Monday, 20 April 2015

Come Together and Get Some Pitching Toronto!

Daniel Norris, one of the Jays' young pitchers, struggled
mightily in his last outing. 
While I appreciate the Jays' attempts at calling their fans to "Come Together" in the same manner the Raptors have with their "We The North" campaign, the Raptors have something in their corner: the post season. Given how this season has started, with all to familiar optimism followed by disappointments, it's no wonder I want to groan every time I see Russell Martin or Jose Bautista giving a cheesy monologue about uniting fans across the nation. The best way to bring fans together is to win, something that hasn't happened for a long time in Toronto. Until this happens, the Jays will be approached with cautious skepticism from a distance, coast to coast, as this years team still needs some work.

What never seems to "come together" for the Jays is a complete team. They either have pitching but don't have the bats, or they have the bats but don't have the pitching. This year, with 3 virtual rookies in their starting rotation, they don't seem to have the pitching. If you hit 6 home runs in a game as the Jays did last week, you should win. The Jays did not. While the youth movement was serving them well in the beginning of the season, the youthful enthusiasm, as it often does, is wearing out. Not only in the bullpen, but in the field as well, but that's another issue all together.

Leading the AL in walks, it's clear the Jays still have some work to do on the mound, but is it just the talent they are relying on or is it coaching too? Getting beaten 3 out of 4 games by the Rays who had 3/5s of their starting rotation on the DL makes one question coaching. The Rays have consistently produced quality pitching. The fact that they can't hold on to it doesn't really matter, the fact they are producing and winning with a thin bullpen is impressive and high lights the inadequacies of the Jays even more so. With the likes of Castro, Osuna and starters like Norris and Sanchez, the Jays need the coaching to turn these young talents in to major league stars. If Norris is coming out saying he has "dead arm," as he tries to work through the changes in his mechanics, is he really ready to start in the majors? Was he ready to start to begin with?

But if you think the walks are bad, there's more depressing statistics to condemn the Jays' pitching. Perhaps a bigger red flag is that they lead the big leagues in home runs given up - not a stat category any team wants to lead in, particularly when you are loading the bases up with all those walks. Worse yet, to date they've only had one starting pitcher make it through to the 7th inning - one! The last two games for the Jays have seen their starter reach over 30 pitches in the first inning alone, virtually ensuring they will not go deep. This has left their bullpen stretched thin and exploited - as they've faired no better than the starting rotation. Returnees like Brett Cecil continue to underwhelm and disappoint. In fact, it seems like almost yesterday when Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero were the next big starters for the Jays - what happened there? One of them is MIA and the other is flirting with a trip to the minors. Again, I go back to coaching. Who's to say this doesn't happen again with Norris or Sanchez?

And while it's easy to sit back and make these claims, perhaps the person most on the hotseat is Alex Anthropolous, the architect of this team. R.A. Dickey is as unpredictable as his knuckleball. Mark Buerhle is considering retirement and then there are 3 youngsters who desperately need help and guidance. Someone like Sanchez, who has struggled mightily thus far, could really benefit from some time in the 'pen, or better yet, some time starting in the minors. His numbers have not been impressive and what started last season with some solid relief performances has suddenly morphed into overarching expectations that he does not look comfortable with. A pitchers mound is truly the loneliest place in sports and right now, Sanchez looks like he's not yet ready to be on his own, Norris looks like he wants to crawl back in his van and Hutchinson, the best of the rookies, seems like the oldest sibling who's not quite ready to babysit the little ones.

If you want fans across Canada to "Come Together," snapping the longest post season drought in the big leagues is a good place to start. But it all begins with pitching. Go out and get yourself a pitcher, Alex, you really need it, not just to save your job and your season, but to bring Canadian fans together like we all were when Joe Carter swung for the fences.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Keep Calm - It's the Playoffs

The NHL playoffs have arrived, and with it, so has the frenzy. The opening games were simply a nibble of what's sure to be a feast of hockey awesomeness that delights every single year. They had everything: double OT, injuries, controversy, threats, whining, one-goal games and of course, nastiness...because it's the nastiness that keeps us coming back strike after strike. Let's face it, if the NBA playoffs were half as nasty as the NHL playoffs, we the north would care much more about the Toronto Raptors.
After one game, the nastiness could not be higher between Montreal and Ottawa. Watching it unfold was beautiful and agonizing and started an emotional rollercoaster journey for Canadian hockey fans everywhere. Are your anti-depressants ready? Your Xanax within reach? Is your psychologist on speed dial? It's the playoffs, calm is a relative thing that can involve standing on your couch cushions, holding your knees and weeping, or literally pulling your hair out. All are acceptable. It's the playoffs.
In Montreal, it began with a goal that Habs fans were sure would sink their team. Their prized, homegrown defenseman, Andrei Markov scored on their even more prized goaltender. The Hamburgler seemed to be pulling off his magic and forces seemed to be siding with the Sens, just as they did in 2013. Then, suddenly hope in the form of trade deadline acquisitions emerged and the roller coaster took a sudden sharp turn with one hack to the wrist. With that, the nasty meter on this first round series increased by about a thousand. Chris Neil is now in Ottawa's lineup, their marquee bruiser, and PK has vowed to play with more discipline. But who cares? We want the carnage. We want the madness. It's the playoffs! Hack away PK! Push and shove Chris Neil! Threaten away Dave Cameron! The Young and the Restless has nothing on the NHL.
But let's be serious. Yes Mark Stone received a hack to the forearm, but it was a hack every player receives on a nightly basis. In fact it was an identical hack Mark Schiefle delivered last night and received a 2 minute penalty for because the victim of his hack didn't fall to the ice like he was picked off by a sniper in the stands. Word is this morning that Mark Stone will likely be in the line-up tonight as well, so how seriously should we take his tuck and roll on the Bell Center ice?
Nevertheless the rhetoric this has stirred up is fantastic. Ottawa accusing PK of targeting Mark Stone...ahhh ya - he's one of Ottawa's best players, isn't that what your supposed to do in the playoffs? Wasn't Ottawa targeting PK because he's one of Montreal's best players? Isn't trash talking and getting under the best players skin a hallmark of a great playoff battle? Claude Lemieux? Chris Pronger, aren't they famous of chirping and getting under guys' skin? Didn't the Sens have a guy that bit someone? Plus you have the threats from Dave Cameron to slash a Hab in retaliation...just throw a fedora on Dave Cameron and hand him a Tommy Gun and this is straight outta 1920s Chicago. His "solution" will be enacted with good ol' street justice. Maybe he'll have a cigar hanging out of his mouth and laugh as he pulls the trigger...maybe.
But, regardless of what happens tonight, keeping calm is always relative. Will Ottawa be calm and able to focus on the task at hand of levelling the series? Will PK be calm and try not to hack on? Is it even possible to remain calm in such tense circumstances? As a fan, I certainly hope not. It's the mayhem and the carnage that keeps me addicted. Will I be calm relative to child birth? Maybe? Calm relative to Carey Price. Probably not, but who really is asides from Carey Price? Perhaps we will all best be served by taking some of his advice, maybe we should all just, "chill out." But where's the fun in that?