Two Pitiful Performances

santos1

I am still in awe over last night’s (epic) meltdown. 8 walks in ONE INNING! Three runs scored on THREE WILD PITCHES!! Not to mention the always entertaining walk with the bases loaded to score a run. Amazingly it took THREE Blue Jays relievers to drop that deuce on the mound last night. Included in the blood letting were our All Star setup man (Steve Delabar), the guy who can’t start and apparently can’t pitch out of the ‘pen (J.A Happ), and everyone’s favourite grease fire – Sergio Santos. It’s hard to pin the blame on just one of them when all THREE were spectacularly awful but Santos has to take the cake. Our “closer” not only threw the THREE WILD PITCHES mentioned earlier but also managed to walk ALL THREE BATTERS he faced. In fact Santos only threw 4 of his 16 pitches for strikes before turning the toilet… er mound over to Happ.

santos2

Amazingly, this piss poor collapse by the bullpen in game two of a doubleheader was enough to allow fans to (momentarily) forget the absolute STINKER that our “ace” dropped in game one of the double dip.

dickhead

The knuckle man’s record fell to 1-3 on the season and his ERA rose to 6.26 after he surrendered 5 ER in 4.1 innings pitched. Dickey also managed to walk 5 batters, pushing his amount of walks to 15 in 23 innings pitched. Despite getting into trouble in the first couple innings Dickey was able to get out of it with help from his defense. However the D couldn’t bail Dickey out after he loaded the bases in the 5th before allowing a single to Josmil Pinto which chased Dickey from the game.

You can blame Dickey’s outing on the cold weather and elements all you like. They sure didn’t look to affect Twins starter Kyle Gibson though; as he carved the Blue Jays batters up over 8 innings. Sure, the offense didn’t give any support to Dickey either but he never pitched well enough to give the bats a chance to wake up either. In the opening of the series Phil Hughes held the Jays lineup relatively quiet until they woke up in the 6th inning. Perhaps the same could have happened Thursday afternoon.

It is hard to say which of the two games was more alarming.

dickhead1

My own personal dislike for Dickey has me expecting the worst every time he takes the mound… and he rarely disappoints. My biggest concerns about Dickey (besides watching Syndergaard and d’Arnaud potentially become studs) are that he will never be anything other than a glorified innings eater for the Jays during his tenure here, and that he is incapable of being a dominant performer in the American League. It doesn’t matter how great his knuckle ball is if he can’t throw it for strikes and when that happens, his 80 mph fastball is not going to fool anybody. When he won the Cy in 2012 Dickey had two GREAT performances against AL opponents. He threw BACK TO BACK one hit shutouts against the ORIOLES and RAYS. You know… those two teams that are in the JAYS DIVISION! Part of the reason AA traded for him were those two performances and yet we have seen NOTHING like that. Maybe his success in 2012 against the AL East was because the Orioles and Rays hadn’t seen him before (probable) and now that they see him multiple times a season they have the book on him.

Surprisingly though… Dickey’s proverbial shitting of the bed takes a backseat to the bullpens implosion.

santos3

Why you ask? Well with Casey Janssen being shut down for another 3 to 4 weeks (at least) we HAVE TO trust our bullpen to close out close games for us. Personally I have faith in Delabar and believe that last night was an anomaly. Santos on the other hand… kills me! The guys’ stuff was MADE to be a dominant closer but he has NO consistency and is an ABSOLUTE LIABILITY in the 9th inning. In reality we have three guys who are “capable” of closing games out for us – Santos, Delabar, and Brett Cecil. Santos is a grease fire. Delabar is unproven. And putting Cecil in the closer’s role takes (arguably) our best lefty option out of action before the 9th. Aaron Loup is a solid LOOGY (Left Only One Out Guy) and Happ doesn’t know what he is, so that makes Cecil more valuable as a setup/LOOGY for the time being. I am sure that Santos will get (at least) one more shot at closing the door but I wouldn’t trust him as far as you can throw him. Delabar should be on deck, just in case.

I do understand that it is only April and that the Jays have only played 16 games to date. I agree that there is a lot of baseball left to play and that it IS NOT time to pull the panic switch. What does concern me though is that (regardless of when in the season it is) we NEED TO WIN these games against teams that are (suppose to be) below us. Not only did the Blue Jays miss a chance to (potentially) sweep a below average team but they also threw away a game that they had all but won. Although they are not projected to make the playoffs, the Jays need to sweep series from teams like the Twins; or at least WIN them like they did against the Astros!

Despite the expectations being MUCH lower than they were last year, it is throwing away games early in the season like yesterday that will prevent the 2014 Blue Jays from even playing meaningful baseball in September. Let alone any ambitions of October baseball.

But don’t worry… at least Jose Reyes comes back on Saturday!

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– $

George Springer and the Case For Hope in Houston

GeorgeSpringer3

It’s hard to imagine that we are less than a decade removed from seeing the Astros lose to the White Sox in the 2005 World Series. Yes the same Houston Astros that have reeled off three consecutive 100 loss seasons were once the franchise that featured the likes of the Killer B’s (Bagwell, Biggio, and Berkman), the Rocket, Andy Pettite, and Roy Oswalt. These days the Astros are more known for Youtube gems -like Jonathan Villar’s “Butt Slide”- than they are for winning.

Astros - Butt Slide

But things are starting to look up in Houston.

minute maid

One of the (few) benefits of being a perennial cellar dweller is being able to stockpile high draft picks and build a strong farm system, and the Astros have arguably one of the best minor league systems in the game today. When the Astros made the decision to go into full rebuild mode during the 2010 season they did so by beginning to sell off whatever veteran assets they had in exchange for prospects. Franchise stalwarts like Roy Oswalt, Michael Bourn, and Hunter Pence were dealt for the likes of Johnathan Singleton, Jarred Cosart, and Brett Oberholtzer. Those moves, combined with three straight years of futility and 100 loss seasons, ensured the Astros the #1 pick in the past two MLB Amateur drafts; a third straight #1 pick to come in the 2014 MLB Draft.

The Astros cash crop of collected prospects begin to pay off with the MLB debuts of starting pitchers Jarred Cosart and Brett Oberholtzer in 2013 and Wednesday nights debut of highly touted OF prospect George Springer was the most recent of what looks to be an express lane to Minute Maid Field. The 24 year old Springer enjoyed a monstrous season in the minor leagues in 2013. In 492 plate appearances split between AA and AAA Springer batted .303 with 37 HR/108 RBI and 45 stolen bags. Minor leagues or not, those are video game numbers. Springer showed a glimpse of his plus speed when he legged out a swinging bunt for his first career MLB hit. Springer would finish the game 1 for 5.

Astros - Altuve and Castro

Now with apologies to Jose Altuve, Dexter Fowler, and Jason Castro; Springer has the tools to immediately become the Astros best player. I know that’s not saying a whole lot considering what the Astros lineup looks like but Springer definitely has the tool set to be an impact type of player. Hopefully he remembers to bring his toolbox though.

With Springer making his debut on Wednesday the question now becomes “Who is next?”

We might not have to wait that long to find out the answer.

The two most “major league ready” of their prospects are big sluggling 1B Jonathan Singelton and SP Mark Appel.

2012 Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game

Singleton was acquired by the ‘stros from the Phillies in the Hunter Pence deal back in 2011. Despite being considered “major league ready,” Singleton has yet to appear in an Astros uniform because of his inability to lay off the weed. Singleton had to sit out the first 50 games of the 2013 season for his SECOND failed drug test for Marijuana. Singleton has recently admitted to having a “problem” and has even had Josh Hamilton reach out to him. Hopefully for both Singleton and the Astros he has the ability to overcome his addiction. They could sure use his big power bat at 1B, especially with the open casting call they are currently having at the position.

Astros - Appel2

The Astros had passed up the chance to draft the Stanford righty back in 2012 but opted to go with Carlos Correia instead. Appel, in turn, fell to the Pirates with the 8th pick, and made the decision to head back to school and re-enter the draft in 2013. It was a good decision for both Appel and the Astros as they selected him 1st overall in 2013. Appel is an advanced pitching prospect as far as make-up and pitching repertoire. The Astros are in no real rush with Appel but a lack of impact starters could have Appel in Houston sooner rather than later.

CARLOS.CORREA

The Astros best prospect -Carlos Correia- is still a couple of years away but he may have the highest ceiling of all the prospects. The Astros surprised the baseball world when they picked the 17 year old SS ahead of Byron Buxton and Mark Appel; making the 17 year old Correia the youngest player ever drafted 1st overall. In his first season in the minors Correia did not disappoint. In 450 plate appearances he hit for a .320 AVG and added 9 HR and 86 RBI; and his .872 OPS led the Midwest League. Although he is big for a SS (6’4) his strong arm, good range, and soft hands should keep him at the position once he hits the majors. Correia is still a few years away from an everyday gig but you could see him make an appearance as a September call up in 2015.

With the Astros slated to select 1st overall for a third straight year it looks like there already deep farm system will only get stronger. The prize prospect in this years draft is N.C State LHP Carlos Rodon and the Astros have already been rumoured to have been in talks with him.

carlos rodon

Another losing campaign looks all but a sure thing for the 2014 campaign but the silver lining for the Astros and their fan base is that it is another chance to add a piece to the puzzle.

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Giancarlo Stanton: The New Monster of Mash

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It has been said that Mickey Mantle gave birth to the “tape measure” home run. The legendary moment of conception came in the 5th inning, during a contest at Griffith Park against the Washington Senators, on April 17th, 1953.

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It was an offering from Washington LHP Chuck Stobbs and Mantle (hitting right handed) smashed the ball over the LF bleachers and out of the park. The ball would later be found on the front lawn of a neighbouring house. The Yankees PR rep at the time took it upon himself to find out the exact distance of the shot and set out with a tape measure to find out the true measurement. 565 feet later and a legend was born.

It has been almost 60 years to the day since the “tape measure” home run entered our sports vernacular. In that time there have been NUMEROUS candidates who have thrown their proverbial “hat into the ring” as a challenge to Mantle and his historic clout. Some of these candidates have been cast from the same “country strong” mould that produced the likes of “Big” Harmon Killebrew and Mike Schmidt.

Included in the country strong category are the likes of:

Bo Jackson:

The “Big Hurt” Frank Thomas:

http://m.mlb.com/video/v26402025/balcws-thomas-shot-is-white-sox-first-in-new-park/?query=frank+thomas+home+run

the Fielders (Cecil and Prince):

http://m.mlb.com/video/v7589135/milpit-fielder-crushes-a-solo-shot-to-center/?c_id=mlb

Vladdy Guerrero:

http://m.mlb.com/video/v2891898/guerrero-hammers-a-homer-to-left/?query=vladimir+guerrero+home+run

and Josh Hamilton:

http://m.mlb.com/video/v26402025/balcws-thomas-shot-is-white-sox-first-in-new-park/?query=frank+thomas+home+run

However the best example of country strong currently in the MLB is hands-down the “Big Donkey” Adam Dunn.

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Since making his debut as a 21 year old in 2001 all Dunn has done (no pun intended) has mashed baseballs. To date the Big Donkey has hit a career 443 home runs – good for 38th overall on the all-time Home Run list. That includes hitting 40 home runs in a season six times; five in a row from (2004-08). Dunn has been the definition of “all or nothing” for his entire career in the sense that he will either hit the ball out of the ball park or he will whiff. Despite hitting 443 career dingers, Dunn has also struck out 2234 times in his career. Regardless of his high strikeout numbers the Big Donkey still has the ability to do this to baseballs:

I know what you are wondering, where did the ball go? The ball in question sailed clean out of the Great American Ballpark and landed in the parking lot some 535 ft away. Amazingly the ball continued to roll another 200 ft and ended up on a piece of driftwood in the Ohio River. The same ball would later be found in KENTUCKY! And that was the day that the “Big Donkey” knocked a ball out of a state.

Unfortunately legendary long ball hitters are not created equal. Some are gifted with immense size and strength like Dunn, some are passed down their power through great genes like the Fielders. Others, however, choose to go the chemical route in order to get the achievements that they desire.

Baseball 2006

Yes steroids and PED’s are illegal (now), however that was not always the case. Whether or not MLB wants to continue denying their knowledge of it, unfortunately the “steroid era” did occur. As black of an eye as it is now, the great steroid fueled Home Run chase of 1998 between Sosa and McGwire pretty much saved baseball from obscurity. I don’t personally condone the whole steroid/PED use but I am also not hypocritical enough to throw the book at guys who were not doing anything illegal.

That being said, some of the biggest and baddest power hitters were prevalent in that era from 1987 to 2004. The Oakland A’s were a force to reckon with in the late 80’s and early 90’s with a lethal combination of speed and power. The great Ricky Henderson provided the speed as a table setter and left the power to be supplied by the “Bash Brothers”

Bash brothers

I really do miss the unintentional humour of sporting posters of the late 80’s and 90’s.

Before he was considered a complete laughing stock by the professional baseball world for his tell all book(s), PR stunts, appearances on reality TV, and just being a meat head, Jose Canseco was a 6x All-Star, Rookie of the Year recipient, and 1988 AL MVP. In 17 seasons, “the Chemist” (I can’t make that up) as he is known, launched an impressive 462 career taters. Even though he is more known for his rampant steroid use and “fly ball of the head for a HR” video, there was a time that Canseco was more known for this:

But still… how can you ever get sick of watching this:

Other notable (enhanced) sluggers of the Steroid Era include Canseco’s fellow Bash Brother, Mark McGwire:

The always quotable Manny Ramirez:

And of course, the Home Run king himself. Mr. Barry Bonds:

In the past few years the baseball world has seen it’s fair share of sluggers. Players like Miggy Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Ryan Braun, etc.. are all capable of hitting 40+ home runs in any given season but they are not true murderers of the baseball like our next contender for the title of “Monster of Mash;” Mr. Giancarlo Stanton.

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At 6’6, 240 lbs. Stanton looks more like an NFL tight end stuffed into a Miami Marlins jersey than he does a ballplayer. It’s no surprise that he received scholarships from UNLV and UCLA to play football before settling on being a professional murderer of cowhide. Stanton made his professional debut as a 20 year old in 2010 and gave the baseball world a sample of what was to come when he hit his first career homer off of Matt Garza; for a grand slam none the less.

http://m.mlb.com/video/v9118273/tbfla-stanton-belts-a-grand-slam-in-the-first/?query=giancarlo+stanton+grand+slam

The action figure known as Stanton has hit a career 122 home runs in a mere 504 career games. In fact he became the 9th fastest player to hit 100 career home runs which he achieved by the age of 22. The only concern about Gio has been his inability to remain healthy for a full season. In his short career Stanton has only played over 130 games once (150 in 2011) and has been forced to the DL on multiple occasions because of issues with his knees and hamstrings. One bright side is that he is still under 25 and the durability issues could subside. However nothing is more concerning than a power hitter with bad knees/legs. See Guerrero, Vladimir. Luckily for Stanton (unlucky for Marlins fans) he has a very good chance of being traded to another team by seasons end. If he gets moved to a contender in the AL they could have him get AB’s as a DH in order to preserve his legs; a move to 1B in the future wouldn’t be a surprise either.

When he is healthy, there may be nobody better in the game at punishing a baseball. Not only does Stanton treat fans to colossal blasts during the game but he also puts on a display for those lucky fans who show up for batting practice.

http://m.mlb.com/video/v15216059/flasf-stanton-turns-heads-with-mammoth-bp-homer/?query=giancarlo+stanton+home+run

In the past couple seasons Stanton has either led the league, or been among the leaders, in home run distance and average distance of home runs. But Stanton isn’t just about the long ball. He can even flash the leather from time to time. In 2012 he launched this three run bomb in the top of the first inning and followed it up with a highlight reel catch in the second inning.

http://m.mlb.com/video/v24029875/must-c-combo-stanton-makes-grab-hits-titanic-shot/?query=giancarlo+stanton+home+run

Although the 2014 season is still young, Stanton has (easily) been one of the bigger stories thus far. He started the 2014 power show early by flexing his muscle against the Mets in Spring Training. It is actually comical how STRONG he actually is.

Power is the only thing that Gio knows. His first home run of the season was measured at 484 feet! It was his FIRST homer mind you.

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?topic_id=vtp_longest_drives&content_id=31823267

In the past couple of days alone Stanton has gone off on NL pitching. The guy is completely locked in right now and opposing pitchers should take note. No fastballs. Nothing straight or hard. The Phillies and Nationals didn’t get the scouting report in time though…

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?topic_id=vtp_longest_drives&content_id=32030193

That blast happened in the 5th inning. He followed it up with this one in his next at bat:

http://m.mlb.com/video/v32031443/miaphi-stanton-blasts-a-tworun-shot-to-left-field/?c_id=mlb

Silly. Just silly.

Gio wasn’t done there though. In his next game against Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals, Stanton decided to deposit an 88 mph slider to CF in the 1st inning for a three run bomb. The home run was measured at 457 feet and was the furthest one EVER surrendered by the former 1st overall pick. The Marlins would chase Strasburg from the game by the 4th inning after tagging him for 6 runs and would go on to win the game 11-2; Stanton’s blast being the catalyst.

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?topic_id=vtp_longest_drives&content_id=32096337

With the season being only 15 games young there is a very good -and likely- chance that Stanton’s torrid pace will cool off. Hopefully that will be because of teams adapting to him and less from DL stints. There is also a VERY good chance that he gets traded from the Marlins sooner rather than later. Marlin’s fans (if there are any left) should take advantage of being able to see a true, chemical free, power hitter in their home ballpark – while they still can.

It’s hard to say how Stanton’s career will wind up. It’s too soon to tell. Either way, Marlins fan or not, enjoy the highlight reel that is Stanton. They don’t come around too often.

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Old Time Photo of the Day – #715

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It was forty years ago today that a black man named Henry “Hank” Aaron broke the most prolific record in baseball, that was held by the most heralded and legendary baseball player of all time.

On April 8th, 1974 in a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, “Hammerin” Hank deposited a pitch from Al Downing into the Braves bullpen to break Babe Ruth’s career record of 714 Home Runs. The record breaking blast also signified the breaking of the white Ruth’s record by the black Aaron. Keep in mind that this came (not only) 27 years after Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the colour barrier, but also just 10 years after the passing of the Civil Rights Act in the United States.

Unlike the insults and harassment that Roger Maris experienced while he pursued the Babe’s single season HR record of 60 in 1961, the insults and threats that were hurled at Aaron were racially charged and of pure hate. Having ended the 1973 season sitting on 713, Aaron was forced to spend the entire winter subjected to hate mail and death threats. Aaron had even stated at the end the last game of the 1973 season that his only fear was “that he might not live to see the 1974 season.”

Aaron would indeed survive the offseason and entered the season looking to both tie and surpass Ruth’s records. With the Braves slated to open the season on the road in Cincinnati, the Braves owners were worried that Aaron would hit both home runs while he was on the road. There solution: bench him for the opening series. MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn stepped in and ruled that Aaron had to appear in at least two of the games. The Braves had good reason to want to sit Aaron as he tied Ruth’s record with his first swing of the season. Luckily for the Braves and their fans, HR #714 would be the only one he hit in the opening series.

With the Braves and Aaron returning home to Atlanta, the stage was set for history. With a capacity crowd of 53 775 in attendance and the game being televised nationally on NBC, Aaron would deposit an off-speed pitch into the bullpen in the 4th inning. The legendary Vin Scully would poetically say of the record breaking slam:

“What a marvelous moment for baseball; what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia; what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron. … And for the first time in a long time, that poker face in Aaron shows the tremendous strain and relief of what it must have been like to live with for the past several months.”

Aaron would be joined along his journey around the bases by two young college students who wanted to congratulate him. Aaron momentarily thought they had other intentions…

Aaron 7151

When asked after the game about what he thought about the chase and breaking of the record, Aaron coolly responded:

“Thank god that’s over.”

Aaron’s career record of 755 Home Runs would stand as the all-time record until it was broken by Barry Bonds in 2007. The debate of whether or not the “chemically enhanced” Bonds is the new home run king is one that is on going and does not look to be over anytime soon.

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