On bullpen woes, silver linings, links, and more!

Oh, hello. It’s been a while. Uh… let’s talk Blue Jays!

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Relief corpse

I spent the better part of Tuesday trying to put the right words together about the state of the Blue Jays after their manager-aided bullpen implosion against the Red Sox on Monday night. The Charlie Discourse bothers me, much as the Shapiro Discourse has at numerous points over the last five-and-a-half years. And, hoo boy, did I have some thoughts on those parallels. But the longer it took to get the words right, the less vital it all seemed. I revised, toned it down, and started planning for it to be a smaller part of a larger piece that would cover both Monday’s loss and Tuesday’s game against the Yankees. Then, as Tuesday’s game progressed, and laid even more bare than it already was the much, much bigger problem with the Blue Jays’ bullpen, worrying about whether Charlie occasionally pulls a marginally worse string than he could have otherwise pulled began to seem rather quaint.

The Jays have put together a very good roster here. They have the best hitter on the planet. They have Bo Bichette coming around very nicely of late. They have Marcus Semien being worth every penny they gave him and more. They have Teoscar Hernández making it look like last year was no fluke. They’ve found stability in their rotation after a couple of dicey months. They still have barely even seen George Springer. It’s a very good team. But it is not a good enough team to keep losing winnable games at the rate they’ve been doing over the last month or so. Few teams are.

Specifically, I’m talking about these games:

• May 20th against the Red Sox in Dunedin: Rafael Dolis comes in to close out a 7-5 Jays lead but is blown up for three runs and Boston wins 8-7.

• May 21st against the Rays in Dunedin: A.J. Cole gives up a two-run pinch-hit homer to Ji-Man Choi to tie it in the sixth. It's a stalemate until the 12th when Jeremy Beasley gives up a two-out grand slam to Francisco Mejía. The Jays get two back on a Vladdy homer in the bottom of the frame but lose 9-7.

• May 22nd against the Rays in Dunedin: Anthony Castro starts the eighth of a tie game after a great Robbie Ray performance. He promptly allows a single, groundout, intentional walk, wild pitch, then a run scoring single. Tampa gets an insurance run off of Trent Thornton an inning later and the Jays lose 3-1.

• May 23rd against the Rays in Dunedin: The Jays go into the ninth up 4-2 but give up four runs, mostly via the walk, and lose 6-4. This is the Tyler Chatwood/Travis Bergen debacle from way back when anybody actually trusted Chatwood.

• May 24th against the Rays in Dunedin: The Jays give up five runs in the first, claw their way back and get the game to the tenth. Anthony Castro gives up a pair in the top of the frame, the Jays awesomely equalize on a Marcus Semien home run in the bottom of the inning, then Joel Payamps and Tim Mayza combine to allow seven runs in the top of the eleventh. The Jays lose 14-8.

• May 30th against Cleveland in Cleveland: Up 4-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth in a seven-inning doubleheader game, the Jays push starter Steven Matz a little too far. He gives up two before recording an out. Chatwood comes in to minimize the damage and immediately gives up two more. An inning later, after the Jays had pushed ahead thanks to Jonathan Davis (walk), Danny Jansen (sac bunt), and Marcus Semien (single), Chatwood issues four straight one-out walks to tie the game. Castro relieves him and is walked off by José Ramírez.

• June 8th against the White Sox in Chicago: Trent Thornton gets the bottom of the eighth of a 1-1 game and promptly the White Sox go single, single, walk, sac fly to take the lead. Carl Edwards Jr. relieves him and the results are single, triple, sac fly, and the Jays lose 6-1.

• June 11th against the Red Sox in Boston: The Jays lead 5-1 going into the bottom of the sixth. Starter Ross Stripling allows a run on a double and a single, leaving with runners on first and third with two outs. Chatwood comes in and hits a batter, walks in a run, throws a wild pitch to score a run. He then hits a batter before being lifted for Tim Mayza, who gets the Jays out of it still up 5-4. Mayza and Carl Edwards Jr. pitch a clean seventh, but in the eight Edwards Jr. allows a game-tying home run to Christian Arroyo. Dolis gets the ball in the bottom of the ninth and promptly gets a ground ball off the bat of Enrique Hernandez, but Bo Bichette throws it wide and Hernandez scampers all the way to second safely. Alex Verdugo walks it off, 6-5 Red Sox.

• June 14th against the Red Sox in Boston: Down 1-0 after the offence sputters all night, Vladdy hits a magnificent home run to tie it up in the top of the ninth. Dolis gets the ball to start the bottom of the frame and the Red Sox go single, single, flyout, and then walk it off with a Devers single.

• June 15th against the Yankees in Buffalo: Hyun Jin Ryu doesn't have his best stuff and can only go six innings, allowing his third run of the night in is final frame. Up 5-3 at the start of the seventh, Anthony Castro gives up a home run to the first batter he faces, Brett Gardner, then a double to D.J. LeMahieu. Two wild pitches later and the Yankees have tied it. Tim Mayza starts the eighth by giving up a single. Jordan Romano replaces him, pays zero attention to the runner, who easily steals second, then scores on a Clint Frazier double. Yankees win 6-5.

That’s ten losses in less than a month from games that range from “winnable” to “extremely winnable” to “how on earth did you not win that game?”

Now, obviously losses like that are occasionally going to happen every team, no matter the quality of their bullpen. We can’t quite say that the bullpen turned ten wins into losses, expecting that they would have won all of them. But most of them should not have happened to a major league team, and for the most part these weren’t mere flukes. These were the product of a bullpen that is simply not executing because it is clearly not good enough.

A cluster of flukes, while just as frustrating, would at least mean that the madness should soon stop. But with an ailing Romano the only trustworthy option in a sea of flagging reclamation projects there is no reason to believe that this won’t continue happening. At least to some extent.

The Jays can’t let that happen. They can’t let the bullpen become the fatal flaw that sinks their season, especially when it’s this bloody obvious this early what the problem is. And especially when they have guys playing their asses off to put the team in position to win, only to have games continually undone by “someone else’s mediocrity,” as a famous former Blue Jay may have put it.

Speaking of quotes from years past, there’s also this one: “This isn’t the ‘try’ league. This is the ‘get it done’ league.”

We all know that it’s extremely difficult to make fair trades at this stage of the season. A desperate team looking for a quick fix is going to have a hard time not getting fleeced. But whose definition of fleeced are we talking about here? And how much more pain than, say, Kendall Williams and Ryan Noda for a little more than two years of Ross Stripling will it require? Because that’s pain the Blue Jays’ farm system can handle quite easily, I think. Pain it was built to handle.

Especially considering the alternative.

Certainly nobody is concerned about the long-term future of the Blue Jays at this point, but it’s worth considering that there is a non-zero chance that this could be the best shot they’ll have at a deep playoff run for a little while. Replacing the production they’ve received from Semien and Robbie Ray won’t be easy, even with the payroll flexibility the Jays have available to them. Ryu isn’t getting any younger, either. Nor is Springer, frankly. Steven Matz and Tyler Chatwood will be free agents this winter, too. Simply having money doesn’t mean the Jays are going to necessarily hit on the right ways to spend it, and that path gets tougher as rivals like the Yankees and Red Sox get closer to becoming major players on the free agent market again. Hell, it’s even possible that Vlad won’t be utterly locked-in as the best hitter on the planet every single year from now on either.

You’ve got to take your chance when it’s there, and I think it is there. This isn’t the be all, end all metric, but the Jays — without Springer, mind you — are the fourth best team in the American League by Pythagorean record right now, and one of the teams ahead of them (the Rays) just lost their best pitcher (Tyler Glasnow) for potentially the rest of the season.

Of course, thanks largely to the bullpen, by actual record the Blue Jays are just the eighth best team in the AL currently. That disparity is causing frustration. We saw it from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in Boston over the weekend. And we saw it from Charlie Montoyo on Tuesday night.

Asked by Shi Davidi of Sportsnet if pitching in higher leverage may be getting to some of his relievers mentally, Montoyo went on as close to a rant as we've heard from him.

I don't Shi, it's tough to explain. All I know is it seems like every day I get question, 'What's wrong with Castro?' 'What's wrong with Chatwood?' Now it's Dolis. 'What's wrong with Dolis?' 'Why are you pitching Dolis in that inning?' It's been every fucking month — I mean the whole month — about the same thing, you know? The guys, we're going to give them a chance. You know? Castro? We need Castro to pitch good. Chatwood was good today. Dolis, we need him. Romano came in, gave up a double — he's still going to pitch, you know? These are who we've got. And we're going to trust them. These are who we've got. You know? And we've been in every game, as you know. We've been in every game. Just the bullpen's not doing the job. But, you know what, they're going to get a chance again tomorrow. 

Clearly he’s frustrated, and understandably so. Charlie can only play the hand he’s been dealt, which at this point is not a good one. He wants to have his players’ backs, but it’s a little harder to lie about this stuff than it is to say that an injured reliever is merely tired. And here’s the thing: The Blue Jays love to talk about culture and leadership. They clearly value a positive work environment, as Charlie’s usually sunny disposition will attest. Yet the front office holds the keys to leading the way out this simmering frustration, showing their players they truly believe in them, and they’re doing what? Waiting for Ryan Borucki and his 4.05 ERA to return? Hoping this is finally the time Patrick Murphy and Julian Merryweather stay healthy for longer than five minutes? Hemming and hawing on whether to throw a little obstacle in the development path of future starters like Thomas Hatch or Nate Pearson by making them relievers for the rest of the year?

This is an organization that after 2017 basically punted on eight months of rebuilding because, they claimed, they owed it to the fans. Now they can’t give up a little too much to make an early trade?

I understand that baseball executives are necessarily less prone to panic than fans are. I understand that a lot of the fans desperate to see a splashy trade will probably see what one looks like and scream “NO, NOT LIKE THAT!” But something is going to have to hurt here at some point, and I promise that none of the present options will hurt more than allowing this season to wither and die on the vine.

That may not happen if nothing changes right away, if the Jays muddle through with what they’ve got, hope for better health, and then make upgrades via trade at a more traditional point on the calendar, but how can you possibly take that risk with everything else this team has going for it? Fix. The. Bullpen.

Links!

• There has been lots of talk about MLB’s new war on pitchers using illegal substances, and I hate to say it, but the most sensible thing I’ve heard on it so far is from Rays ace Tyler Glasnow. I’ve seen a lot of fans reacting to tweets and headlines pulled from what he said, but I think you really need to see the whole thing for the proper context.

• The other most sensible thing I’ve heard on the issue is this. I will take it one step farther, though. Not only are owners making players look bad here, they’re trying to turn players against each other.

• One more on this subject, because this is important too:

• Aaaand speaking of scandalous MLB things:

• Not going to lie, I forget why I’m not a fan of the author of the thread the following tweet came from. The thread is about teams other than the Astros cheating, and I’ve got to say, some of the statistical evidence he brings to make his point is pretty spurious. Wonky home/road splits are not uncommon, and not in any way an indicator of someone having a personal “man in white” signaling to them in the stands. Do I believe this one, though? Oh you’d better believe I do!

Fortunately for MLB, they won’t have to take trophies away from anyone for this, because, as we all know, the 2015 World Series never happened.

• Turns out the whole sticky substance issue in baseball leads back to another series that I’m pretty sure never happened: the 2016 ALCS.

LOL. (For more on Bauer’s role in bringing this issue to the fore, this piece from Defector from back in April is excellent.)

• We’re getting there:

Twitter avatar for @Minor_LeaguerMinor Leaguer @Minor_Leaguer
This framework covers MLB's return to Ontario. Of note, it requires PCR tests for all athletes 7, 5, 3, and 1 days before the first game in the province. Would mean before any series in Toronto for visiting teams.
ontario.ca/page/return-pl…

Devin Heroux @Devin_Heroux

JUST IN Ontario government releases framework for select Ontario professional/elite-amateur sport leagues and events for a safe return to play. Includes athletes, coaches and officials competing to be a part of Team Canada at summer or winter Olympic Games or Paralympic Games.

Silver linings!

It has not been the most positive couple of days for the Blue Jays, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t also been plenty of good things happening as well. So, before I close out this piece, I’d like to make not of a few glimmers of positivity.

• Vlad is awesome, in case you’ve been under a rock. The best hitter on the planet continues to amaze:

• Vlad is also, as I’m sure you’ve heard, the leading vote-getter so far for the All-Star game. Marcus Semien is on track to start at second base as well.

• Speaking of non-Vlad hitters, Bo Bichette has been really starting to look the part as of late:

• MLB Network had a fun one about both him and Teoscarnandez back on Monday, following the Jays’ offensive explosion at Fenway on (most of) the weekend.

• Hey, remember all that Alek Manoah hype a couple weeks ago when the rotation was the Jays’ biggest problem? Yeah, he’s delivering on it. His ERA dropped to 2.66 for the season after a good bounce-back start against Boston over the weekend. Six innings, five strikeouts, and just four hits, one walk, and one earned run. The big lad looks confident out there.

• Which top 100 prospects are pushing for promotions? MLB Pipeline goes off the board, bypassing both Gabriel Moreno and Nate Pearson (though they could have easily gone with either), but choosing Simeon Woods Richardson! “This isn’t Alek Manoah levels of dominance in the Minors,” they write, “but with every coming start, Woods Richardson builds a case that he should get to Triple-A Buffalo on his own soon. The 20-year-old right-hander has allow one earned run or fewer in four of his five starts with Double-A New Hampshire, resulting in a 2.25 ERA. He has fanned 36 in 24 innings and 36.7 percent of the batters he faced.”

• George Springer (almost) plays for the Toronto Blue Jays:

• IYKYK

• Lastly, Robbie Ray: Still somehow good! As this breakdown from Nick Pollack of Pitcher List shows!

Top image: Screen grab via Sportsnet/MLB.com/@BlueJayHunter