Friday, 4 April 2014

Instant Replay - Not So Instant

As many teams finish off their opening series, the newly stated "Instant Replay Rules" have reared their ugly head...

Instant replay has been introduced for 2014, with limitations - but replay is here, and it's making itself known to just about anyone watching a game.
Here is how league officials (whom unanimously voted yes to this) drew up the use of it;
The following play types will be subject to review:
  • Home run
  • Ground rule double
  • Fan interference
  • Stadium boundary calls (e.g., fielder into stands, ball into stands triggering dead ball)
  • Force play (except the fielder's touching of second base on a double play)
  • Tag play (including steals and pickoffs)
  • Fair/foul in outfield only
  • Trap play in outfield only
  • Batter hit by pitch
  • Timing play (whether a runner scores before a third out)
  • Touching a base (requires appeal)
  • Passing runners
  • Record keeping (Ball-strike count to a batter, outs, score, and substitutions)
All other plays will not be reviewable; however, the Umpires may still convene on the field at any time to discuss the play.

  • Field managers may initiate replay review on one reviewable play per game by verbally indicating his intention to challenge, in a timely manner, to the Crew Chief. Guidelines will be established to determine whether a challenge is timely. 
  • The manager may request that the umpire review multiple portions of the same play, but he must specify exactly which portions of the play he is challenging. 
  • If any portion of a challenged play is overturned, the manager who challenged the play will retain the ability to challenge one more play during the game. No manager may challenge more than two plays in a game.
  • Once the manager has exhausted his ability to challenge plays during the game and after the beginning of the seventh inning, the Crew Chief may choose to invoke instant replay on any reviewable call. In that circumstance, the Crew Chief is not obligated to invoke instant replay if requested by the manager.
  • Home run calls that are currently subject to instant replay review will continue to be reviewed at the Crew Chief's discretion. Managers may request that an Umpire review a home run call, but managers cannot challenge home run calls.
  • Once instant replay review is invoked (either by the Manager or the Crew Chief), the Crew Chief will signal to the official scorer that the play is under review.
  • The Crew Chief and at least one other umpire will then move to a designated communication location near home plate, where they will have access to a hard-wired headset connected to the Replay Command Center in New York. 
  • Major League Umpires will be staffed as Replay Officials at the Replay Command Center, located at MLB Advanced Media headquarters, for all Major League games.
  • The Replay Command Center will have direct access to video from most cameras in the ballpark in real-time, regardless of whether they are shown on the live broadcast. 
  • The Replay Official will look at the video feeds and determine if there is clear and convincing evidence to overturn the call on the field. If the Replay Official overturns a call on the field, he will also use his judgment to determine where to appropriately place runners if the play had been called correctly on the field.
  • The umpires on the field will not have a monitor to review the play and they will not leave the field at any time.
  • The Replay Official will make the ultimate determination of whether to overturn the call.
  • On-Field personnel may not argue with the decision of the Replay Official.
  • To determine whether to challenge a play, personnel in the dugout will be permitted to communicate with a video specialist in the Clubhouse who has access to the same video that is available to Replay Officials. This communication will occur via the dugout phone. 
  • Both the home and visiting Clubs will have standardized technology to ensure each Club has equal access to all video.
  • No monitors or additional electronic equipment will be permitted in the dugout.
  • Clubs will now have the right to show replays of all close plays on its ballpark scoreboard, regardless of whether the play is reviewed.  
Did you read all that? No? Perfect...let me tell you how this works, or at least how managers and umpires are using it thus far.

Step 1: A relatively close play, whether it be a "bang bang" play at a base, a ball landing close to the foul line, a trapped baseball in the outfield etc get it.

Step 2:
Players and umpires sort of stand around, now making the assumption a Field Manager will make his way out to dispute the call.

Step 3:
Field Manager slowly walks out to Crew Chief, whilst Bench Coach gets on the phone with team staff whom are watching the replay from different angles, presumably in a booth high above.

Step 4:
Field Manager has a discussion with Crew Chief - literally about NOTHING - John Gibbons spoke on The Fan 590 yesterday regarding this - here are some quotes about his first "challenge, but not really a challenge"
Gibby "I said to the umpire, you know we gotta wait here a little while..."
Umpire "Yeah that's fine, what do you wanna talk about"
Gibby"I told Brian Gorman the other night, I didn't understand why I was second guessing him in the first place, I was just out there to make those guys look good"

Step 5:
Field Manager glances back at bench coach, to get a thumbs up or thumbs down (or something like it) signalling whether he should challenge the play or not.

Step 6:
Depending on the appeal, the Manager will either saunter back to the dugout, or challenge, forcing the umpires to use a headset and screen on the side of the field to call New York and discuss the play.

Digging around to find some numbers - after the opening series, challenges took an average of 93 seconds - with the high end being 2 minutes 34 seconds.  Keep in mind, these numbers are only taking into account official challenges and the time from the challenge to the result - not the meandering and small talk, and not those instances when a Manager stops the game, decides the call was correct, says sorry, and sits back down.

Here's A Proposed Solution:
Field Manager is allowed to enter the field under the following circumstances:
1) To engage in conversation with umpire over disputed call, if they decide NOT to challenge they can no longer enter the field again, or they will be FORCED to use their challenge.
2) UNLESS the Manager is entering the field of play to make a pitching change - if a pitching change is NOT made, the Manager loses their challenge option.

This should inherently make Manager's think twice before entering the field of play and slowing the game - which many complain is already too slow.
Favourite Challenge Thus Far:
Last night as the Yankees beat the Astros the ninth inning, the umpiring crew decided to take a look at replay in order to clarify THE COUNT.
The challenge was initiated by the Astros catcher - and according to, it went something like this:
"I asked the umpire, 'What's the count?'" Corporan said. "And he said, 'I don't know, I've got 2-1.' I said, 'I've got 2-1 as well.' I kind of forgot about the pitchout that we made. [Solarte] was like, 'No, it's 3-1,' and [the umpire] said, 'Of course you're going to think it's 3-1.' They wanted to make sure, so they took a little time."
Good God.

Early next week, Oppo Taco Town will glance backward at opening week - and gaze forward what opening week can tell us about the 2014 season.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Rays Beat Jays

Tampa Bay 6 - Blue Jays 3

Hey, these things happen right...remember...last year our Spring Training was, some rough play might mean good things?!!...  Hey! One really cool thing, I went to the pisser and my lady friend bought me a program - apparently it was a super rare version of it and it was signed by Jose right!!?? God love that woman!

Pitching Scoop:

Buehrle did exactly what he does.  39 pitches over 3 innings - quiet funny, everyone around me was commenting "how fast the game was going by.." like they haven't seen Marky Mark pitch. He allowed 4 hits, 1 walk and 1 earned run while striking out 2 over those three.
Fastball topped out at 86mph
Change up registered at 78mph
Curve, I assume actually was around 70mph

From there, things got interesting...

Marcus Stroman pitched 3 innings and as much as I want it to be positive and just wasn't.  37 pitches, four hits, one walk, one home run (first pitch after the walk), one strikeout.  
As the report claims - Stroman is actually very tiny on the mound...but who cares.  I was troubled by his outing.  His fastball hit the spot sometimes, other times it bounced two feet short - three balls within the fist inning snuck by Jimenez (no fault of his)...unless Stroman can do something wacky in the next few starts, he is destined for triple A Buffalo.

Fastball touched 94mph a couple of times
Off Speed was in the 84-86mph range

The man, the legend...Ricky Romero took over from there....and honestly...he was great.  Like, guys...he was GOOD.  He struck out THREE over two innings, gave up one hit (weakly hit) and walked one (borderline call).  He also was forced to throw three extra pitches because Izturis doesn't quite get the game (threw hastily into a force at second with two out)  Honest to God...Ricky was solid as all hell today.

Fastball touched 91mph
Change Up was his out pitch at 84mph

Todd Redman came in for mop up duty, I guess Todd did ok...I stopped paying attention.

Topped out around 91mph
Threw strikes a lot, some of them got hit...haha

Alex Cobb took the pill for the Rays - call me dumb, I didn't know he was a soft tosser...
He very rarely threw a hard fastball (albeit he hit his corners very well)
His fastball topped at 91mph
His off speed was around 85-87mph
His slider was hitting at 81mph (very sharp)

Batting Scoop:

The Jays ran out an impressive line up:

I didn't give too much credit to the middle of the line up, because, well...they will be the middle of the line up like it or not.

I did watch a second straight game in which Lawrie struggled at the dish - I just hate his frigid, so jumpy...

Navarro had another solid day - I think Jays fans might be real happy with the swap from JP.  Grounded out hard in his first approach and singled in his second on five pitches.

Goins was where things get sticky.  His first at bat he seemed lost - all the reports of him "learning how to hit" seemed pretty silly as he tapped a dribbler to Cobb on the fourth pitch - in his second at bat, he totally redeemed himself!  Saw eight pitches and drew a walk - if that's something we can see once in a while from the nine spot - fine by me.

Other then that - Gose was bad, Lind saw pitches, Encarnacion kept popping out, Bautista was solid and patient, Cabrera looked healthy, Reyes all over the map...


Rays vs Jays Primer - Comments from AA

The Rays Travel to Dunedin to Take on The Blue Jays

Like most Grapefruit action, the game in Bradenton was rained out yesterday as the Gulf Coast experienced buckets of rain and the odd tornado...but such is life in wonderful Florida.  We should most definitely see some ball today despite high winds and some clouds.

Via Mike Wilner of Sportsnet, we should be seeing some interesting guys take the mound Hutchison, Stroman and Romero are all fighting to break camp, Romero may even be fighting for his career at this point. (Buehrle was scratched for Hutch)
As for the offensive side of things, we should be seeing Reyes, Lind, Goins inserted back into the line up, as well as Kratz behind the dish...before I could even finish this thought, Wilner tweeted out the starting line up.

THIS JUST IN - Rasmus has had a stiff neck I guess...

The Rays have released their lineup via their official twitter feed:

Anthopolous met with the media during the rain out yesterday...

I'll cherry pick some quotes from it...cuz well...that's more fun than putting everything into context!

If you are into really long reads - Gregor Chisholm has the whole interview at his blog "North of the Border" - Click the link!

When asked about Ryan Goins..."He has room to do less offensively because the defense is so elite. I don’t use that word lightly. I really think he’s elite and he’s got a chance to win a gold glove there.“Goins is the front-runner because of the defense that he showed but he still has to earn that job.”

So, sounds like AA admits some deficincies at the dish - but is more than willing to bury him in the nine spot due to his gold glove like defense...

Regarding Hutchison and his odds at a rotation spot...

"I think I said it before, he’s a guy I expected to really impress. He’s off to a great start, he’s definitely opened some eyes, he’s a strong candidate to make the rotation but he’s got to make it. But I love what I see.”

Might take moving Heaven and earth to bump Hutchison out of that five spot....but maybe there's another spot opening up?

Asked whether there are one or two spots up for grabs this spring...
“There could be two. I think we’re going to take the best team north. Especially right now, we have J.A. and the back, the performance, things like that, we have to get him on track, stay healthy. Obviously R.A., Mark and Brandon. Again, we expect J.A. to be in the rotation but at the same time the back’s flared up on him twice. I just don’t know. Look, if guys perform well and they force our hand, we’ll take the best team.”

Kind of the GM's job to keep the young guys thinking they have a shot at a job...but it's still relieving to hear we aren't tied to a guy like Happ.

How important today's start will be for Stroman...
 "It’s not like the decision gets made (today) but I think every outing for him is important.”“He has a chance. I don’t know what the chances are, the percentages, but there’s a reason he’s getting stretched out, there’s a reason we’re giving him the innings. We want to take a look. If he can impress and really come on he’s going to make it hard on us, which is what we want.”

I don't love the sounds of those percentages for Stroman.

Asked how he takes service time into account, or if it's simply best team going North...
“No doubt about it, the best team. Where it becomes a little more interesting, if you have multiple players, if it’s close and someone has options and someone’s out of options, you keep the depth. If it’s not close then you take the best players. That’s always the way it’s been. That’s why those players that have options left have to be that much better than the guys they’re competing against and I’ve told the players that to their faces. But those guys that are out of options, if they’re not performing and guys are clearly an upgrade over them and will make a big difference for them we’ll go with the best team.”

I would take the best team North too if my job depended on it...but, if the job is given to someone else - AA has set him up nicely with the young talent.

So, needless to say...its mid march and the Jays still have some serious question marks...
I'll be back after the game today.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Pirates Down Jays in Dunedin

Pirates 6 - Blue Jays 4

Oppo Taco is back with coverage from the Pirates vs Jays game in Dunedin this afternoon.  As predicted, those who played 6 innings or more last night (Reyes, Lind, Cabrera, Goins, Kratz) all got the day off today.  Below is the line up card for both squads:

Pitching Scoop:

Brendan Morrow took the bump for the Blue Jays and was everything, Great, Good, Bad, knows.
Morrow struggled through the first and took a few hitters to get his velocity up.  Only featured his four seam fast ball and change up, struggling to command his pitches primarily the change up - he threw 18 pitches in the first inning - hitting one, walking one, and giving up a 2 run single to a familiar face - Travis Snider.  
The second inning was a vastly different story.  Eight pitches got him completely through the bottom of the order forcing two lazy fly balls and striking out the second basemen Harrison. 
The third inning was an adventure. Morrow induced a two pitch fly out from Starling Marte to start things off, followed that by striking out Chris Dickerson on three pitches (one being a completely devestating slider or curve...I'd call it a "slurve" it went 10-4) - one of his few breaking pitches on the day.  After the strikeout, the wheels kind of came off. Single, Passed Ball, Double - Home who else - Lunch Box Hero. Pirates followed the home run up with another single from Brent Morel - who was promptly caught stealing on the next pitch by Navarro...thank God. 
Morrow's day was complete at 47 pitches through three innings.
Fastball topped out at 95mph
Change Up came in around 87mph consistently
Breaking Pitch (Slurve) registered at 81mph

After Morrow, we saw Sergio Santos throw a flawless frame, albeit some balls were hit hard - AND Jonathan Diaz made an INCREDIBLE diving catch, Santos completed the frame with just 6 pitches no hits, no walks.
Santos threw strictly fastball in the 91mph range

Loup, Jeffress and Jenkins combined for the next three innings - Jenkins struggled with command, Loup was hitting his spots but not with much authority (although this is Loup's gig) while Jeffress was perhaps the most impressive, hitting 93-95mph regularly.  Jenkins had the stuff to get guys out, just couldn't spot it particularly well.  He gave up the sixth run on a blunder play as well, a ball in the dirt was blocked well by Jimenez, however, Jenkins failed to cover the plate - Chase d'Arnaud seeing this came home easily with Jimenez finding the ball down the third base line.

The last two innings were thrown by the Jays "future" - Aaron Sanchez.  The scouting report is such, given to me by Jamie Campbell at Sportsnet.
"His stuff plays in the big leagues right now, just needs to spot better"
This report couldn't have more dead on.  
Sanchez was electric - snapping the glove with a deafening ring, then pulling up dirt a foot before the plate.  He was solid, just not as efficient as could be - Sanchez pitched two flawless innings with two strikeouts - but the larger story was his inability to effectively throw a secondary pitch.  Nearly all breaking or off speed pitches were well off the plate or in the dirt.  He can consistently retire the Pirates 8th and 9th inning Spring Training hitters with his fastball, but that won't be enough in the bigs.
Sanchez was consistently hitting 94mph with his fastball topping out at 96mph
Off speed and breaking pitches were between 85mph - 91mph

The Pirates started Jay Jackson, who spun the ball quite well.  He is destined to start the season in AAA as he hasn't seen any major league action - but don't be surprised for a quick call up if one of the Bucco's starters goes down or falters in the first few weeks.
Jackson went 2 innings giving up just 1 hit to Dioner Navarro with no strikeouts - his velocity sat in the mid to low 90's.

Batting Scoop:

The lineup run out was far from what we should expect to see on opening day.  Seeing Chris Getz and Jeff Tolleson hit 1-2 kind of made me sad, but they filled in admirably with smiles on their faces the whole time.
The Jays had a hell of time hitting off Jay Jackson for some reason...aside from Navarro poking a single through the right side, the entire team went down in order for two straight innings.  The bats got going in the third inning lead by the legend himself - Jonathan Diaz.
When it was all said and done, the middle of the order being Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion looked in fine form.  

Bautista was patient despite the urge to swing wildly in Spring Training, he pushed counts to at least four pitches in all three at bats and walked in the third on four straight balls - setting up the rally.
Encarnacion did what he's accustomed to doing with Bautista, loading the bases on the walk, ripped one down the left field line (picture left) scoring a pair.

Aside from the pair of sluggers, the Jays didn't have much going for them at the plate.  Lawrie seemed jumpy as normal and Gose wasn't effective - although he did milk a walk in the fourth, let's hope that continues.

I was particularly impressed by the approach by Dioner Navarro - maybe because I'm used to a complete gong show from our catchers at the dish.  Navarro was a professional.  Hit a 5 pitch single in the second inning, (the only hit off Jackson).  He proceeded to walk on 7 pitches in the fourth, and walked again on 6 pitches in the fifth.  I don't have the numbers in front of me, but that literally might be more walks than Arencibia had all of 2013.  (not really, but close).  If the 30 year old Navarro can continue the patient, yet methodical approach, at the dish for 120 games or so - we could see a huge improvement on our record.

On the Pirates side - Snider seemed REAL locked in - going 2-3, with his only out coming on a very hard hit ground ball to his pull side.  Neil Walker seemed in fine form as well.
Chase d'Arnaud spelled Harrison at second base in the seventh inning and looked strong, roping a double and running the bases quickly....look for him to break camp as a utility infielder. 

I was surprised not to see Colby Rasmus in either game thus far...not sure what's up there.

Might make the trek tomorrow to see Garret Cole square off against Mark Buehrle, but if not - Friday afternoon I'll cover the Blue Jays vs Tampa Rays in Dunedin!


Dickey & Lee Face Off in Clearwater Night Game

Blue Jays 5 - Phillies 3

Brighthouse Field was buzzing on Tuesday night - comparable crowd to that of the Rogers Centre on a Sunday afternoon in August.  The field itself is great, kind of a Mexican villa feel with a majority of concession stands featuring Mexican food.  There were also quite a few beer stands featuring some IPA's and brands you wouldn't normally see in a ball park.

The Blue Jays ran out the following starting line up:
SS Jose Reyes
3B Macier Izturis
LF Melky Cabrera
RF Moises Sierra
1B Adam Lind
C Eric Kratz
DH AJ Jimenez
CF Kevin Pillar
2B Ryan Goins

SP RA Dickey

The Phillies countered with the following:
CF Revere
SS Galvis
2B Utley
1B Howard
RF Byrd
DH Abreu
LF Brown
C Ruiz
3B Franco

SP Lee

Pitching Scoop:

Dickey and Kratz teamed up for the Jays and the results were mediocre at best.  Scheduled for 4 innings, Dickey pitched them all while facing 19 hitters.  4 hits (one of which was an in infield single), 3 walks, 3 earned runs, 2 strikeouts.  The game called for Dickey to throw more fastballs then he would normally be accustomed to, and perhaps that led to some of the hard hit balls - particularly the 2 run home run given up to Marlon Byrd in the 3rd inning.  The knuckleball when used was active despite the windy conditions at Brighthouse.  Two at bats in particular showcased the real mystique of the pitch itself.
Ryan Howard struck out on 4 pitches in the 3rd inning - 2 of his 3 swings were completely off balance, Dickey had him guessing and dispatched of him quickly.  The other at bat that comes to mind was in the 1st inning with Galvis at the dish.  Dickey had him in an 0-2 hole strictly using the fastball - the knuckleball got unleashed and Galvis promptly got plunked on the ankle.  Ideally Dickey can harness the pitch a bit more before opening day - some more Ryan Howards and few less Galvis' and we're in business!  End of the day, Dickey's line looked an awful lot like the first few months of the 2013 season.
The bullpen picked right up where it left off and looks to be in midseason form - Delabar, Wagner, Stinson, Hendricks combined for 5 innings of 2 hit scoreless ball.  Particularly impressive was Liam Hendricks pitching the final two innings (granted at this point, most Phillies starters had exited the game).  However, Hendricks looked poised and large on the mound.  At 6'1 and 225lbs, he isn't the most menacing figure - however his posture and confidence on the mound make him seem larger and intimidating.  He spotted his fastball extremely well and mixed in a wonderfully slow, in comparison to his fastball, change up (I think).  Racking up 2 strikeouts, including the final out - and even smoothly fielding a well bunted ball.  I would suggest Hendricks will sneak into the conversation of the 5th starter in the rotation - I mean, he's got 156 innings of big league experience (albeit not exactly strong innings) but at 25 years old, Hendricks should still have a lot to prove.
Oh yeah, Cliff Lee is awesome.  He worked the corners just like Lee tends to do.  Facing only 11 batters over 3 full innings of work, even the 3 hits he did give up were weakly hit and fell in front of the outfield.  Barring any set backs, Lee will enter 2014 as yet again, one of the most dominant pitchers in the game.

Batting Scoop:

Interesting move here by Gibbons, perhaps they will be given the day off today - All of the projected opening day starters in the lineup last night were left in for 5 1/2 innings and 3 at bats.  (Reyes, Lind, Cabrera) While guys on the cusp (Kratz, Sierra, Goins) saw 7 innings and 4 at bats.
Reyes was his normal self, wildly swinging at pitches early in the count - only to buckle down and put the ball in play with two strikes.  In his final at bat Reyes hit a hard ball through the middle, eventually scoring after being moved over on a ground ball and scoring on a Cabrera single. 
Lind hit right into his scouting report and crushed RHP BJ Rosenberg deep to right field (almost completely out of the park) a 1-2 pitch that was almost certainly a ball low. 
Cabrera is looking much looser on the base paths, actually forcing the infield to make strong throws to first on ground outs - a back tumor in general will slow you down.
Judging by the early spring and what I witnessed last night - it seems to be a forgone conclusion that Moises Sierra will break camp with the team this year.  The 25 year old right hander showed poise and confidence at the dish, fought off Lee and was too much for the veteran left hander as Sierra hit a ground ball through the right side for a single.  He continued to showcase a fantastic eye at the dish, solid fielding range and gathered a second hit in three trips in the 6th inning.  Chatting with Jamie Campbell of Sportsnet, he agreed with the assessment of Sierra claiming "The kid hasn't stopped hitting" referring to winter ball and thus far in Spring Training - Campbell also conceded he could see Sierra platooning with Lind at some point this season at first base as Sierra hits left handed pitching much more confidently then Lind.

I will have more on my meeting with Campbell later as we chatted about a lot of interesting Jays topics.

Off to Dunedin - Jays vs Pirates - Morrow takes the mound for the Blue Birds

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Quick Hits From Clearwater

Just a stones throw from The Phillies complex - and 10 minutes from The Blue Jays

Notes on The Blue Jays & Other Things

First and foremost - if you have never been to Spring Training, I would highly suggest it - I would also suggest spending a few days in Clearwater.

Arriving in Clearwater early in the evening Sunday, I have yet to attend a Spring Training game.  Below are the games I will be covering:

Blue Jays vs Phillies - Tuesday 630pm
Pirates vs Blue Jays - Wednesday 1pm
Rays vs Blue Jays - Friday 1pm
Twins vs Blue Jays - Saturday 1pm

Make sure to follow me on Twitter @scotthopkins3 as I will be tweeting some live hits from the games, and check back at Oppo Taco Town for a full break down of the games and players.

Until then, some quick hits from Spring Training

Blue Jays issue first replay challenge in MLB history
The Blue Jays were officially the first team to use the brand new replay system MLB has introduced for the 2014 season.  A routine ground ball hit to Kawasaki at short  forced an errant throw and took Jared Goedart off the bag.  The ruling was "safe", prompting Gibby to hope onto the field.

The replay seemed a little confusing for a while, but that's to be expected for the first of its kind. The crowd, players. everyone seemed to not quite understand what was going on. That will work itself out as we all get used to the new addition to the game.

A major concern was the time it took - 2 minutes and 45 seconds from the challenge to the ruling.  This is roughly double the anticipated time MLB was hoping for during regular season play.  Once umpires begin to get accustomed to the head sets, camera angles and general lay of the land - we can assume time will not be a huge issue going forward, especially if the call means something, ya know...instead of an 8-2 Spring Training game.

They also used replay in the Arizona vs LA game - Gibson of the Diamondbacks thought differently:"I think it's going to be a lot more complicated than we thought, We had a lot of conversation during the game."

Maybe the most concerning part - they still got the call wrong in that Jays game?  Take a look for yourself!

Boston Red Sox - Not Champions?

Read an interesting article in USA Today this morning, regarding the Red Sox camp.  Apparently they refuse to believe they won....and are fairly adamant about that.  Here are some excerpts - all from Johnny Gomes:
"...our motto is turn the (expletive f word) page."

"Nobody in here is wearing World Series champ shirts; you don't even see anything like that here. (Expletive f word) that.  It's in the past.  It's all archived."

"We ain't no defending champions.  Don't call us any of those things.  We're the (expletive f word) Sox"

"Everyone talks about that, but we don't have a (expletive f word) target on our backs"

Sure looks like this Red Sox guy had a target on his back Johnny...Maybe this nut bar should take a log off the fire.

Gomes - before he was part of the (expletive f word)  Sox

On the topic of great interviews and quotes - Ian Kinsler called his former GM Jon Daniels a "sleezeball" and he hopes the Rangers go "0-162" on the season...

More from around The Grapefruit & Cactus

Red Sox 6 vs Pirates 7 - Uehara threw a scoreless frame with 2 strikeouts, Alvarez was 2/4 with 3RBI including a home run.

Astros 4 vs Marlins 0 - Springer walked 4 times, Stanton 0-3 and left 3 on base...but if no one was there to watch, did it really happen?

Twins (s) 9 vs Orioles 2 - Super prospect Byron Buxton hit a double and eventually scored, Chris Davis hit a monster home run.

Mets 6 vs Braves 2 - Noah Sydergaard looked very strong throwing 2 innings and allowing only 1 hit, BJ Upton looks much like last year 0/3 with a strikeout.

Phillies 1 vs Rays 6 - Ben Revere looked solid in the lead off spot hitting a single and stealing a bag, Wil Myers still hitless in the spring.

Cardinals 5 vs Tigers 6 - Peralta looks like another solid season is ahead 2/2 with a HR. Miggy continues to be the most dominant player in the game 2/2.

Blue Jays 2 vs Twins (s) - JA Happ got really roughed up, only recorded 1 out while giving up 4 runs on 2 hits and 4 walks. Dozier has been on fire this spring hitting .714, went 2/3 in the game.

Nationals 2 vs Yankees 4 - The Nationals looked sluggish, recording 3 hits - Zach Walters with the lone home run. Ivan Nova in fine form, 3 innings of no hit ball and 4 strikeouts.

Cubs 4 vs Brewers 2 - Ryan Roberts is making a good bid to make the Cubs, hitting .400 in spring with a single and a run in Monday's action, Braun seems to have no ill effects from his suspension going 2/2 with a double.

Indians 6 vs Rangers 5 - Jason Giambi saw 3 plate appearances, walking once and leaving 3 on base, Choo is still looking for a batting average in the spring.

Rockies (s) 1 vs Mariners (s) 8 - Anderson saw his first action with his new squad, going 2 innings and stranding 3 base runners, Cano is hitting the ball hard, another 2/3 day with an RBI.

Royals 7 vs White Sox 9 - Bonafacio making a bit for opening day going 2/2 with 3 RBI and a HR, De Los Santos gave up the bomb and had a general rough outing for the Sox.

Dodgers 3 vs Athletics 7 - Kershaw was hit hard, gave up 5 runs over 2 while walking 3 batters, Josh Reddick's bat has caught up to this glove - knocking in a couple RBI.

Padres 7 vs Giants 2 - Josh Johnson as solid as can be, no hits over 2 with 2 strikeouts, Lincecum with a solid outing as well, stranding a couple base runners over 2 innings.

Mariners (s) 6 vs Reds 5 - Montero looks poised to lose his job catching this spring to Zunino who was 1/2 with an RBI, Montero was 0/3, Bobby Hamilton got on base twice and scored both times, stealing his second bag of the spring.

Angels 3 vs Diamondbacks (s) 2 - Carlos Pena seems to be fighting a losing battle trying to stay in the bigs 0/2 with 2 strikeouts, Goldschmit is also off to a slow start 0/2 on Monday .083 overall.

Rockies (s) 0 vs Diamondbacks (s) 5 - Tulo milked a couple walks, still looking for hit number 1 in the cactus league, Trumbo is fitting in nicely with his new squad going 1/3 on the day and .364 overall.

The Jays game tonight features both aces:

RA Dickey vs Cliff Lee - WAHOO!!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Lingering Questions Surrounding Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays Spring Training Begins Today

And it's time to address what to expect

 Oppo Taco Town will take a slight detour and cover all things Blue Jays for the next couple of weeks.  Taking my annual sabbatical and venturing to Clearwater & Dunedin to get the scoop first hand.  Follow me on twitter for updates during games and check the blog daily for write-ups.

The Jays begin their prep season today in Clearwater against the Phillies at Brighthouse Field - this just in - Matt Stairs is now a Phillies broadcaster, he seems to have been eating well.

Make sure to check back each day next week for daily updates regarding the goings on around the Blue Jays, some box scores and first hand scouting reports of your favourite Jays.

(This post could be Tarantino Esq - I'll randomly be popping in with some updates from the game today...PS - Joey Bats just hit a ball completely out of Brighthouse Field with his first swing.)

Nonetheless, I'm stuck 1100 miles north until then watching games on MLBTV and freezing my balls off.

Still some questions around camp...

It's no secret the Jays had a very quiet off season and depending on who you asked, it could be for a few different reasons.
The Blue Jays General Manager, Alex Anthopolous seems to think improvements can come within.  Blue Jays reporters seem to think the Jays have been in on multiple pitching free agents.  While Scott Boras seems to think ownership is acting as a "corporate stop sign" - You can listen to the Boras interview with Jeff Blair  by clicking the link.
Whatever the reason, there are some big questions that need answering and a few positional battles that need to shake out in the coming weeks.

(Happ is struggling with command here in his first action - walking a couple, leaving a couple over the heart.)

Can the Blue Jays stay relatively healthy?

It was only a year ago where the Toronto Blue Jays were legitimately the odds on favourite to win the 2013 World Series - what seemed like a dream season at the end of a solid Spring Training quickly turned into a nightmare as the injuries piled up and fingers began to point.  Nearly every starter missed significant time with injury - including cornerstones like Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie and Melky Cabrera (they missed 286 combined games).  Management is hesitant to blame the entire collapse on the inability to keep the lineup intact, however - consider the following.
-Esmil Rodgers & Todd Remond combined for 34 starts
-Josh Johnson & Brandon Morrow combined for 26 starts
-Munenori Kawasaki started more games than Jose Reyes
-Emilio Bonafacio was so bad he was traded mid season for next to nothing
-JP Arencebia literally had one of the worst seasons in the history of baseball
It was a revolving door - when one guy got healthy, another went on the DL, and the guys who stayed healthy sucked.

It's not far fetched to believe the Jays can gain 10-15 wins simply by staying healthy this season.
Cabrera had a tumour removed from his lower back, and already seems to be running more freely.
Brandon Morrow says he's feeling 100%.
Jose Reyes is 9 months removed from his devastating ankle injury.
Arencebia has been replaced by a more than competent Navarro
And Josh Johnson is no longer

(Lawrie & Rasmus just hit back to back doubles off the top of the fence in centre field and Redmond has sat down 6 straight in his 2 innings of work)

Couple these examples with some progression from young players like Lawrie, Rasmus and Gose - there is no reason to think the Jays won't at least be marginally better.

Can the Jays Improve on Their Pitching Woes?

Almost by default the answer has to be a resounding "yes".  The starting pitching was so bad, it actually makes what the bullpen did that much more impressive.  The stress and workload thrown in the laps of the bullpen was huge - Cecil, Delabar, Jansen, Rodgers all handled it in stride and held the Jays in games they had no business being in.  Moving into the offseason it was evident the bullpen was a strength and thus could be used to help bolster the starting rotation through trades (with the addition of some prospects or position players - relief pitchers don't get traded flat out for starters) - no such trade came about and thus Toronto would enter spring training with a dynamite bullpen and bottom of the barrel rotation...unless Anthopolous could play the free agent market. 

(Drabek enters the game...fingers crossed).....(Walked first batter on 4 pitches....)

As of the beginning of spring training, Anthoplous has not been involved in the pitching market either.  Names like Jimenez and Burnett have signed elsewhere, and recent reports lower the Blue Jays to a dark horse to land the free agent.  So, I guess the Jays look for improvement within...which isn't so bad...right?

As it shakes out right now, barring injury, the starting rotation could look like this:
R.A. Dickey
Mark Buehrle
Brandon Morrow
J.A. Happ
Drew Hutchison or Kyle Drabek or Esmil Rodgers or Todd Redmond or Dustin McGowan or dare I say...Ricky Romero?

The good news here is that Dickey and Morrow should be better - if Morrow can stay healthy he's got some of the best stuff in the AL and Dickey is only one year removed from a CY Young Award.  The 2014 pitching depth is something the Jays didn't enjoy last season either.  If an injury does occur, I don't know about you, but I'm a lot more comfortable calling on Hutchison or Drabek or Rodgers as opposed to Wang, Bush, Laffey, Ortiz...maybe this year AA can avoid calling up Sean Nolin when he's clearly not ready.
(Honest to God - the Toronto Blue Jays had 31 pitchers take the mound for them last season...ugh.)

Ideally with this type of depth in Triple A the Jays will be able to reveal highly touted prospects like Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Sean Nolin when they are ready...not when the big league club is grasping at straws.

Are the Blue Jays strong enough positionally?

 Today's @BlueJays lineup card. #JoseBautista #FaceofMLB batting 3rd.

As we see above, the lineup for the first Spring Training game is eerily similar to that of Opening Day 2013.  Rightfully so, with this group of guys - this is probably the best lineup the Jays can run out.  Addition by subtraction, as an Arencibia and Izturis-less batting order looks stronger on paper.

(Wagner's fastball looks untouchable...)

Without question, Anthopolous needs to address second base.  Ryan Goins simply isn't an every day second basemen.  He could be extremely useful in a bench role or utility guy, but Jays fans will wear thin on him and Kawasaki playing the position.  In the above Jeff Blair interview with Scott Boras, the super agent suggests that free agent Stephen Drew would be open to playing second base on a muli-year contract...interesting...
And perhaps there is more smoke to that fire as rumours suggest that Drew and representation have travelled to Florida in order to meet with the New York Mets & the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Blue Jays could also benefit from a strong right handed bat platooning with Adam Lind at first base...and when I say strong, I don't mean Mark Derosa.  It's no secret Lind does not hit left handed pitching fact, can't really it at all.  Kendrys Morales is available, but hat could be a pipe dream - and Lind is strong enough to be playing 4-5 times a week.  Perhaps a Triple A player like Moises Sierra could begin taking reps at first base in Buffalo?

(Rain Delay)

The Blue Jays will be better, how much better depends on the health of the team and the moves head office may or may not make in the coming weeks.  Without a doubt the pressure is mounting and jobs will be on the line in 2014.  Gibbons, Anthopolous and Beeston are all on the hot seat entering this season.  Teams within the division have improved dramatically this offseason and the Jays sitting idol could spell the end for any playoff hopes.  The time is now for this squad, it's year two of a three year window...I suspect there will be no third strike.