starting pitchers carried a shutout through nine innings (it happened again earlier this month, with Seattle's Jason Vargas and Baltimore's Zach Britton).

It was a little shocking to see a pitcher come that close to a perfect game against the Phillies.

And it was truly shocking to see a pitcher throw a no-hitter in the playoffs, against a Reds team that had scored the most runs in the National League last year.

Or maybe it wasn't, given how good Halladay looked that night.

"It's not fun being up there trying to hit nothing," Joey Votto said.

And, yes, Wood was the guy who came closest to a hit. Right fielder Jayson Werth had to slide to catch Wood's sinking line drive in the third inning.

Wood didn't start that game for the Reds. He took over for Edinson Volquez in the second inning. And just as he did in that game in July, he held the Phillies without a run and gave up just one hit (in 3 1/3 innings).

Wednesday, he and the Reds get another chance.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Does it surprise you that a year after hitting 54 home runs, Jose Bautista is actually ahead of his 2010 pace? Does it surprise you that Curtis Granderson is second in the major leagues in home runs, behind only Bautista? OK, well does it surprise you that Granderson has hit more home runs on the road than at home, at the famous Yankee Stadium bandbox? Or that Bautista has hit more home runs at Target Field than at Yankee Stadium, in a lot fewer games? Maybe Granderson and Bautista can do something about that this week, starting with Blue Jays at Yankees, Monday night (7:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium. And, speaking of surprises, Bartolo Colon is the Yankees starter.

2. When the Red Sox got swept in Cleveland the first week of the season, we were shocked that the Sox could be off to such a bad start. And we totally ignored the possibility that the Indians were good. Maybe they're not, but seven weeks later, the Indians still have a better record than the Red Sox -- and everyone else in the game. And now here we are again, with Red Sox at Indians, Monday night (7:05 ET) at Progressive Field. We'll notice the Indians this time, especially if Justin Masterson beats the Red Sox again. He's 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA against them since going to Cleveland in the Victor Martinez trade.

3. On that night that Wood carried a perfect game into the ninth inning, the Reds lost to the Phillies, 1-0 in 11 innings. No surprise. The Reds have lost their last eight games in Philadelphia, and 13 of their last 15, heading into the series that includes Reds at Phillies, Wednesday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park. Halladay didn't start all of those games -- but he will start this one.

Posted on: May 1, 2011 7:09 pm

3 to watch: The welcome back edition

The Brewers played all of April without Zack Greinke. The Rays basically played all of April without Evan Longoria.

The Brewers survived. And so did the Rays.

This week, Greinke comes off the disabled list. So does Longoria.

And thanks to the hard work done by their teammates, they come back to teams that were far from buried in their absence.

Greinke, remember, was the biggest addition the Brewers made to a rotation that finished 27th in baseball in ERA last year, and a dead-last 30th the year before. Then Greinke decided to play basketball before spring training, and a broken rib cost him the season's first month.

Without him, the Brewer starters finished April with a 3.56 ERA, good for sixth in baseball.

The Brewers are a game under .500, at 13-14, but in the wacky National League Central, that leaves them only 2 1/2 games out of first place.

The Rays, at 15-13, face the same 2 1/2-game deficit in the American League East. They went an impressive 15-11 without Longoria, set to return Tuesday after missing a full month with an oblique injury.

When Longoria was hurt, the Rays were not only winless, they seemed punchless. Some people (yeah, that would include me) wondered if they'd score any runs without their star third baseman, especially after Manny Ramirez's sudden retirement.

Some people (yeah, that would include me) thought there was a chance the Rays could be buried in the AL East standings by the time Longoria came back.

They scored runs, and they're not buried -- even though the combined OPS of Rays third baseman (mostly Felipe Lopez and Sean Rodriguez) has been .595, worse than every AL team but the Tigers.

Now Longoria is coming back. And so is Greinke.

On to 3 to watch:

1. Two years ago, the Angels finally won a playoff series from the Red Sox. It felt huge. It felt like a big change. And ever since, the Angels basically haven't beaten the Red Sox at anything. They've lost 13 of 14 to Boston from the start of 2010, and they lost free-agent target Carl Crawford to the Red Sox last winter, too. You wonder if that changes this week, especially after Jered Weaver had to scratch from Sunday's start at Tampa Bay because of a stomach virus. Instead, Weaver will start Angels at Red Sox, Monday night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park. Weaver, who has won each of his first six starts, was the only Angels starter the Red Sox didn't face in their four-game sweep a week and half back in Anaheim.

2. Longoria hit .385 last year against Toronto, the opponent when he returns to the lineup in Blue Jays at Rays, Tuesday night (6:40 ET) at Tropicana Field. Then again, maybe last year's numbers mean nothing. After all, Jose Bautista hit .233 last year against the Rays, and his four home runs in 18 games were the fewest he hit against any AL East opponent. In his first three games against the Rays this year, Bautista was 6-for-8, with three home runs.

3. Greinke was well aware of how the Brewer starters pitched in his absence. "I was thinking, 'Do they even want me back, or are they going to make him stay down there a little while longer?'" he told reporters covering the Brewers. No, one month without Greinke was plenty, and the team will welcome him back for Brewers at Braves, Wednesday night (7:10 ET) at Turner Field. Manager Ron Roenicke said Greinke would be limited at about 90 pitches, but that may not be a problem. This is a guy who once threw a complete-game shutout, with 10 strikeouts, on just 104 pitches, and had another complete-game win, with 12 strikeouts, on 105 pitches.

Posted on: April 14, 2011 9:49 pm
Edited on: April 14, 2011 9:53 pm

3 to watch: The Rangers pitching edition

Remember last winter, when the Rangers were going to sign Cliff Lee, or trade for Zack Greinke or Matt Garza?

Remember this spring, when the Rangers began spring training with just two spots set in their starting rotation?

Remember the end of spring training, when Tommy Hunter's injury left a hole in the Ranger rotation?

Well, forget it. All of it.

Forget that anyone was ever concerned that the Rangers wouldn't be able to pitch enough to support their great offense.

While the Yankees worry about Phil Hughes and the Red Sox worry about Daisuke Matsuzaka, this is what the Rangers have gotten from the back end of their rotation: six starts, six wins, and a 1.15 ERA.

Red Sox people raved about Matt Harrison after he shut down the Sox in his first start. Orioles people raved about Derek Holland after he held the O's scoreless in his second start. And in two starts, Alexi Ogando has yet to allow a run to anyone.

"The way they've been throwing, they don't need anyone [else]," Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis said.

"I don't think people realize the depth they have in pitching," O's manager (and one-time Rangers manager) Buck Showalter said. "They've covered the what-ifs very well."

The Rangers visit the Yankees this weekend for the first time since last year's American League Championship Series, and they won't start any of the four starters they used in the ALCS. Instead, it'll be Harrison, Holland and Ogando.

And that's not bad.

On to 3 to watch:

1. Remember, Troy Tulowitzki is a notorious slow starter. In his first four full big-league seasons, he hit seven April home runs. That's seven in four years. Now he has seven home runs and 14 RBI, with 14 April games still remaining on the Rockies schedule. The next six of those will be home games, starting with Cubs at Rockies, Friday night (8:40 ET) at Coors Field. For his career, Tulowitzki has a .926 OPS at Coors, vs. .804 on the road, but this year he has five homers in his first seven road games. One more Tulowitzki fact to think about: Over his last 41 games, dating back to last Sept. 2 (basically one-quarter of a season), he has 22 home runs and 54 RBI.

2. Things have been so bad in Boston that the Red Sox welcomed a Wednesday rainout that basically gave them back-to-back days off. "I don't think that will hurt one bit," manager Terry Francona told reporters. So it'll be interesting to see how the Sox react this weekend against the Blue Jays. It'll be even more interesting to see whether Josh Beckett follows up on his strong start last Sunday against the Yankees, when he starts in Blue Jays at Red Sox, Saturday afternoon (1:05 ET) at Fenway Park. Beckett wasn't good against many teams last year, but he hasn't beaten the Jays in six starts since 2007, going 0-3 with an 11.85 ERA.

3. Of all the new Rangers starters, Ogando is the most interesting, and not just because he has yet to allow a run (and, in two starts, has allowed just a .298 opponents OPS). Ogando is the guy who replaced Hunter in the rotation at the end of spring training. He's also the guy who signed with the A's as an outfielder, got caught up in a visa fraud and couldn't get out of the Dominican Republic for five years, was converted to a pitcher by the Rangers, and got to the big leagues last year. Now he's in the rotation, maybe to stay. Some Rangers officials see a 2012 rotation that includes both Ogando and Neftali Feliz, who for this year remains the Rangers' closer. Ogando faces CC Sabathia in Rangers at Yankees, Sunday night (8:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium.

Posted on: April 8, 2011 10:33 am

0-6 is bad, but is 6-0 good?

By now you've no doubt heard that no team starting 0-6 has ever made it to the World Series.

But what about teams starting 6-0?

Not surprisingly, the same doesn't hold true. Perhaps it will surprise you that not one of the last six 6-0 teams went on to win the World Series.

The 1994 Braves had an excuse, since the World Series wasn't played that year. But the Braves weren't even in first place when the strike ended that season in August.

The 1992 Blue Jays were the last 6-0 team to win the World Series. That same year, the Yankees started 6-0, but faded to a 76-86 fourth-place finish.

So what does this mean for this year's 6-0 Rangers?

Nothing. But it probably also means nothing for the Red Sox and Rays that no 0-6 team has made it to the World Series.
Category: MLB
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