Another loss. What should have been a fun and competitive reunion between David Price and his previous team on Saturday ended up feeling like a bit of a debacle. For the most part, Estrada was strong except for the 3rd inning when he got nailed in the leg. This allowed 1 on base. Then Donaldson missed what could have been a double play to get out of the inning, instead leaving 2 runners on for the ensuing 3-run homerun. That was unfortunately the turning point.
Even before this, the game looked promising but started with a bit of bad mojo. Donaldson started the 1st inning with a triple but got caught on camera yelling at his 3rd base coach Rivera. Bautista then followed with what should have been a triple, but the call was that he got tagged out.
Encarnacion later hit a double. Throughout the rest of the game, Angel Hernandez’ strike zone was quite unstable leading to increasing frustration among the batters, who aren’t hitting that well to begin with.
What’s different from last year?
So why is this slump happening so soon? Well, slumps happen but consider this theory. The off season changes that were made to the Jays lineup were meant to fill gaps in skills. The biggest perceived hole was the starting rotation and the bullpen and most changes were made in that area. The starting rotation now seems to be just fine with Stroman, Estrada, Sanchez, Happ and Dickey (well, not so much Dickey), although the bullpen has yet to find it’s groove except for Roberto Osuna who has picked up where he left off last season.
New gaps were created with the losses that occurred during the off season. I believe a big one may be the clubhouse cheering squad. We all know that we lost a superstar pitcher when David Price’s brief stint with the Blue Jays was over and that we lost a speedy leadoff hitter with an on base percentage (OBP) of 0.354 when we traded Ben Revere for Drew Storen, believing that we needed another closer type of pitcher more than we needed Ben. The new lead-off hitter Kevin Pillar’s OBP in 2015 was 0.314 and so far in 2016 is 0.235 (yeesh!). It also seems like Revere was also better defensively in left field than Saunders but it’s harder to know since Saunders has played so little recently. Let’s see if we can make anything of the stats.
Range Factor per 9 Innings
Revere (LF) 2015 2.02
Saunders (LF) 2016 1.25 (only 9 games)
Saunders (LF) 2013 1.74
Saunders (LF) 2012 2.06
Comparing to Blue Jays’ gold standard:
Pillar (CF) 2015 2.99
Pillar (CF) 2016 2.51
Ok, yeah, Revere wasn’t Pillar but Saunders hasn’t been as good as Revere was in 2015 since Saunders played with Seattle in 2012. I omitted 2014 and 2015 for Saunders because he only played LF 3 games.
What about the intangibles?
Things we can’t look to statistics for. We lost the smiles and cheery Southern personalities of Price being from Nashville, Tennessee and Ben Revere originating from Atlanta, Georgia.
They say the clubhouse atmosphere hasn’t changed but I don’t believe it. There is no cheering squad left. We have the angry superstar leaders in Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista. We have the polite Canadians in Michael Saunders and Russell Martin. We have the ‘I’m better than you think’ guys in Kevin Pillar and Chris Colabello. And we have the quiet pillars of the infield mega-defense in Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney. But where are the happy, fun guys?
New guys: Drew Storen, J.A. Happ, Jesse Chavez, Gavin Floyd…anything memorable about these guys’ personalities?
Now, Stroman is super high energy, and he’s always smiling so I guess he’s the only bit of cheering quad left, but he’s got a lot he’s trying to prove and a huge chip on his shoulder that Price and Revere didn’t have.
On paper, this team as a whole looked better, but, are they still having fun? Of course, I miss David Price as the whole team clearly does, and it sucks that he went to a division rival, but I also miss Ben Revere because not only has Kevin Pillar failed to fill his lead off hitting shoes, we’re also missing some of that smooth Southern Comfort.
Thank you Marco Estrada! The quiet, humble, understated, under the radar Marco Estrada came out big on this frosty Sunday afternoon final game of the 2016 home opener series against the Boston Red Sox. After losing the first 2 games of the series pretty BADLY (I mean, any loss would have been bad), most of us felt we needed to win. John Gibbons said after the game that there really isn’t such a thing as a MUST WIN so early in the season, but as a bandwagon fan, it certainly felt that way didn’t it? We needed some confirmation that we weren’t out of minds. That the team wasn’t just great on paper. That all the hype wasn’t just hype and that we were in fact headed for a disappointing season. Afraid that despite being good, the rivals were better.
The Jays hadn’t been swept since May 2015 in Houston. The Jays hadn’t lost 3 straight at home since August 2014. Thanks to Marco Estrada, they still haven’t.
Estrada had 8 strikeouts in 91 pitches over 7 innings pitched. To put it in Gibby’s words, he was ‘vintage Estrada’. Smooth. On target. Quietly understated finesse. Estrada in his subtle fashion shut Boston down and the Jays took home the win 3-0.
Thankfully the defense found their groove, like they had to give Estrada everything he needed to quiet the naysayers. Dustin Pedroia almost got home but the defense came alive with power throws by Bautista and Goins and a perfect tag by Russell Martin.
Oh, and Donaldson got his 4th homer of the season. At first I thought I was watching a replay, that perfect Josh Donaldson homerun swing.
And don’t you just love watching Osuna run out to the mound to save the game? Strikeout. Strikeout. Strikeout.
Jose Bautista, who walked twice, has reached base in 20 consecutive games (including post-season), dating to Oct.3, 2015.
The Rogers Centre has had 15 straight sellouts going back to last season. And I think that’s going to continue for a while. I mean, everyone including me, is just hanging off every detail about this team. The expectations are extraordinary. Who knows what’s going to happen but it sure is going to be a fun ride.
Full House Home Opener
I was one of the 48 871 who was at the Rogers Centre for the home opener of 2016. Marcus Stroman pitching. Josh Donaldson playing despite his calf strain. The place – was – packed! Josh gets presented his AL MVP award by George Bell. New logos are unveiled. And the players run onto the field with their names announced, but oops! The announcer skips Michael Saunders who runs out while the announcer’s already moved on to Russell Martin. Ouch! The nice, polite Canadian, who’s dreamed of playing for the Blue Jays, who missed ALL of last season with a busted knee, who no one talked about because we all talked about Stroman’s busted knee, finally gets to start the 2016 Home Opener…and they skip his name…
What else was funny? I don’t know how many times clips from last year’s playoffs will be on the Jumbotron this season, but I loved seeing David Price up there celebrating with the Jays, and he and his team watching it from the Boston dugout.
In 2015, the Blue Jays went 93-69 scoring a total of 891 runs, by far the most runs in the League. Now, how many times did the Jays score 7 or more runs? 57 times.
How many times did the Jays LOSE when they scored 7 or more runs? 4.
So the probability of winning when they scored at least 7? 93%.
Well, unfortunately Friday night’s game went against the odds.
The bottom of the 4th was an awesome half inning. The Jays went into it behind 2-1, but then, Michael Saunders gets on base, Russell Martin gets his first hit of the season, Ryan Goins gets on, then Darwin Barney hits a single and Saunders scores. Kevin Pillar is then hit by pitch right in the helmet, and Martin scores. (You can tell Pillar used to play football, because he never seems too bothered by getting hit in the head!). So with the bases still loaded and no one out, who comes to bat but the AL MVP, Josh Donaldson, who proceeds to hit the 2nd Grand Slam of his career! So perfect, and we ultimately leave the inning with a 7-2 lead.
So what happened? How did we end up losing our much anticipated Home Opener 8-7? At the top of 6th, Marcus Stroman got yanked after he loaded the bases. Then Brock Holt proceeded to hit HIS Grand Slam with Jesse Chavez pitching. How irritating that they rained on our Grand Slam parade! The crowd was shocked. It was silent at Rogers Centre as all 48 871 of us watched the ball sail over the right field wall. Silent as the 4 BoSoxers trotted around the bases. Chavez then got out of the inning, with a flyout and a strikeout, and walked back to the dugout, shaking his head. And then in the 7th, Storen left 2 runners on and these 2 scored with Brett Cecil on the mound, putting the Red Sox ahead 8-7.
The Jays made a comeback attempt in the 8th replacing Barney with Smoak to hit, then replacing Smoak with Carrera to run. Carrera proceeds to successfully steal 2nd base, and the crowd is cheering again. It looks like we’ve got a chance when Donaldson gets into the batter’s box, but no, he grounds out to end the inning. So, guess what, who’s going to play 3rd base now? Russell Martin who proceeds to field a groundball and throws out the runner at 1st.
In total, the Jays went through 6 pitchers, Stroman, Chavez, Storen, Cecil, Floyd, Biagini in that order.
Seem a bit unusual to you? I get that Gibbons is feeling out the bullpen, and they need to work or the Spring Training work is wasted, and yeah, the bullpen failed us. But obviously the decision to bring Chavez in for Stroman wasn’t a good one. Easy to say in retrospect. His win probability in a clutch situation 2015 was 0.01. I’m assuming bases fully loaded is considered high leverage?
Should Floyd have come in next instead of Chavez? Should Stroman have been left in?
Maybe there was no intention to use Floyd but they were forced to later when Cecil didn’t have it? Maybe the 5-run lead at the time seemed a safe enough position to have Chavez pitch? Not sure.
As with the last game, I would argue that a WIN would have been a big deal, it being the home opener and the most anticipated sports event in Canada for the past 6 months, and that they needed to bring out their best and do what they needed to win, then hey go ahead and start experimenting after that. They say 10-15 more games and they’ll have the bullpen settled. Man that sounds like a long time. The sooner the better.