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Stray Thoughts... - We love pitching and defence!
On Brandon Belt, quiet crowds, Jordan Romano, Malachi Moore, playoff scenarios, (playoff) broadcast news, home splits, Rob Manfred, Rowdy Tellez, Michael King and more!
“We need the fans to be loud,” self-proclaimed Blue Jays MVP Brandon Belt told Sportsnet’s Hazel Mae, according to a tweet she posted on Wednesday morning. “These are important games for us.”
Hey, maybe game ops should start pressing the fucking “everybody clap your hands” button more often.
Ho ho ho. We have fun, don’t we?
But, OK. I completely sympathize with Belt’s position. I would very much like to see fans bring back the incredibly fun sense of constant menace to the Rogers Centre that was there in 2015 and 2016. I love the echo of “Winfield Wants Noise” here.
It’s just a little complicated.
For one thing, game ops’ noise-prompting is so loud and so incessant that there’s no reason for anyone to believe that their organic cheering isn’t going to get cut off at the legs before it really gets going anyway.
For another, evidently there are plenty of fans—you don’t have to look too deeply into Hazel’s replies to find them—who insist their relationship with the team is purely transactional. You get hits, score runs, I get a dopamine rush, and then I cheer. Encouraging their team, cheering the team on, they appear to be saying, isn’t really the point for them.
I’m sure part of why some are saying that is simply out of frustration over last night’s performance. Or for all the other impotent offensive displays we’ve seen from the club this season. As the bizarre and often rage-farming, make-the-Jays-seem-as-bad-as-possible account run from the same company that owns the team pointed out last night, there have been a lot of them lately.
Frankly, sometimes I think it might be nice if instead of “fans,” North America had instead used the word “supporters.” You hear that one in the UK mostly, where people are certainly no less fanatical, but there at least isn’t an excuse built into the terminology for those having infantile little hissy fits about their teams all the time. It gets a little closer to the spirit of what the thing should be.
But also, to reiterate something I said when I wrote about the issue of fans booing the home team back during the Rangers series, I can’t tell anyone how to approach their fandom. Especially when I’m not the one plunking down thousands of dollars for what has often felt like an inferior on-field product at a stadium increasingly being optimized to insert the team’s hand as deeply as possible in everyone’s wallet.
And I can tell you for absolute certain that Jays fans would have been blowing the roof off the place if Monday’s game had been more like Sunday’s—or any of the three the team played at Tropicana Field over the weekend.
Personally, I think it’s a bit absurd to bristle at the idea of getting chastised for not being excited enough over a team that’s this close to making the playoffs for just the fifth time in 25 years, even if they’re struggling to score that particular night. A little cajoling from a World Series winner can’t hurt.
But I can’t blame fans for not being convinced that all is fine with this offence just because it averaged more than six runs per game for a week, or for simply letting the stupid noise-prompts do what the higher-ups have for some reason decided they’re there for. Nor can I blame them for being cognizant of how much they’ve paid for the privilege of consuming this “entertainment.”
Especially when we all know full well that they’ll be as loud as ever when good things actually do happen.
Here are today’s stray thoughts…
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About Last Night
Well, at least it’s less likely that Jordan Romano will pitch here on Wednesday, amiright?
I kid, of course. Romano is one of the best, most reliable closers in the game when he’s going right. If you’re a Jays fan you want to see the ball in his hand with the game on the line. And yet right now any worries you might have about that situation are completely justifiable.
The six earned runs Romano has allowed this month is now tied for the most he's had in any calendar month since becoming the Jays' closer in 2021. The seven runs he's allowed are the most. The .318 opponents' wOBA and .419 opponents' slugging percentage are both third-highest. The five walks he's issued are unusually high. His FIP, his hard hit rate, and his HR/9 are all third-highest.
It's been a bad month so far, by his extremely high standards. He's dealing with a cracked fingernail, though he claims it's not an issue. And he's just six batters away from facing the most he's ever faced in a month, and headed toward his third straight 60+ appearance season as the reliever with the 19th most innings in MLB since the start of '21.
He could be out of gas, he could be more bothered by the fingernail than he's letting on, or he could just be in a simple trough that he’ll bounce out of at any moment. It’s hard to say, really.
In his latest for Yahoo, Nick Ashbourne tells us a rather scary fact: the last time Romano allowed multiple runs in back-to-back outings, as he's done this week, was 2019—"a year that saw him post a 7.63 ERA". But he also compares data from Romano's first 56 appearances with his last two and hardly notices any meaningful difference.
Unfortunately, Nick also points out that Romano's iffy command of late has been a fairly durable problem since he returned from the injured list in mid-August. And that the data bears out what fans have seen with their own eyes: his fastball is ending up in the middle part of the plate too often.
The fact that the Jays' offence has given their relievers such little margin for error this season magnifies some of their flaws, I think. But it's not as though we're expecting fewer games decided on the margins as the Jays finish their final five-game sprint to the playoffs and then, hopefully, move forward into October. So... it's a tricky situation.
A closer controversy is never a good thing, and could be especially difficult to navigate at this point in the season. But loyalty can only go so far—and the other players who've helped get the Jays to this point deserve to have the best possible reliever out there in the biggest moments, everyone else's feelings be damned.
I am not there yet as far as calling for Jordan Hicks—a perfectly capable, 105 mph-throwing option who is right there—to take over the closer's role. But there needs to be a bigger safety net for Romano, and more willingness to use it. Fewer multi-inning save attempts, too. One more tough outing, I'm sorry to say, probably necessitates a move. There’s just not enough season left and they simply can't throw any more games away.
About Last Night, Part II
This is the only explanation I’ve seen that makes any sense.
About Last Night, Part III
Can’t say I cared for home plate umpire Malachi Moore’s work on Tuesday, like a whole lot of Jays fans. And probably a lot of Yankees fans, too.
The Jays didn't do their playoff chances and favours on Tuesday, nor did the Mariners. Seattle beat the Astros, taking their record to 85-72 with five games to play. Houston now sits at 86-72 with four games left.
In slightly better news, Texas lost in Anaheim, taking their record to 88-69 with five games left.
The Jays, of course, are 87-70 (and also have five left).
So here's where things are at:
• Seattle and Houston each have a path to 90 wins, but that will not be true after tonight's game between the two sides. One of them will only be able to get to 89.
• If that's Houston, because the Jays hold the tiebreaker, the Jays’ magic number over them would be two. Any combination of Blue Jays wins or Astros losses (they face Arizona on the weekend, following an off-day on Thursday) that adds up to two would ensure the Jays finish ahead of them.
• If it's Seattle loses then the most that team can get to is 89, and because they hold the tiebreaker, the Jays' magic number over them would be three.
• If the Mariners were to lose but then win their last four games and get to 89, that would mean four more losses for the Rangers. Texas could only get to 89 in that scenario, and that's only if they win tonight.
The door remains wide open for the Jays, in other words. Three wins from their next five guarantees they're in, but two wins will very likely be enough—it's either enough to eliminate Houston, or would require a four-game sweep from the Mariners over Texas (and Texas to win tonight). One or even zero could still get them in if the Mariners or Astros get swept in their final series'.
Let's, um, maybe not leave it up to that. But they're still in very good shape, even if the most important result—their own—didn't go their way on Tuesday night. They'll remain in good shape even if they don't win here on Wednesday too. Try to keep this in mind!
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Dan’s the (playoff) man
Great scoop from my pal Matt Robinson of Tall Can Audio, who had Dan Shulman on his most recent podcast, and asked him about whether he’d continue his duties as the voice of the Blue Jays should the team make it to the playoffs this season. You may recall that last year he was off doing work for ESPN Radio, with Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler calling the games for Sportsnet. This year, however, is different.
MATT: The most common question that I have been told to ask you is, are we getting Dan on the playoff games if they get in this year? Last year you were moving on to cover it, I believe, for ESPN. And so people want to know, will you be with the Jays this year?
DAN: Yes I will. This is actually the first time I'm speaking about this publicly. It's, as you and I talk—as you know people listen on different days—it is Wednesday morning right now, so the Blue Jays are about to play Gerrit Cole and the Yankees tonight, and they have not clinched a playoff spot. So, I'm not jinxing anything, I'm just answering a hypothetical question. And it would be yes, if the Blue Jays make the playoffs, Sportsnet will be continuing its own broadcast, and this is the first year where I am not with ESPN Radio for the playoffs.
• Many Blue Jays fans refused to believe for most of the summer that the club’s struggles with runners in scoring position were just one of those weird and random baseball things that don’t really need to have an explanation. (The Jays’ .308 average and 135 wRC+ with RISP since August 1st rank second and fourth in baseball respectively, by the way). Have they learned any lessons from that now that the new weird and random baseball thing that doesn’t really need to have an explanation is the way the team’s hitters have struggled at home this season? Lol. Lmao. Nope!
• Brandon Belt is up into the number four spot in the lineup here on Wednesday. Really need this offence to do something so that tomorrow against Luke Weaver (6.47 ERA, 5.55 FIP, -0.6 rWAR) isn't an unbelievably frustrating trap game.
• Speaking of Belt, Sportsnet’s David Singh caught up with him after Tuesday’s game, telling us that he feels much better than he did when he first attempted to return from the injured list a couple weeks ago, and that he’s hoping to get as many at-bats as possible between now and the end of the season—and hopefully the start of the playoffs.
• Meanwhile, TSN’s Scott Mitchell also has one on Belt, and how his importance to the Jays extends beyond the batter’s box.
• Here’s what greeted me when I clicked on MLB.com just now. Wild to me that Rowdy Tellez is part of that group. Wilder still that Trevor Richards pitched so well for most of this year that it’s hard to even have a regret about that deal.
• According to some guy on Twitter who listened to the latest Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcasts from Sports Business Journal and the New York Post, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said on the episode that (guy's words) "in a few years they'll have separate broadcasts focused solely gambling analysis, each pitch, each swing, ability to be on everything and get constant analysis."
I said it on Twitter but all say it again: As long as I never have to watch these broadcasts, go nuts.
• Lastly, this plucky little Substack passed the 4,000 email subscriber mark this week, and I just wanted to thank everybody who has been reading and subscribing, new and old.
It’s maybe not the hugest number, and we’re only talking about free subscriptions here—the number of paid ones is much, much smaller, so please don’t take this benchmark as a reason not to support the site if you have the means and value what I do!—but it really means a lot to me that so many folks have welcomed my coverage into their inboxes. This has been the best season in terms of growth here yet, people have responded really well to the Stray Thoughts format, and I can’t wait to keep going throughout October and what should be an incredibly fascinating offseason ahead.
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