Photo Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Thank fuck for Marco Estrada being brilliant on Sunday, or we’d have a whole lot of nonsense we could be talking about right now. In fact, that we’d have no choice but to talk about. That we’d be hearing incessantly from all corners of social and local sports media.
Those weren’t exactly a good four games for the Toronto Blue Jays, beginning with Jose Bautista’s now-infamous slide in Tampa. And because those were four of just six games that the club had played so far, the natural inclination for some is to believe they’re representative — especially so because they’re the most recent ones.
True, the bullpen didn’t perform and wasn’t managed particularly well. And it’s already had — at least in my Twitter timeline — at least one bullpen truther come out of the woodwork to proclaim that everything is terrible and please for the love of god don’t look at weakest five or six names in literally every bullpen or my whinnying will seem utterly delusional. But Sunday was good. Roberto Osuna was great — “he’s getting better, man,” says Russell Martin, according to John Lott’s latest for Vice Sports — and Drew Storen was fine enough (which means he passed with flying colours, provided you’re grading on a curve that accounts for the grim realities of Drew Storen ca. 2016).
We can probably just put the unfortunate Arnold Leon thing behind us (which isn’t to say we should forget it — because I bet John Gibbons won’t, at least for as long as Leon lasts before he’s banished to Buffalo (Pat Venditte anyone?)), and I think we can overlook a whole lot better the way things came undone on Friday, too — which I say because we all pretty clearly understand that Boston is going to have a very good offence as long as it’s healthy and clicking, and that Marcus Stroman and Brett Cecil are going to be good far more often than they’ll be loading the bases and giving way to Jesse Chavez, or giving up a pair of run-scoring singles.
We also probably can allow ourselves to view RA Dickey’s second outing of the season absent the same kind of dread as we might have if we were looking back at five straight losses. Rather, we can even take some positive from the nine (!!!) strikeouts he managed against the Red Sox (in this so-far tiny two-start sample his K%-BB% and swinging strike rates are better than any year of his career but the Cy Young one), and how some of the runs hung on him — though far from all of them — were as much unfortunate as they were a product of typical Dickey early-season shittiness.
Obviously we likely would still have been able to tap into that kind of positivity had Estrada not been so spectacular, but his performance on Sunday certainly made it easier for us. And it should make it easier to digest what Steve Simmons is shovelling in his latest for the Toronto Sun, wherein he keeps humping the David Price saga, and tells us that “the plan was in place” to re-sign Price while Alex Anthopoulos was still here. AND HE WOULD HAVE GOTTEN AWAY WITH IT, TOO, IF IT WASN’T FOR YOU MEDDLING KIDS!
Anthopoulos’s scheme, Simmons says, would have meant letting Estrada go, finding someone to take RA Dickey’s salary (though they could have declined his option, too) and heading into 2016 with a rotation of “Price, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Drew Hutchison, and another pitcher, possibly JA Happ.” (Not to mention essentially ruling out re-signing Bautista and Encarnacion).*
I can’t say with a straight face that I’d rather have the current rotation than that one, but I do like the current depth and the long-term financial flexibility better than where such a scenario would put them. And think about it this way: if you use RA9-WAR (which uses runs allowed rather than FIP, and so is fairer to FIP-busters like Dickey and Estrada) and only look at 2015 (which, I admit, is probably too kind to Estrada and really kills Hutchison), going from Dickey and Estrada to Price and Hutchison would have cost the Jays nearly two full wins (8.1 WAR combined compared to 6.3). For whatever that’s worth.
And what the rotation has been worth over six games is quite a bit — even if it maybe took Estrada’s brilliance to make use refocus and see it.
So now we’ve got some positive, we’ve got a breather tonight as the Jays host their annual Curve Ball gala for Jays Care, and then it’s right back into the fire against the New York Yankees.
Tanaka vs. Sanchez. Pineda vs. Happ. Eovaldi vs. Stroman.
Every year it’s easy to try and overlook the perpetually aging Yankees, but those aren’t easy pitchers to face, even for the best offence in baseball. And we all know the Yankees’ bullpen is very good, meaning this is another series the Jays could entirely conceivably lose, at which point my message would be: so what? It’s early. (Oh shit, did I speak the words that make the hairs on the back every crybaby Chicken Little’s neck stand up???)
Yes, yes, every April loss matters as much as one later in the season. It’s just that a handful of April games don’t give you nearly enough of a complete picture of what a team is to start whining about anything unforseen just yet, and even the best of teams is going to lose a lot (a 97 win club, for example, loses four of every ten). Not every six or ten or thirty game segment of a season is representative of what a team is — even if they’re relatively healthy.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t concerns, of course. It’s just that, for me, they flow from things we already had some inkling of. I mean, for all the silver linings I want to put on it, Dickey still hasn’t been great. Drew Storen’s velocity — in two of his first three outings this year his fastball velo has sat lower than all but one of his outings over the previous two seasons — is something that bears monitoring. The same, though I think with a much smaller degree of trepidation, goes for Troy Tulowitzki’s struggles against fastballs early on (as noted by Drew on Friday’s podcast), and perhaps the fact that his swinging strike rates since 2011 have trended like this: 4.6%, 4.4%, 6.5%, 7.1%, 9.4%, 11.0%. (There could be some Colorado effect in there, I suppose, and that is, of course, a number based on a ludicrously small sample of 2016. Plus the league-wide trend has been moving in the same direction, albeit not as quickly, from a league average of 8.8% in 2011 to 10.5% so far this year (9.9% last year, if you’re into non-ridiculous samples).)
There’s also Jose Bautista looking a bit like a DH in right field, which… um… I think we’re just going to have to live with. But hey, at least there will be an opening at that spot for the Jays next year, if
the Boston media David Ortiz has his way. This weekend the Red Sox legend told Rob Bradford of WEEI.com that Edwin would be the perfect replacement for him after he retires next year — something breathlessly passed along, naturally. Not sure what he thinks Hanley, Pedroia, Sandoval, and whoever else they might add is going to be in the coming years, but… sure. Whatever, Papi.
Those are far from the only issues with this club, too. Might I direct your attention to the preponderance of 1B/DH types on the roster? Or whateverthehell John Gibbons is thinking sometimes? Out it’s not like the club’s they’re competing with don’t have major ones of their own, the outgoing Red Sox and incoming Yankees included.
For the Jays, what I keep coming back to as what ought to have actually stood out about this first week of action is the fact that what was well understood to be their weakest link — the rotation — has turned in some very, very encouraging performances. Even Marcus Stroman’s second turn, Friday, in which he didn’t have his best stuff (or wasn’t able to keep it down in the zone quite enough), was more enough to give this offence, which scored 5.5 runs per game last season, plenty of opportunity to win. And while we can’t expect the same kind of success from every Estrada, Sanchez, and Happ start, there remains a whole lot to like here.
Shocking that that didn’t change in a week, eh?
We’ll worry about what their record is a few weeks from now. Or at least I will. (Y’know, unless for some reason it gets exceptionally bad.)