I’m sure you will encounter numerous report card/player by player 2011 Blue Jays season reviews. And I’m not gonna lie, I was considering doing that too. But then I realized: baseball is a team sport. A team cannot be fairly judged on its performance by examining each individual player. Nine solid innings from your pitching staff are always better than 3 great pitchers but one awful one. Jose Bautista, regardless of whether or not he is the best player in baseball, clearly cannot get this team to the playoffs on his own. His own remarkable individual stats do not tell you anything about how the Jays fared this season.
I’ll start this review with the infamous man in the white shirt scandal. The Jays were accused of sending a man into the centre field bleachers, who then picked up on the opposing catcher’s signals to the pitcher and motioned to the Jays hitters whether the upcoming pitch was a breaking ball or fastball. This was just the latest explanation for Jose Bautista’s breakthrough seasons. And I believe this is entirely true. The sign-stealing story came to the public on August 10th. We don’t know when the Jays found out that ESPN had this information, but the difference in Bautista’s number before and after July 31st is drastic. Before, he was the frontrunner for MVP with a .325 average and 31 home runs (.32 homers per game). Now, he is an outside shot to win the MVP after batting .248 with just 12 dingers (.17 homers per game) in August and September. Never mind the fact that he struck out 26 times in August, a huge anomaly considering the most k’s he’d had in any other month was 16. This is what strikes me the most. Bautista has always had the skillset to thrive in the Majors, he just didn’t have the discipline, constantly striking out on pitches in the dirt. But when he came to Toronto, this annoying habit went away, with the supposed help of Dwayne Murphy. But once the man in white left Rogers Centre in August, Bautista started striking out again. It should be pointed out that while sign-stealing is not actually against the rules of baseball, it is highly frowned upon, which begs the question: Why did the Jays feel they needed to stop, if they were stealing signs in the first place?
Looking to next year, there are definite improvements the Jays must make if they want to consider contending for a Playoff spot. Every facet of pitching must be improved, though I did like what I saw from closer Frankie Francisco the last couple months. Beyond Romero, there was not a single trustworthy starter in the Jays rotation, except maybe Henderson Alvarez for the final month. I would like to see a rotation consisting of Romero, Morrow and Alvarez next year with a battle for the final two spots between Dustin McGowan, Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison (guy from AA New Hampshire, like Alvarez). I see no need to add a crappy veteran reliever to “stabilize” the rotation, a la Kevin Millwood. I’d rather see the young guys develop, as I’m sure most Jays fans would. On offense, the Jays have a hole to fill at second base, and DH. With a thin market in free agency for second basemen, the Jays will probably have to go the trade route to find a viable replacement. At the moment, the Jays have Edwin Encarnacion pencilled in as their starting DH. I hate Edwin, because at the end of every year he teases you into believing he’s a legit MLB player, but every year he disappoints. I would love for the Jays to sign Prince Fielder as their first baseman. He would solve a Jays need for a power first baseman, and would send both Adam Lind and EE into part-time roles. Moreover, the Jays would suddenly transform into contenders. Now I’m not saying that this is at all realistic, but it would be nice if AA could get the money to pull it off.
On to last night. This was the best night of baseball I have ever experienced. Ever. In my entire 16 years, 11 months and 3 days. The night culminated with two teams completing 8.5 game comebacks, 2 extra innings, 2 walkoffs, Red Sox actually rooting for the Yankees, and the Rays coming back from down 7-0 in the eighth inning. There were four games with playoff implications, 3 were decided in the bottom of the ninth or later, one was a blowout. The Rays, after losing marquee free agents such as Carl Crawford, saw Crawford botch a fly ball in left allowing the Orioles to win and sending the Rays into the playoffs over Crawford’s new team. The heros last night? Robert Andino and Dan Johnson. It almost seemed like the Yankees were trying to torture their nemesis, teasing them with a 7-0 lead then blowing it. Not like the game mattered to them anyway. It was heartbreaking for Red Sox fans, who one minute seemed certain that they could at least hold on to win their game and force a play-in game, then ten minutes later were devastated by Evan Longoria’s 317 foot home run. It was really only fitting that the Braves and Red Sox blew saves after blowing their massive wild card leads.
Lets look ahead to the postseason now, with a completely different picture than at the beginning of the month. Our matchups our Rays/Rangers, Yankees/Tigers, DBacks/Brewers and Phillies/Cardinals. And my predictions…
Rays over Rangers in 5
I’ll take pitching over hitting in the playoffs any day. Rays have an all-star rotation.
Tigers over Yankees in 4
Comes down to pitching again, and the Yankees rotation is just plain awful, compounded by the fact that their ace is going to be overmatched by Verlander.
Tigers over Rays in 6
Rays dream run ends here as Verlander win two games singlehandedly, and Miguel Cabrera goes beastmode.
Brewers over Diamondbacks in 3
The DBacks aren’t a good team, at least on paper. Surprising enough that they made the playoffs, but are overcome by Braun, Fielder and the trio of Marcum, Gallardo, Greinke.
Phillies over Cardinals in 4
Does this need any more explanation: Doc, Lee, Hamels, Oswalt.
Brewers over Phillies in 7
I think the Brewers top three guys are good enough to keep the games tight with the Phillies Phoursome, and the Brewers offense is significantly better than the Phillies’.
Brewers over Tigers in 5
I honestly couldn’t care less who wins the Series at this point, other than for my own satisfaction of correctly picking the winning team. What I’d really like is a good World Series, maybe even going 7 games. I went with the Brewers here because of quantity over quality. Braun, Fielder, Greinke, Marcum, Gallardo over Cabrera, Verlander.