A week filled with the Red Sox and Yankees is in the books, as the Blue Jays are finishing up a stretch of some of the most important April baseball I can remember!
Mood in Song Form
We need to start things off with Aaron Sanchez. Through three starts this season Sanchez has pitched 20 innings, given up 10 hits and 3 earned runs for an ERA of 1.35. If the bullpen had done its job he would hold wins on the road in Tampa and at home against the Yankees to go with his fantastic Sunday victory where he two hit the Red Sox in Fenway.
Last Tuesday I was at the game Sanchez pitched against the Yankees, and I was struck by a characteristic he appears to be developing right in front of our eyes that I have previously praised David Price for also possessing. Sanchez had his fastball working as he so often seems to, but his change up and curve ball both appeared to abandon him. Russell Martin had his work cut out for him behind home plate tracking down balls that were bouncing all over the place. But much like a game I wrote about last September when Price battled the Yankees, Sanchez was able to battle and work his way through the lineup almost exclusively on the strength of his fastball. Even though the Yankees could see the fastball was the only pitch likely to cross the plate, they still couldn’t lay off of his other offerings at a rate high enough to get on base. Sanchez showed a lot of grit and Martin helped him survive a veteran lineup with significant power on a night without his best stuff. This is the type of description typically reserved for veteran pitchers getting by on declining stuff, not young pitchers who are continuing to improve. When he has his best stuff working we get a show like what we saw on Sunday. Sanchez gave the Red Sox no opening to score runs, and wisely worked around Big Papi's spot in the lineup walking him twice and never having to pay for it.
In Game Experience
In addition to enjoying Sanchez’s work in the loss to the Yankees, I also had a chance to take in Stroman’s performance in the series rubber match on Thursday night. Being back in the park for the first time since Game 5 of the ALCS was a great experience, and I thought I would break down some of the changes for this season:
For starters, ticket prices have increased and availability has decreased. I don’t have a mini pass for the Jays because I like to sit in different sections, attending games with a different number of people each time, and have a schedule that is difficult to plan weeks in advance. As a result, I pay a bit of a premium to buy all of my tickets at single ticket pricing. While I don’t mind paying more for tickets, the biggest surprise I received was when my “go to” sections in the 200 level were sold out for the entire series. It appears that the success of the 2015 season has resulted in a significant increase in the season ticket holder base, and a much more crowded environment even for a Tuesday game in April.
The Jays have gone to a full dirt infield for the first time. In terms of watching the actual play, I have noticed one difference. With the old dirt patches only around the bags, it was easy to tell when a runner had a very aggressive lead off first base. Without the grass in-between the bases, as a fan in the park it is very difficult to tell when a runner is trying to sneak in an extra step or two.
The 2015 AL East Division Championship banner looks fantastic. Last year was such an amazing year and although we came up a little short of the ultimate goal, those memories will live on for a lifetime. I know in 30 years if I am lucky enough to go to a Jays game and look up at that banner I will be flooded with emotions and memories that I cherish.
Healthier foods have made their way to the ballpark! In addition to all of the ball park staples like nachos in a helmet, soft ice cream in a helmet, and chicken fingers and fries served in a helmet, you can also order salads, chicken wraps and other things that resemble food that hasn’t been deep fried or tossed in lard. While I enjoy a beer and bratwurst at the ball park, having an option for something a little lighter is also nice for those Tuesday evening games.
The video promotions the Jays are running in game are significantly improved compared to last season. Nothing says “get ready for three years of stripping down the line up” quiet like improving in game non-essential product offerings! I am kidding, (sort of) but it was nice to see the quality of the video packages.
Thursday’s game at the park was a particularly exciting game for early in the season. My friend Mike and I purchased seats out in home run territory with a high degree of certainty that we were going to catch a Bautista and Encarnacion home run ball. We has the diluted look of two kids who had made a couple bucks at a house game of poker and were certain their trip to Vegas was certain to bring riches. I even thought about what it would be like if Edwin hit 3 home runs and we caught his 200th as a Jay! Long story short we didn’t get a home run ball, although Tulo did hit one a section over when we weren’t in our seats. That evening my girlfriend lucked into two corporate seats right above the Blue Jays dugout, and she graciously offered to switch seats with us half way through the game. With the Jays trailing 2-0 half way through the 5th inning we switched seats. The Blue Jays immediately came to life, with home runs by Donaldson (almost captured in the photo below… one pitch too soon!) and Tulo, and Stroman locking down the Yanks for three straight innings. The point is, Mike and I were very clearly a good luck charm for the Blue Jays. While we can’t afford to sit in those seats on a consistent basis, I can assure all of you Jays fans out there that I will attempt to sneak into them regularly to help out the team. Additionally, I might be launching a gofundme.com to take over those tickets permanently.
While not attending games, I like to watch them on TV! This week I was pleasantly surprised to hear Dan Shulman on the broadcast with Tabler and Buck. I very much enjoy the current commentating team(s) that Sportsnet supplies, but there is no denying Dan Shulman’s excellence. You could sense that all three of the broadcasters were enjoying each other’s company and the energy it brought to the game.
The Jays picked up Pat Venditte last week to add a left, and a right throwing pitcher to the bullpen. Venditte is ambidextrous and throws with both hands on a big league level. While baseball might not want you to have fun by enjoying a bat flip or celebrating a home run, apparently ambidextrous pitchers are fair game!
Dan Shulman got things going when he declared “There are two pitchers warming up for the Blue Jays and they are both named Pat Vandiette” before Vanditte’s first appearance for the team.
Finally, on Monday as the Jays were locking down the series split in Boston NESN ran the following graphic
Great stuff all around.
Playing in Boston is always fun, it’s a little bit like being an adult and hitting balls at a park with a 200 foot fence. Every series in Boston makes me wonder what Bautista or Encarnacion’s numbers would look like if they had spent the past 5 years crushing home runs and fly balls over and off the green monster. This 4 game set carried a feeling of significance greater than I can remember of any other April series. Maybe it was the way we lost a series to them at home already, maybe it was David Price pitching against us, but these games had a certain weight of importance to them. Although the series ended in a 2-2 split, the Jays received fantastic starting pitching and bullpen support the entire time, and the hitting came around for games 3 and 4. Quick notes:
David Price is going to have the greatest statistical season of all time if he continues to get a strike zone than extends a half-foot larger than the plate in each direction. As if it wasn’t hard enough to face an ace, but on Saturday Price could do no wrong striking out Jays taking pitches well off the plate. For a team that has been struggling with plate discipline, it’s hard to keep a strict approach when everything that gets by you is rung up. What a joke.
Pillar was never going to be the lead off hitter for this team long term given his inability to get on base any way other than a hit. Moving him to the bottom third of the line up makes a lot of sense. He can focus on hitting fastballs and turning over the lineup, as opposed to being counted on to be on base at a rate much higher than his averages. His defense this series continued to amaze, but his performance at the plate took off immediately after moving from the lead off.
Greg Zaun did a nice job of criticizing Gibby’s decision to bring Roberto Osuna into the game up 4 runs on Sunday. It didn’t make sense at the time, and it made even less sense when he then wasn’t in the bullpen on Monday for the save situation. I don’t want to get on Gibby too hard because we don’t know what was going on with Osuna from a health perspective, but this move was perplexing.
Russell Martin has been so bad to start the season that he has looked a bit like Josh Thole at the plate. Yesterday’s big hit to plate 2 8th inning runs was hopefully the catalyst to turn around his season and get things on track.
Storen was doing everything in his power to give all of us an aneurism in the 9th inning yesterday. The one situation to avoid in that game was Big Papi coming off of the bench to try and win the game, which naturally is exactly what happened. I still can’t tell if that strikeout pitch to win the game was a result of Martin lining up inside to cross up Ortiz, or if Storen missed his spot badly and was lucky that it was still a strike. Either way, it was a huge win for the team.
Baltimore is next for the Jays where hopefully they can rekindle some of the bad blood that has boiled over the past two seasons before coming home to finally play a team outside of the AL East. Hopefully this is the week the bats come alive and we all get over confident about the clubs ability to crush teams without breaking a sweat!