Rainout reading: Orioles thoughts, obligatory Vlad content, the Rowdy deal, the Cruz rumour, Mic'd up Jays, Ryu's catcher, and more!
Baseball is cancelled! For the evening, at least. The Jays and Orioles have officially been rained out in Baltimore, and will make up the game as part of a doubleheader on September 11th. But there’s still plenty that’s gone on with the Jays today, and in the couple of days since I last posted, so let’s talk about it!
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Tuesday (Jays 5 - Orioles 7)
This was not an example of the Jays’ putting their best foot forward against a bad team — and a pitcher, Spenser Watkins, making his first MLB start in his second MLB appearance — but that doesn’t mean there weren’t talking points. Here’s a little three up, three down…
▲ Vlad, Grichuk, and Gurriel
The sum total of the Jays' offence came from these three guys in this one, with Vlad hitting a sac fly to score Marcus Semien in the first, and crushing a towering solo shot in the eighth. Grichuk hit his own solo shot in the seventh, and was on base in the ninth when Gurriel smashed a two-run shot. The outbursts were, of course, too little too late to save this one for the Jays, but it was commendable effort by all three. After this one and Wednesday's game, Vlad's wRC+ for the season stands at 196. If he maintained that number for the rest of the season he would be just one point behind 2015 Bryce Harper for the best individual hitting season since Barry Bonds in 2004 (233 wRC+).
Hey, and don't look now, but Gurriel's now got a 125 wRC+ since the start of June — a mark that isn't too shabby in its own right, even if it pales in comparison to the historic things Vlad is doing with the bat right now.
▲ Steven Matz… almost
The Jays' starter, in his second game back after an extended stay on the COVID list, certainly wasn't at his best in this one. But it was a step in the right direction. Six hits, no walks, and four strikeouts over four innings isn't great in any context, and especially not when two of those hits were home runs, but maybe things would have felt different for him if not for the Bo Bichette throwing error on a routine grounder to start the fifth (which preceded the Cedric Mullins home run that ended Matz's day). It at least may have delayed Trent Thornton's arrival into the game, which just might have been enough to give the Jays a chance in this one.
▲ That video
This was a tough one to lose, given the level of competition and the way things predictably unravelled when Thornton entered the game, so it was absolutely tremendous that on the same day Jays fans were given a gift by MLB’s YouTube channel: six whole minutes of a mic’d up Teoscar Hernández (and Ty France and, more importantly, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.) clowning around in last week’s “YouTube game” against the Mariners.
It’s easy to forget when things aren’t going their way, and what I’m about to say certainly hasn’t often applied to the bullpen this season, but this group of players really is incredibly fun.
▼ Trent Thornton / Electing to go to Trent Thornton
It would be nice sometimes if Charlie Montoyo didn't make me look like such an asshole for insisting he might not be so bad. Yes, that’s a bid dramatic, and yes, I’ll be the first one to say it’s important to acknowledge that he’s not operating in a vacuum here. But, as always, final decisions are the manager’s to wear, and he has to wear yet another baffling one that went a looooong way toward costing the Blue Jays a ballgame.
Trent Thornton pitched 1 1/3 innings on June 16th, allowing no runs on one hit with two stikeouts. On June 18th he pitched 1 2/3 innings, allowing no runs on one hit with three strikeouts. He had allowed at least one run in three of his previous four starts (and five of his previous seven). Going into Tuesday's game in Baltimore, in his three outings since the 18th he'd allowed three, one, and two runs respectively. There was the game he faced six batters and gave up two home runs. There was the game where he walked three guys in the 10th inning, including the go-ahead run in a 6-5 loss (a terrible performance that slid somewhat under the radar because that was the day Tyler Chatwood went off the rails with a 5-1 lead in the 8th and then was inexplicably relieved by Tayler Saucedo). Then there was July 30th against Seattle, when he pitched a clean fourth inning in relief of Steven Matz, but began the fifth by giving up a double, a homer, and then a single to end his day.
All of that was before Tuesday. Now add to the pile another single, double, wild pitch, and home run. After an appearance against the Red Sox on May 19th, Thornton sported a 2.82 ERA, with seven runs and zero unearned runs on his record, and 20 strikeouts to eight walks over 22 1/3 innings. Over 15 1/3 innings since then he’s allowed 13 earned runs, good for an ERA of 7.63, and he's added another seven unearned runs on top of that.
The front office is working the phone lines day and night to raise the floor of this bullpen, everybody was rested after Monday’s off-day, and there was Charlie reaching down through the sub-basement to the depths of Mordor for a reliever in a tight ballgame. It made no sense, and basically gave the club no choice but to demote Thornton, which they did on Wednesday.
That’s not to say this is the end for Thornton, but it certainly needed to be for the time being.
▼ Bo Throws
I don’t particularly feel good about this down arrow, and I certainly think that Bo Bichette will continue to improve at shortstop as time goes on. This isn’t me banging on the table saying Bichette needs to be flipped with Semien. It’s more just… oof.
▼ Failing to beat a team that came into the game at 27-57
Wednesday (Jays 10 - Orioles 2)
Well now that’s more like it. Here’s six up!
▲ Hyun Jin Ryu and Danny Jansen reunited
I'm generally not a fan of making too much of who catches who and what impacts we may be able to divine out of "catchers' ERA." The fact that Hyun Jin Ryu put in more of a "classic" Ryu performance than we've seen in weeks — his first seven strikeout game since May 23rd, and only his second time giving up less than three runs over his last seven starts — in the first game with Danny Jansen catching him since June 4th likely had more to do with coincidence and the Baltimore Orioles than anything else. Or maybe just a bit of health. I mean, Jansen's presence likely was not the reason that Ryu equalled his second-best average fastball velocity of the season in this one, or that he threw two of his three hardest pitches of the season.
Surely, though, there’s at least something to be gained from a pitcher and catcher having a good rapport and plenty of successful experience working together. Which, I have to believe, may give Jansen a bit of a lifeline here, despite the fact that Alejandro Kirk has now played seven games on his minor league rehab assignment, including five behind the plate.
Kirk has slashed .350/.444/.550 for Buffalo/Trenton over those seven games, because that’s what he does. In 46 big league plate appearances earlier this season, he produced a 118 wRC+ despite some unfortunate batted ball luck (.194 BABIP) that led to a .225 average. Jansen, meanwhile, has a wRC+ of just 51 on the season, which was sitting at just 26 a mere 24 plate appearances ago (17 prior to the injury, seven since).
Asked about his club’s catching logjam last week, GM Ross Atkins praised Jansen despite his woeful offensive numbers.
“I think Jano has certainly earned the right to be on this team,” Atkins explained. “Although he's struggled offensively, we believe so much in the person, the teammate, the character, and what he brings all around.”
If the Jays genuinely believe that some of what Jansen brings is helping to get Ryu right, that will make it even tougher for Kirk to wrest that big league gig away from him. Fortunately for both, Reese McGuire has just one hit and no walks from his last 16 plate appearances. If he continues to cool at the plate, and Ryu does well throwing to Jansen again in his next start, perhaps it’s McGuire who will find himself out of the job. In the meantime, it seems like Kirk is simply going to have to wait.
There are worse scenarios in the world. It’s not like Kirk couldn’t use a bit more time in the minors to help shore up some of the defensive aspects of his game (which right now lean much more toward adequate than to great). And if Ryu does get going again there won’t be much for Jays fans to complain about, regardless of how much they believe Jansen’s presence is contributing to that.
▲ Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Three more hits, two RBIs, and a run scored. According to FanGraphs, Vlad's 4.8 WAR is the best by any position player by more than half a win. Fernando Tatís Jr. is second at 4.1, then there's a three-way tie at 3.8 between Ronald Acuña Jr., Carlos Correa, and Shohei Ohtani (who, of course, has also been worth another 1.5 fWAR as a pitcher). Among qualified hitters, Vlad's 196 wRC+ leads the next best hitter (Ohtani) by 17 points, and the 10th best ranked hitter (Correa) by 44. His on-base percentage of .439 leads second-ranked Max Muncy 25 points. He's fallen four homers behind Ohtani for the MLB lead, but ranks first in the other two Triple Crown categories.
He is just such an incredibly special talent.
▲ Bo Bichette
He got a down arrow for the last game, and like all of the Blue Jays he’s now clearly playing in Vlad’s shadow, but Bichette is still ridiculously good in his own right. He's now played just about a full season's worth of games in his career — 159 to be exact — and has been worth 5.4 WAR according to FanGraphs. The highest fWAR a Blue Jays shortstop has ever produced was 4.9 by Tony Fernandez in 1990, and only Tony (who did it five times) and Marco Scutaro in 2009 have ever produced 4.0 fWAR or more in a season as the Blue Jays' shortstop. Bichette already is at 2.8 fWAR this year.
In this one? He went 3-for-5 with an RBI single, a two run shot, and a pair of runs scored. His 2.8 fWAR for the season puts him in a tie for 18th among qualified position players so far this season, alongside Nolan Arenado, José Ramírez, and Matt Olson, and just a tick ahead of Aaron Judge and Justin Turner. Not bad company to be keeping.
▲ Teoscar Hernández
Teoscar's big numbers this season have been powered by the 161 wRC+ he put up in May, and he's been below league average in each of the other months of the season — including so far in July, where his wRC+ stands at just 91. He remains a major threat and a deserving All-Star however, as he showed on Wednesday, when he picked up three hits in five at-bats with an RBI and a run scored.
Games like this sure are a lot more fun than losing to these bloody Orioles, aren’t they?
▲ Cavan Biggio
Biggio has cooled a bit after putting up big numbers in June following a trip to the IL, but he took a nice step in the right direction in this one, picking up a pair of doubles and a sac fly on his way to producing two RBIs and a run scored.
▲ Getting to face Matt Harvey
Ahh, yes. That’s the stuff.
Rowdy we hardly knew ye!
The Jays pulled off their second “tidy piece of business” trade of the season earlier in the week, sending first baseman Rowdy Tellez to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for former Rays reliever Trevor Richards and minor league depth arm Bowden Francis. Here’s how I reacted to it at the time on Twitter:
We have, of course, already seen Richards pitch in a Blue Jays uniform by now. He was added to the roster in place of Trent Thornton prior to Wednesday's game, and managed to pitch a nice inning for the Jays in the sixth. The bullpen is still far from perfect, of course, but as long as Charlie can keep himself from stepping on too many land mines, with Richards, Adam Cimber, Tim Mayza, Jordan Romano, and (at least theoretically) Rafael Dolis, there's a lot more to like down there than the Jays have had in several weeks.
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news for the Blue Jays’ bullpen this week, as manager Charlie Montoyo announced prior to Wednesday’s game that Julian Merryweather has once again had a setback while rehabbing his oblique issue. According to Montoyo the as-dominant-as-he-is-maddeningly-unable-to-stay-healthy Merryweather “felt something” recently, and though he has resumed throwing again, “still has a ways to go.” Yeesh.
You can’t help but feel for the guy — and for Rowdy, too. He’s really seemed for a while last summer like he was right on the cusp, but clearly it wasn’t meant to be here. He joins a good Brewers club where he’ll have more of an opportunity to get into ballgames and, hopefully, develop into something more than what he’s been for the Blue Jays these past few years.
Well this tweet sure caused a bit of a stir here on Thursday:
Heyman is certainly not wrong that adding Cruz, 40-year-old DH who only seems to get better with age, and is currently sporting a 151 wRC+ for the Twins, would give the Jays an utterly ridiculous — if heavily right-handed — lineup. But it’s hard to see exactly how that would work given what we know about how the Jays like to use the DH spot (as well as our ability to count the number of big league outfielders that will be on the roster once Corey Dickerson gets healthy).
I tend to agree with Josh on this one.
Joshua @JoshuaHowsamI keep seeing Nelson Cruz connected to the Jays. While I would absolutely love that, it would shock me. They like to rest their outfielders and Vlad at DH so that they can get off their feet but keep the bats in the lineup. You can't easily do that with Nelson Cruz there.
If they’re swinging big for win-now help, the ability to actually field a position is probably a prerequisite here, I think. Alternatively: How about a pitcher?
• I’m not sure if this is as bad as it sounds for the Jays’ plans to try to make it back to Toronto this month, but it’s probably not great!
Cristina Tenaglia @cristina_CP24When can unvaccinated tourists come to Canada? “I’m going to tell you, that’s not going to happen for quite a while.” -PM Trudeau #cdnpoli #onpoli
Granted, the Jays aren’t asking to bring unvaccinated tourists across the border, as their proposal likely includes strict protocols for unvaccinated individuals among the various travelling parties. But still, any haggling over this is going to push the timeline back — and it’s already not in great shape. A 680 News report on Wednesday suggested that the federal government’s decision on the Jays’ is not expected to come this week, creating a timing issue for the July 30th target date, seeing as the Jays have said they’d need at least three weeks to move their operations north from Buffalo.
This bit of info from the same report doesn’t exactly sound great for the Jays either:
The source says the proposal from the Blue Jays is quite different from the NHL.
For hockey, it was just two rounds of playoffs with a limited number of games and players but with baseball, the proposal includes the rest of the regular season after July 30, which involves many more players and staff and much more frequent border crossings.
Player and staff vaccination rates in MLB are a factor in the decision.
Maybe if we hear something very early next week they’ll be able to pull it off, but it’s kind of hard not to start thinking about the August 20th home stand at this point, isn’t it? Woof.
• Great stuff from Lindsay Adler, Britt Ghiroli, and Eno Sarris of the Athletic here on Thursday, as they take a look at the problem with Rob Manfred’s balls — as in, the actual baseball — and all the questions that surround the league’s quest to eliminate “sticky stuff” abuse while finding a way to help pitchers grip the baseball properly. (No mention of Mark Shapiro in this one, though the Jays’ president and CEO did say during a radio interview a couple weeks ago that a pre-tacked ball, like they use in Japan, is something the league “spent two years exploring and hopefully will be able to roll out next year.”)
• Back to the bullpen for a second, as Ryan Borucki made a rehab appearance on Wednesday night for the Bisons, pitching a clean inning and striking out one of the batters he faced. On Thursday afternoon, Charlie Montoyo told reporters that the team will now decide whether to activate the left-hander, or give him another rehab outing. Borucki was retroactively transferred to the 60-day earlier in the week — a procedural move that allowed them to add Trevor Richards without removing anyone from their 40-man roster — but is eligible to be activated as soon as Saturday.
• Here’s a great one from Future Blue Jays, who had a lengthy conversation with the Jays’ assistant director of player development, Joe Sclafani.
• An Jays-related piece popped up on Thursday in Craig Calcaterra’s excellent Substack, Cup of Coffee. It’s unlocked for everyone to read for free, so check out all of Craig’s work, but especially the guest post from Jays fan and Daily Hive writer Ruth Kapelus on the blowback she’s received from writing about the Trevor Bauer situation.
• Another great Substack for you to get yourself subscribed to is, of course, Vlad Religion from friend of the blog Drew Fairservice. Check out his latest piece on our magnificent young lad.
• LATE ADDITION: The Jays announced the completion of a trade I had totally forgotten about on Thursday evening, informing us that they have received 20-year-old outfielder Darlin Guzman from the Reds as the player to be named later in the January trade that send Héctor Pérez to Cincinnati. There are no 2021 numbers to quote here on Guzman, as he's been playing in the Arizona Complex League this season — though apparently not all that often.
The site Reds Minor Leaguers explains:
There wasn’t much playing time for Darlin Guzman this year with the Arizona Complex League Reds. He had only played in two of the six games on the season, going 1-5 with a strikeout. Back in 2019, though, he tore up the Dominican Summer League while playing with the Reds.
As an 18-year-old at the time he played in 47 games and hit .357/.394/.616 with 18 doubles, six triples, and six home runs. He also struck out 44 times and walked just 10 times in 198 trips to the plate. The power was output was real. Despite his age, he hit the 7th longest home run in the farm system in 2019 at 454 feet. The strikeout-to-walk ratio isn’t where you want to see it, even for a younger player. But that power potential is real and while he’s a long way from the big leagues, there’s something there you can look at and see in the future.
• Lastly: Hyun Jin Ryu, Alek Manoah, Ross Stripling, and Tyler Chatwood out for some Korean barbecue?
Hyun Jin Ryu, Alek Manoah, Ross Stripling, and Tyler Chatwood out for some Korean barbecue.
Top image: Screengrab via YouTube/MLB