Q: The Blue Jays went all-in last offseason by acquiring a bunch of expensive star players, but things haven't gone quite as well as expected. What do you believe went wrong? Was the the roster not as good as people hoped it would be, or do these veterans just need more time to mesh together to become a winning group? Have injuries been a big part of the problem? Do you believe that this group can win next year with some minor tweaks and better luck, or does it need to be torn down and re-built?
A: Can I say 'all the above'. Injuries have hurt. But mostly it has been that almost all of the players picked up in trade haven't performed anywhere close to how we expected them too. The worst of the troubles have been with the starting staff. New recruits R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle have, at best, been disappointing. J.A. Happ and Brandon Morrow have been injured and, well, nothing has gone right. They have used 13 different starting pitchers. As a group they have an ERA of 5.15. It is tough to be a winning team when your starting pitchers put you behind on a daily bases.
I gotta hope that minor tweaks and better luck will help them win next year, because I don't expect much more than minor tweaks between now and then.
Q: Brett Lawrie shot out of the gate as a 21-year old in 2011 and was solid in 2012, but he's tanked at the plate in 2013. Do you still see him developing into a productive Major League hitter, and if so, what does he need to do to get there? And would you say that his defense has made up for his offensive shortcomings this year?
A: His defense is great, now that they have given up on the idea of bouncing him back and forth between third and second base, but no it doesn't make up for his offensive offense. Fortunately, he seems to be coming around with the bat. Lawrie's swing is a mass of Red Bull enhanced nervous twitches and movements. Getting the timing down on a swing with so many moving parts isn't easy. During spring training he suffered an injury, getting ready for the WBC, that kept him out for most of spring training and the first couple of weeks of the season. He was just getting the timing back when he hurt his ankle in an awkward slide into second on a steal. Missing a month and a half put him back at square one with his swing.
Finally, he seems to have it back together. In the past 2 weeks he has hit .370 with 3 home runs. I'm hoping he keeps it up.
Q: Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind have each been disappointing hitters for the last few years, but they're both having fantastic seasons in 2013. Are they doing anything differently, or just enjoying some better luck? And can either or both of them keep up this newly-rediscovered success past this year?
A: Lind started the season great; he seemed to have remembered how to wait for his pitch and then hit it hard when he got it, or to take a walk if he didn't. He even seemed to be able to hit lefties, something that has always been a problem for Adam. Lately, he seems to have regressed into the hitter he was last year, including the flaying away at any pitch thrown by a LHP, no matter how far out of the strike zone. I'm hoping it is just a slump, but he looks, depressingly, much like he did last year.
Colby has been terrific, even if Jon Morosi thinks he has 'no winning baseball instincts'. This is the player we were hoping to see when we picked him up from the Cardinals. He strikes out more than you would like but he should end up somewhere in the mid-20's for home runs, he's hitting .275, he'll take a walk and his defense is better than I thought it would be - he's surprisingly fast. Unfortunately for him, he had a slow start to the season and people tend to remember slow starts and are slow to realize when a guy has pulled out of an early season slump. He has more haters than he deserves.
Q: The theme for the Jays this year seems to be home runs - the lineup hits 'em, and the pitchers give 'em up. How much of a role do you think that the Rogers Centre plays in this?
A: Rogers Centre is a great place for a home run hitter, but then, not much more than any of the AL East parks. I do think that the pitchers that we saved from the inferior National League have been a little surprised at how well the ball carries, especially when the dome is closed.
The Jays offense does center around power, with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in the middle of it, but they have hit 74 home runs at home and 67 on the road, not that huge a difference.
Q: Two Toronto relievers (Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar) made the All-Star team this year, but Casey Janssen is the closer and Aaron Loup has a sub-2 ERA. Who do you believe is the top reliever in Toronto's bullpen?
A: I've been a fan of Casey Janssen for years. He's been very good for a long time, and finally got the closer's job in the middle of the 2012 season. Since taking the job he has 42 saves with just 2 blown saves. So he's my choice.
Delabar has been great and has a terrific back story. He was out of baseball after elbow surgery back in 2008 and worked as a substitute teacher. He tried a weighted ball program, designed to strengthen the pitching shoulder, and found he could throw harder than before the surgery. Since coming from the Mariners in a trade for Eric Thames in the middle of last season, he has struck out 13.8 batters per 9 innings. Last week, in Oakland, he struck out the side on 9 pitches, the first Blue Jay ever to do that. Unfortunately, he is on the DL with shoulder inflammation now.
Loup, Cecil, Neil Wagner, Juan Perez and Dustin McGowan have all been great this year. The one bright spot in a depressing Jay's season has been the bullpen.
Q: The lowest ERA in Toronto's starting rotation belongs to new-comer Todd Redmond (4.22), and after that comes Mark Buerhle at 4.41. Which starter do you trust the most right now - or, in other words, which one would you pick to pitch in a do-or-die game?
A: Redmond has been sent back to the minors. He was ok, but 5 innings was the most you could hope for out of him and that was a stretch.
I don't trust any of the starters at the moment. No one seems to be able to put two good starts together in a row.
Q: Rajai Davis was a huge fan favorite in Oakland. Do Toronto fans love him as well?
A: Ummmmm love? No. Liked, yeah. If he could learn to stop chasing off-speed stuff in the dirt, he would be loved. He's really good as a 4th outfielder, pinch runner, defensive replacement. The troubles start when he plays too much.
Q: Is Mark DeRosa seriously still in the Majors, or is that just a typo on Baseball-Reference?
A: Mark has been very good against left-handed pitchers, hitting .266/.352/.489 against them. With Adam Lind unable to hit lefties, he's a good guy to have around. The joke around our site is that he is there for "veteran presents," nice watches, candlesticks, that sort of thing. His main job was to keep Brett Lawrie in line and help him grow up some. That does seem to be happening; I wonder if he can work some influence over J.P. Arencibia.
Q: Who wins the GM cage match - Billy Beane or Alex Anthopoulos? The only rule is that there are no rules.
A: Oh Alex would win easy, he can talk anyone to death. Anyone. The guy talks a thousand words a minute. He doesn't always say anything, he can do a twenty minute interview, speak for the whole time and when he's done you don't know any more about the team than when he started.
But then, it does look like Brad Pitt has put on some muscle, and isn't that who Billy Beane really is? If the muscle isn't just for show, it might be a contest.
Click here to read my answers to Tom's questions on Bluebird Banter.
The series kicks off today at 4:07pm, because apparently Canada is in a different time zone which is off by two minutes. Jarrod Parker squares off against Esmil Rogers; Rogers was last seen getting absolutely demolished in the Coliseum (4 innings, 8 runs). The A's will also face Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, and Josh Johnson, which would have been a terrifying prospect just a few a years ago but doesn't sound that bad anymore.