Tuesday, September 01, 2009


The Jays in the Home Stretch

The Toronto Blue Jays are entering the home stretch of the 2009 season.

It began with such promise, and a string of victories that had them leading the pack until May 23rd. The old pundits kept mumbling that it wouldn’t last. In this case, they were correct.

What they did not know was that a couple of the key players in the mix would have the most disappointing seasons in their careers. Both Vernon Wells and Alex Rios stumbled throughout the season. Fortunately, the Jays were able to dump Rios and his enormous salary to the White Sox after the All Star break on August 10th.

There have been 660 games missed by players on the disabled list this year. Pitchers have dominated this list including, at various times this year: Scott Downs, Roy Halladay, Shaun Marcum, Casey Janssen, Jesse Litsch, Dustin McGowan, B. J. Ryan, Ricky Romero, Scott Richmond, and Bobby Ray.

Regarding the pitching, inconsistency unfortunately has been most evident. In those key situations when the door had to be shut, when the opponents had to be sent unsuccessfully to the showers, the arms just didn’t materialize. Sometimes it was in the early innings; at other times, it would happen with two men out in the bottom of the ninth. Management could not come up with a key closer a la Mariano Rivera.

Many Jays’ fans were hurt when Scott Rolen was moved to Cincinnati. Due to the fact that most Blue Jay fans concentrate on the American league, Rolen came to the Jays this year as a somewhat unknown commodity. He had been an all star and a golden glover in the Senior League for years, but his health was suspect. As it turned out, he had little problems with his health, and played superior ball while in a Jays’ uniform. He was the epitome of a Major League baseball player, almost a throwback. A leader in the clubhouse, he excelled in the field, and consistently hovered around .300.

Reports indicated that he wanted to play somewhere closer to home, and the Jays traded him for Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Roenicke, and Zachary Stewart. No trade should be judged in the first ten minutes, not even in the first ten months. Give it time. The proof will be in the pudding next year; however, that wise old horse trader from the Montreal Canadiens, Sam Pollock, always said that the team that got the best player in a trade, got the best deal. Obviously, Cincinnati, in this case.

There are stars on this team that will be fun to watch for years to come. Marco Scutaro, Aaron Hill, and Adam Lind have been worth the price of admission all year for the Jays. They have supplied the team with consistent hitting, hovering around .300, and have also supplied power when required. Hill and Lind will both finish the season with more than 30 home runs.

Randy Ruiz joined the team on August 11, called up from the farm team in Las Vegas (AAA). He has knocked the cover off the ball, and has provided spark in these doldrum days. Travis Snyder is also a pleasure to watch. I am sure the Yankees would like to see him in pinstripes jerking those fly balls into the short porch in Yankee Stadium.

The Jays’ catchers, Barajas and Chavez, have thrown out more than 30% of the runners attempting to steal bases, a remarkable improvement over last year. Greg Zaun was a popular Jay, but he threw out only 10% of those trying to steal bases.

The Blue Jays currently are at the top of the American League in quality pitching starts. The Jays had committed 55 errors in late August, first in the American League. They had turned 125 double plays, second in the league.

So where have the wheels fallen off? Inconsistency. Injuries. Timely hitting. Baserunning errors. A few little things that will quickly lead you from first place to where they are now-almost 20 games out of the playoffs. Time to retune the engine.

And maybe act as a spoiler, here and there. The Jays have home series against the Yankees and the Twins, critical to the success of both of those teams. They wrap up the season in a home stand against the Orioles and the Mariners.

And that is where you should be to experience the game. Bob Lavender is running a bus from the DukeDome to the Yankees game on Sunday. Call Bob at 613-399-1486. Only four tickets remain. $ 75 for the bus and game ticket.

James Hurst

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