Baseball, Blue Jays

Tulo’s sample size keeps growing, and it is getting awful

Troy Tulowitzki has been a Blue Jay for the equivalent of half a season now.

He is batting fifth in the Jays’ lineup, because of track record and reputation, but his half-season worth of numbers is putting him among the bottom tier of major league shortstops.

In 246 regular season at bats with the Jays, Tulo is hitting .215, with a .309 on-base percentage and .362 slugging, for a .671 OPS. He’s hit nine home runs with 27 RBI in 65 games.

This season alone, Tulo’s .169 batting average ranks 30th out of 30 shortstops in the major leagues with at least 60 plate appearances. With 27 strikeouts in 99 plate appearances, he is second in the majors with a 27.3% strikeout rate, behind his replacement in Colorado, Trevor Story (36.1%). Tulo only struck out once in going 0-for-4 in Saturday’s loss, so that strikeout rate improved a bit.

He started 24 games in April, batting fifth in the order. He had a hit in 11 of 24 games, racking up 14 hits, but went hitless in 13 games. He’s had eight multiple-strikeout games and two multiple-hit games.

The track record says he’s a great hitter — a career .885 OPS in Colorado over 10 seasons and from 2009-14, his OPS was above .915 in five of six seasons. He finished fifth in NL MVP voting in 2009 and 2010.

I wonder how much longer Jays manager John Gibbons stick with Tulo behind Edwin Encarnacion in the No. 5 spot. He’s certainly not offering Encarnacion much protection. That might be a better spot for Michael Saunders if the Jays had an ideal leadoff hitter.

Tulowitzki’s defence has been first-rate, but the offensive player the Blue Jays traded for last July has yet to show up and in fact, he’s been outhit by Darwin Barney ( .294/.345/.490/.836) in Barney’s 51 at bats as a Blue Jay.

Yeah, Barney’s sample size is small, only 51 at bats.

But Tulo’s sample size keeps getting bigger, and not much better.



Baseball, Blue Jays, Sports, Uncategorized

Four in a row, the aura is slipping away

The Blue Jays losing four straight gameswith the team they had on the field post-trade deadline in 2015 was unfathomable.

With their record at 50-51 when Alex Anthopoulos pulled the trigger on acquiring Troy Tulowitzki in late July, the Jays then went 43-18, never losing even more than two in a row.

Their last three-game losing streak was July 8-10, 2015. Their last four-game losing streak was a five-gamer from May 13-17, 2015, which included a four-game sweep against the Astros. Repeat: the last four-game losing streak was 11 months ago.

And now, six games into the 2016 season, the Blue Jays have lost four in a row.

It started with the Bautista slide in the ninth inning of the third game oon Tuesday and the slide hasn’t stopped. I lay some blame on John Gibbons for the loss in the series finale in Tampa — it was his decision to have the team’s seventh-best reliever, Arnold Leon, on the mound with a one-run lead and two runners on in the eighth inning. Every win is important (doesn’t matter if it’s early April) and the eighth inning with a lead is why you have Drew Storen, Brett Cecil, Roberto Osuna. Workload shmerkload. Gibby wears that one.

Arnold Leon was back out working the sixth and seventh innings on Saturday with the Jays trailing 7-4 against the BoSox. That’s the spot for him. The lineup can wear some of the responsibility, too — 26 runs in the first six games, so those bats can heat up anytime now.

The real disappointment in dropping the first two games at home and the first four-game skid since last May is that it’s opportunity missed to capitalize on some carryover excitement from 2015. Buzz kill. There are thousands of people walking around downtown in Blue Jays gear, but there’s not much revelry going on. Soon, there will be other things that sports fans can become engaged with.

In a few weeks, the Raptors will be winning a playoff round or two or three and Jurassic Park will take over Maple Leaf Square. And if the Maple Leafs win the NHL draft lottery and the right to select Auston Matthews later this month, Leafs Nation will regain some of its thunder.

When the Blue Jays are winning, the excitement is felt everywhere. When there’s a four-game losing streak, it just feels like 2013.



Baseball, Blue Jays, Sports

Good things happen when the ball’s in play

For baseball fans, especially fantasy baseball die-hards, it has been an absolute must-have since at least 1998 (which was the best baseball season ever) and probably before that.

The USA Today Sports Weekly (formerly Baseball Weekly) Fantasy Extra special issued each year during the final week of spring training. It’s the best, every year.

All the latest news, info and  roster shuffling from a full spring training is used for updated fantasy projections as Opening Day approaches. (Those Athlon Sports or Street and Smith glossy magazines that come out in February make for decent bedtime storytelling, but have little value come fantasy draft time.)

So this year, the cover story on the 28-page Fantasy Extra pullout focused on the World Series champion Kansas City Royals and their ability to put the ball in play. Last year, the Royals led the major leagues in contact percentage and struck out in just 15.9% of plate appearances (no other team was below 18%).

The point: put the ball in play, make things happen, force the other team to make a play. It worked right to the end for the Royals last October, with Eric Hosmer scoring the winning run in the World Series on an absolutely awful throw to the backstop from Lucas Duda.

Make contact. Put the ball in play. Keep the line moving.

The 2015 Blue Jays bombed their way to a major-league leading 891 runs scored, but hitting a major league-leading 232 home runs helped. The Jays had a batting average of .269, which was the same as the Royals (who only hit 139 home runs).

The 2016 Jays, after three games, have struggled to put the ball in play, piling up 36 strikeouts in three games in Tampa, while scoring 12 runs.

The early major-league leaders in strikeouts are reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson, who struck out seven times in 13 at bats, and Troy Tulowitzki, who’s whiffed six times in 10 at bats.

In two of the three games, Donaldson has been one K away from the Golden Sombrero (four strikeouts). He only struck out four times in a game once all of last season, but has nearly done it twice during the opening series.

Making contact and putting the ball in play SHOULD have helped the Jays win their third in a row on Tuesday night, with the tying and go-ahead runs on Encarnacion’s thrown-away double-play ball wiped out by what Jose Bautista and John Gibbons termed an “embarrassing” overturning of the play by video review.

If Edwin would have just struck out, none of that happens. So don’t strike out. Make contact.



Jays in 2015: 2-1.  Rookies Daniel Norris (first win), Roberto Osuna (first hold) and Miguel Castro (first save) are in on a 6-3 win over the Yankees.

Jays in 2016: 2-1. Aaron Sanchize’s seven-inning gem ruined by that no-good Brett Cecil giving up a two-run bomb. Game ends on review of Bautista’s controversial slide at second, wiping out two runs in the ninth.


*Anecdote about USA Today Fantasy Extra in 2015. I was in Florida during spring training, so took it for granted that I could walk to a 7-Eleven or Walgreen’s and grab one, or at least pick one up at the airport. But I guess they get snapped up quickly at every airport in the USA during spring training season, so I walked the whole town and hit every Sunoco and 7-Eleven, but there was none. In Florida for spring training, enjoying cold beer in the hot sun, but I couldn’t find a Fantasy Extra. I was going slightly bananas.





Baseball, Blue Jays, Sports

Brett Cecil, clearly the best pitcher in baseball

Remember Father’s Day last year? June 21, 2015, a Sunday. First day of summer. Longest day of the year.

It also featured one of the more memorable Blue Jays games of the season – they were down 7-0 in the second inning against the Orioles, but by the fourth inning, they already had a 9-7 lead. Because the lineup.

That was also the last day Brett Cecil gave up an earned run. He was charged with four runs in a 13-9 loss and it was his last day as the Blue Jays’ closer (Scott Copeland started that game and even Phil Coke made an appearance. Phil Coke!).  Roberto Osuna took over as closer from that point on.

Since then, including playoffs, Cecil has been the *best pitcher in baseball – 40 appearances, 34.2 innings, 18 hits, 48 strikeouts, zero earned runs. (*That is, the best in the seventh inning). A monthly ERA of 0.00 for each of the final three months of the season, then two scoreless playoff appearances before tripping over Mike Napoli in a rundown and tearing a calf muscle. (Cecil’s unavailability for the rest of the playoffs had a huge impact.) The 38 straight regular-season appearances without giving up an earned run ties a major league record set by Craig Kimbrel in 2011.

Through that second half of 2015, Cecil might have carried with him the label of “failed closer,” but he did very little failing during his six weeks in the role, and it’s a lesson/warning for what Roberto Osuna and/or Drew Storen might have to deal with once Edwin starts walking the parrot.

Cecil’s experience in the closer role showed how difficult it can be to stay sharp in that role on a team that crushes everybody by five runs a game. The 29-year-old Cecil recorded a save in a 3-1 win against the Yankees on May 4 … and then didn’t get his next save until June 12, a 13-10 barnburner against the Red Sox.

During that 40-day span between saves, Cecil was scoreless in eight of his 10 appearances, but had zero save opportunities. Hard to get a save when you’re winning 7-1, 10-2, 8-4, 11-3 etc.

Failed closer, my arse. Having Cecil to support Osuna/Storen in the late innings had to factor into the decision to move Aaron Sanchez into the rotation.

But, fair warning: if the offence heats up as expected and the Jays start crushing teams 12-3, people around the Jays are going to have to find a way to manage the eased workload and try to keep Osuna sharp if he has to go weeks without a save opportunity. (Also, fair warning to all those fantasy owners who have Osuna as a closer and have to go a month without a save).

A mashing offence may be a good problem to have but in the big picture, your key guys have to be sharp for the stretch run. Just hope when Father’s Day rolls around this year, the Jays aren’t in a situation where Scott Copeland is in the rotation and Phil Coke is coming out of the bullpen.

2016 vs. 2015

2016: Jays are 2-0 after another 5-3 win over the Rays … Pillar might have broken his neck if he took one more step approaching the wall. Don’t play stupid, Pillar. Your team needs you.


2015: Jays were 1-1 after two games, Aaron Loup gets lit up for three runs in the eighth in a 4-3 loss to the Yanks … Gibby will continue to torture everyone until late July by relying on Loup in key spots.

Baseball, Sports

How goes Edwin, so go the Blue Jays

Edwin Encarnacion’s first at-bat against major-league pitching in 2016 came in Sunday’s season-opener against Chris Archer, after having not played a game in spring training.

Two-run single in the top of the first. No sweat.

Encarnacion getting off to a hot start, without the benefit of a full spring training, will be key to the Jays’ hyped offence in 2016 (a no-brainer! He hits in the cleanup spot). But in each of the past three seasons, during the times the Blue Jays as a team got on a hot streak to turn their fortunes around, a heated-up Edwin was always in the thick of things.

In 2015, the Jays came out of July with a 53-52 record, third place in the AL East, six games behind the Yankees. To that point in the season, Encarnacion was hitting .241/.338/.455 with 19 HR and 56 RBI. He was basically the equivalent of the Phillies’ aging Ryan Howard (.253/310/.481 with 18 HR, 59 RBI at the end of July).

But then Edwin lit up the American League in August, hitting .407/.460/.919 for the month, with 11 HR, 35 RBI and a 26-game hitting streak (and a hat trick against the Tigers on Aug. 29). The Jays went 21-6 in August, on their way to an 18-9 September and the AL East title. Edwin’s two-month surge helped him finish the season hitting .277/.372/.557 with 39 HR and 111 RBI (Howard finished .229/.277/.443 with 23 HR and 77 RBI).

A year earlier in 2014, the waffling Blue Jays tied a team record with 21 wins in May to charge into first place in the AL East. Encarnacion tied Mickey Mantle’s American League record of 16 home runs in the month of May, hitting .281/.369/.763 for the month with 33 RBI. He stayed hot through June (.305/.394/.589) as the Jays hung on to the division lead, but when Encarnacion went down with a hamstring injury in early July, the Jays went 16-17 without him and hopes faded, (with Jose Bautista and Casey Janssen making sure the front office was aware). Encarnacion still finished the year with 34 HR in 128 games, hitting  .268/.354/.547.

Speaking of high hopes that faded quickly, the much-hyped 2013 Blue Jays season did feature an 11-game winning streak in June during which they moved past the .500 mark into mild contender status, with Encarnacion hitting .350 with four home runs during the streak, but it wasn’t enough to keep a smoke-and-mirrors rotation featuring Josh Johnson, Chien-Ming Wang and Ramon Ortiz afloat. Edwin finished with 36 HR in 142 games, hitting .272/.370/.534.

Should Encarnacion get off to a slow start in 2016 — it’s possible, since he missed a month of spring training — it could put a dent in the Jays’ season, especially with 22 of the first 28 games against teams in the division.

And if Edwin has the same season he had in 2015, matching Ryan Howard for four months and waiting until August to heat up …


2016: Jays record 1-0 … Stroman pitches into ninth in 5-3 win over Tampa in season-opener, Tulowitzki hits a homer

2015: Jays record 1-0 … Hutchison outpitches Tanaka in 6-1 win over Yankees … Encarnacion and Travis go deep