Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Keeping the Great Pasty White Hope Alive

"But we do know what Snider is right now... is a guy that everytime you send him to Triple-A he rips it up and everytime you bring him back to the major leagues he can't get out of his own way."
Bob McCown on Prime Time Sports, December 6th, 2010

There was an interesting discussion on Prime Time Sports yesterday between host Bob McCown and Toronto Sun writer Bob Elliott. I say interesting because the other adjectives I could think of to describe it would just prove the notion so many old time baseball minds have that us new agey stats guys are a bunch of snobby punks. Anywho, the topic of Zack Greinke came up, as it has come up so often in discussions regarding the Blue Jays over the past few months. The question being that if the cost is Drabek + Snider, do you pay up? Neither Bob had much problem saying yes to that. A minute or so later when discussing the risk of giving up a quality pitcher like Shaun Marcum in a trade for a prospect like Brett Lawrie, Travis Snider was cited as an example of the uncertainty of acquiring a prospect.

McCown: "He might be good... but we all thought Snider by now was gonna be a star... and he's not."
Elliott: "No, Snider's far from established.

I know the Bob's are big fans of baseball history, so I have a little list I think they might find interesting:

Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, George Brett, Reggie Jackson, Gary Carter, Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, Ryne Sandberg, Robin Yount, and Brooks Robinson.

These guys have a lot in common. They all played in the last 60 years or so. They're all Hall of Famers. And they all had career On Base Plus slugging numbers lower than Travis Snider does at the end of their age 22 seasons. It's true, Lunchbox's career batting line of .255/.318/.446 may not strike fear into the hearts of the stud pitchers of the AL East, but given historical perspective he's standing on the shoulders of quite a few giants. In no way am I suggesting that Snider's first few fragmented campaigns indicate he is destined for Cooperstown, just trying to emphasize that to suggest a player is somehow diminished as a prospect because he has only been a slightly above average hitter at 22 is absurd. Snider has played parts of 3 seasons at the ages of 20-22, when most players would be between low-A and AA baseball. That he is an already better than average major leaguer is actually a positive sign, not a negative one.

The lunacy continued today when the Jays booth statistician (and vaunted Sportsnet.ca blogger) Scott Carson wrote about the possibility of a Greinke for Drabek and Snider exchange.

"Most of you might complain that dealing that much future is foolish, but I beg to differ. I’ve seen Snider since he first arrived as a 20-year-old after just 305 games of minor-league experience. I was wowed by his line drive home run power, an above-average arm and okay foot speed for a "thick bodied" youngster. But I also became leery of his average baseball IQ and the fact that he had trouble with the in-game coaching he was receiving from Cito Gaston and Gene Tenace."

Granted Carson became the Jays statistician back in 1993 when the traditional definition of statistics in baseball extended little beyond the figures found on the back of a baseball card, so perhaps he should be cut some slack. That being said, talking about "baseball IQ" and implying Snider is uncoachable is a bit out of his jurisdiction, don't you think? I've never read a scouting report that questioned Snider's baseball instincts, and not getting along with the Gaston/Tenace regime would likely have put him in the majority in September of 2009. If the implication is that Travis Snider isn't showing any progress, what does he base that on? Let's take a look at the year to year numbers in Snider's first two "full" seasons in the big leagues.

.241/.328/.419, 9 home runs, 29 walks, 78 strikeouts, 1/2 in stolen base attempts in 276 plate appearances

.255/.304/.463, 14 home runs, 29 walks, 79 strikeouts, 6/9 in stolen base attempts in 319 plate appearances

It's a bit of a mixed bag. A jump in slugging percentage of almost 50 points, a drop in on base percentage of 24 points His walk rate slipped from a relatively high 10.5% to a below average 6.6%, while his strikeout rate also went down from 28.3% to 24.8%. He showed increased ability to put the ball in play and coupled with an improved line drive rate (17% to 23%) was able to on a whole increase his OPS from a slightly below average .747 to a slightly above average .767. But what should we expect from the youngster next year? There are a couple indications that suggest he's due to see significant increases across the board.

Travis' LD% of 23% is substantially above league average, yet his batting average on balls in play was a paltry .302, right at the historical league averages. As this article in the Hardball Times suggests, the correlation between LD% and BAbip has generally been LD%+.120. So with luck taken out of consideration, Snider's BAbip should have been about 50 points higher. We can find the amount of balls put in play (AB-HR-SO) then apply the .350 BAbip to it and by adding home runs back into the total we find that he would have had 10 extra hits over 298 AB, working out to a batting average of roughly .289. Applying the BAbip correction would on its own be enough to raise Snider's 2010 OBP to .335 and his SLG to .497, even if we assume all 10 of those hits end up being singles. So on its own it's not at all unrealistic to expect an OPS of at least .832 in 2011 should he simply not get unlucky again.

The other thing really worth making note of is Snider's improved plate discipline. I know it's hard to believe that a hitter who saw his walk rate drop close to 40% is a more disciplined hitter than he was in the previous year, but there is one big indicator of this - pitches per plate appearance. Generally speaking over a 162 game span it's quite easy to see a fluctuation in ratio stats like BB%, and that's even more so for the 82 and 77 games Snider played in 2010 and 2009 respectively. But the sign that a hitter is showing plate discipline and command comes down to how many pitches he is able to force the pitcher to throw. The major league average is around 3.8, and although he posted an impressive walk rate in 2009 he only saw about 3.59 pitches. In 2010 that number improved to 3.78, more or less league average. If this were to have been rewarded with even a league average walk rate, he likely would have drawn 7 more walks. On its own that could have been worth an additional 20 points of on base percentage.

There are more intangible reasons for why Travis Snider's performance may not have yet matched the considerable hype - inconsistent use, lack of experience against big league right handers, a poor relationship with a manager who could never seem to work well with youngsters. They are impossible to quantify and so I only bring them up because they've been so often cited. But for the reasons I've already outlined, and coupled with the fact that statistically he's almost certainly miles away from his peak years, I have plenty of reasons to be hopeful. And given the serious lack of positional depth in the Blue Jays farm system, I can't see why anyone would want to give up on that.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Restructuring: An Elegant Solution to the Wells Albatross?

Yesterday in the comments section of Drunk Jays Fans, the point was made that the Yankees may be hamstrung into some serious turmoil in the coming years with their likely big money multi-year extensions of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and the mega-long term deals already doled out to Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. They have an aging core who they are sentimentally attached to, and will likely continue to pay them premium money even after they have ceased to be premium players (one could argue that his 2010 campaign indicates Jeter could be there already). Of course the Yankees with all of their ancillary revenue can afford to make such missteps.

The Blue Jays, on the other hand, may be more hamstrung by their one bad contract than the Yankees are by their 4 or 5. Vernon Wells is currently sniffing a 3+ WAR season for the first time in 4 years, despite being in the money half of a 7 year, $126MM contract that sees him heading into the final 4 years and $86MM in the 2011 season. He's seen his OPS+ drop from 118 in the 4 years leading up to the contract to 102 since, while he followed up 3 consecutive seasons of plus defense and a combined UZR of 20.6 with a sterling -28.2 since. In 2009 he was the 22nd worst regular hitter in baseball and the worst defensive CF in the game. All while making $10MM last year, a figure which has now doubled and maxed out.

This year Vernon has rebounded quite nicely. While he's still certainly in the bottom half of CF, he's no longer the worst or even close thereabouts. In fact he's posting his best defensive numbers in 3 years. Offensively he's put up a slash line of .275/.325/.529 with 22 home runs and the best isolated power numbers of his career. If he can rebound from a rough July (and so far he's put up 5 XBH in the first 4 games of August), he may end up having a year that is around 3/4 value of his salary. The trouble is that so long as he's a below average defender he's going to have a hard time ever coming close to putting up numbers that warrant the astronomical figure he's set to earn between now and the end of the 2014 season.

If the Jays are going to be competitive going forward, they're going to do so with a player on the declining half of his career who is unlikely to put up more than three quarters of the value his contract dictates (and realistically, given his age this may be the best year Wells has left). With more than a quarter of the team's current payroll invested in this player (and if you take the commitments to BJ Ryan and Roy Halladay out of the discussion, it's really more like a third), it's going to take either a substantial increase in payroll or a lot of players playing above their contracts to get to the point of being a 95 win team. Or maybe both.

The end of the 2011 season gives Vernon an opportunity to opt out of his contract. Obviously, he will not do this. Anyone who would walk away from $63MM over 3 years is the special kind of crazy. When he declines to opt out, the Jays will be on the hook for a declining outfielder in his mid-30s at the very definition of a premium price. Like it or not, the Jays at the end of the season will still be on the hook for another $86MM. But what if we spread it out?

Let's say the Jays look to restructure years 2012-2014, because trying to spread out $86MM would just be ridiculous, not to mention the fact that the team is unlikely to be close to the 95 win plateau next year. So the terms as of now are a $21MM hit in the years 2012-2014. These are three years where the Jays could very realistically be playoff contenders as the aggressive farm building by Alex Anthopoulos and company hopefully start to pay dividends. My idea is something like this:

2012 - $13MM
2013 - $13MM
2014 - $13MM
2015 - $5MM
2016 - $5MM
2017 - $5MM
2018-2026 - $1.5MM

The payments from 2018-2026 wouldn't necessarily start there, but rather when Vernon retired. Give that he would turn 39 at the end of the 2017 season, I think the likelihood of him continuing to play beyond that point would be slim. Over the new terms Wells would make a total of $67.5MM, as I would think some sort of increase in total salary would be necessary to convince him to take such a restructuring. He's giving some, but the truth is that what you end up with here is actually quite beneficial to both parties. Not only do the savings over 2012-2014 ($8MM per) give the Jays breathing room to add pieces, they also make it more possible that Wells' performance will be in the ballpark of his salary. At $13MM, there's also less pressure to keep him at the biggest premium position if, say, a Gose or a Marisnick develops fast. Wells gets considerable tax savings by spreading his income out over several years as well as the stability for his family of being able to play out his career in the same organization. And, perhaps most importantly for a professional baseball player, he gets the increased possibility of being a core player on a championship team.

In all likelihood, the Jays are probably just going to grin and bear what is one of the worst contracts in the game right now. The situation in Toronto is probably going to get worse for Wells as his performance starts to decline and his salary doesn't. It's a shame, what should be a victory lap for Wells as he moves up the Jays all time lists in virtually every offensive category will be a parade of boos every time he strikes out, or puts up an 0 for 4. But I can't help but think that a deal like this is in the interest of both parties. The extra three years of terms will probably be the going rate for an outfield utility player by the time we get to 2015, and when he takes his golden parachute of $1.5 a year for 9 years the cost will probably be in line with a major league replacement player. And it'd take away one of the talking points for all the casual fans in the city who seem to always look for a reason to not support this team.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Month 3 A.D. in Review

40-39, 4th in AL East (9-17 in June)

Notable Performers:
Brandon Morrow - 5 GS, 1-2, 1.91 ERA, 33 IP, 34 SO, 10 BB
Ricky Romero - 5 GS, 1-2, 2.12 ERA, 34 IP, 24 SO, 12 BB
Shawn Camp - 12 G, 1-0, 2.03 ERA, 13.1 IP, 8 SO, 1 BB
Scott Downs - 12 G, 1-1, 3.12 ERA, 8.2 IP, 8 SO, 1 BB

Batters... ha. Like we had any this month.

The wild power party of May was fun, but it inevitably led to the soul piercing hangover of June. After smashing a club record 54 home runs in May, the bats quieted considerably managing less than half that total with 26 while batting .221 in June. For most other teams that home run total would be fine, but for a team as home run driven as the Blue Jays it's crippling. Managing only 80 runs in 26 games, the team was held to 3 runs or less 17 times (and completely shut out on 3 occasions). The team's June line of .221/.293/.367 isn't just bad, it's positively John-McDonaldian. This was a bad month, but given that it was the toughest month on the schedule (not to mention the pitching staff's respectable 4.26 ERA in June) it could have been a lot worse.

High Points:

June 4th - Jays 6, Yankees 1
This one had every piece of the recipe for a memorable game. Lots of home runs. Great pitching. Victory over a jilted ex-Jay. And most important of all, a comfortable victory over the hated Yankees. AJ Burnett took to the mound for his first start of June with a seasonal ERA of 3.28 and a record of 6-2. He'd give up 6 runs in 6 innings including 3 home runs and earn the loss. By the end of the month he'd be 6-7 with a 5.25 ERA, having given up 9 home runs in the month alone. A Jays fan can't help but fantasize that this was the start that triggered his downward trajectory. Anyways Burnett was in every way the lesser of the two starters on this night, as Brett Cecil would give up just a single run over 8 innings of work. 2 home runs by Jose Bautista (and a double that JUST missed giving J-Bau a third round tripper) and another by Edwin Encarnacion would power the Jays offense, while Jason Frasor would come on to give the team a low leverage inning to close it out.

June 5th - Jays 3, Yankees 2
Okay, so this two day period was definitely the high point of the month. This was a 14 inning pitchers duel that saw two front of the rotation starters trade excellent performances before the bullpens bunkered down for 5 innings of extra baseball. The Yankees led 2-1 going into the bottom of the 7th until an Alex Gonzalez solo shot knotted it up at 2. Ricky Romero lasted 8 strong innings before turning the ball over to Scott Downs, Kevin Gregg, Shawn Camp and Casey Janssen. Camp and Janssen in particular provided outstanding relief out of the bullpen, each going two scoreless innings. Finally in the bottom of the 14th, Edwin Encarnacion walked and was bunted over to second on a Fred Lewis sacrifice. Aaron Hill then stepped up to the plate and secured sweet victory at the 4:09 mark. Yanks went down 2-0 in the series and the Jays were within a game and a half of their hated rivals. Oh, salad days. How I miss ye.

June 26th - Jays 5, Phillies 1
I may in fact be biased by this victory as I was at Citizen's Bank Park to witness it. Any Jays fan who had been to the game the previous night to witness Roy Halladay carve his former team up while Jesse Litsch failed to get anyone out needed this. And sure enough, the Jays pulled through. Shawn Marcum cut through the Phillies like a knife through that awful fucking cream cheese, Cole Hamels was as weak and ineffective as the Bud Light sold in the stands. Gonzalez, Buck and Hill all went deep, and Scott Downs provided two strong innings of relief before Shawn Camp closed it out in the 9th.

Low Points:

June 1st - Rays 7, Blue Jays 6
Remember the tense anxiousness with which we all watched that Rays series that started the month? I remember the Jays going up 4-0 after 5, and all I wanted to see was Tallet get through one more inning and then the bullpen should be able through 9 outs on a 4 run lead. He got two outs, then Casey Janssen gave him a little help for the third. In the bottom of the 6th the bats picked up another run and I was starting to feel a little more relaxed. Then Janssen and Frasor combined to give up 3 runs in the 7th. Fine, I assured myself, just get to the 9th with a 2 run lead and they'll be fine. They did. They weren't. So many things could have gone right to give the Jays what would have been a momentum setting victory. John Buck could have gotten off a better throw with one out to throw out Carl Crawford who got an absolutely horrid jump from first. Kevin Gregg could have thrown a strike to second to pick off a dead to rights Carl Crawford, again with one out (instead E1, Crawford to third). Gregg could have thrown a strike at all. Unfortunately none of these things happened, and 4 runs crossed the plate on Gregg's 5 walks. John Buck tried to redeem himself with a solo shot in the bottom half, but it was all they could muster. It was one of 3 losses the Jays suffered in the home stand where they had late-game leads.

June 8th - Rays 9, Blue Jays 0
I believe my tweet at the time was "Tallet can't get deep into the game, handing the ball to a bullpen that can't stop the Rays? Who could've predicted this? Oh wait, everyone." Perhaps a bit harsh; after the start he gave his team 7 days prior I can understand feeling obligated to giving the guy one more start. I'm also definitely not convinced Jesse Litsch would have been any better given his performance so far this year. Nonetheless, the big run total on the Rays side was not entirely surprising. Given that the bats had earned 8 runs off of Jeff Niemann in 13 innings of work in 2010, a complete game 2 hit shutout at his hands was. But who would have thought it wouldn't even be the most disappointing 9-0 loss of the month?

June 25th - Phillies 9, Blue Jays 0
It was the game we'd all been waiting for since last December. Roy Halladay's first start against the Blue Jays. It was supposed to be in Toronto, but Jays front office selfishly thought Jays faithful wouldn't want to walk through the rows of burning cop cars and window smashing anarchists to get to the game. Of course we would. We'd all love to know just what it's like to see a game in the Bronx. Nonetheless, the game was moved from the Big Smoke to the Land of the Cheesesteak. And what an awful game it proved to be. Roy Halladay was about as good as we'd remembered, getting through 7 innings and striking out 4 against a single walk. We learned what it must have felt like all those years for other teams watching their middle of the order come up with bloop fly balls and choppers all night long against this guy. Jesse Litsch and David Purcey were not so good. It's not that we should have expected a drastically different result, it's that we hoped for so much more.

What to look for in July:

Well I am actually something of a psychic capable of looking more than 2 weeks into the future, all the way to July 15th. I predict that the Jays will hit a ton of home runs in the first few weeks, but see their starters struggle and end up a game under .500 by the break. We will see Lyle Overbay start to embrace his inner awesome to the point that he's infrequently being mentioned as a potential trade target for contenders. We might see as many as 3 (yes 3!) all stars. Oh, and don't get attached to any middle infielders with chinstraps.

Okay, so this is about as late as one can possibly do a month and review without venturing into the question of whether to just wait 2 weeks and do a double. If the Drunk Jays Fans can use the World Cup as an excuse, so can I. In the realm of an actual projection of what to expect over the last 16 days of the month, I'd wager some measure of excitement. The Jays acquired a potentially explosive SS in Yunel Escobar, and it's hard to tell whether he has mechanical issues that will make the rest of this season a moot point or whether a change of scenery can seriously impact his play immediately. The rest of the month is against some pretty miserable competition, so you would hope to see the team above .500 by the trade deadline.

In terms of off field stuff, the international free agency window has opened and the Jays have already made a pair of splashes with pitcher Adonis Cardona and third baseman Gabriel Cenas. Keith Law has said a couple of times he expects the team to be the big spenders in international free agency this year and Marco Paddy has said that his team has the freedom to go after anyone they want, so I wouldn't be surprised if more signings are forthcoming. Remember that signing international free agents is the best and most limitless way to load of your system. You aren't limited to picking one in 30 like the draft, and there is never anything lost except money. If Alex Anthoupolous wants to load the cupboards quickly, international free agency is the way to expedite the process.

The other card the young GM holds right now lies in the team's many moveable parts. Players like Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, Lyle Overbay, Kevin Gregg and John Buck are all headed for free agency, although Downs, Frasor, Gregg and Buck all figure at the moment to be worth draft compensation if they do leave. I'm not sure what value there is on a disciplined, defensive first baseman without huge power (and as was pointed out on ESPN's Baseball Today last week, what contender doesn't have a first baseman?), but the other players mentioned have legitimate value. Scott Downs could feature as the most valuable piece, a very talented left handed reliever with a track record that goes back several years. It remains to be seen whether AA gets an offer he likes as much as the Escobar deal, but the potential to see this farm system continue to grow and strengthen is exciting to say the last. And to see this instead of pointless additions and a Stand Pat mentality towards impending free agents is way more encouraging.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

This Week In The Jaysophere (6/6-6/12)

Let's see if we can sum everything up in two words this week...

Draft analysis (The Tao of Stieb)
Draft liveblog (Drunk Jays Fans)
Atlantic League (Mop Up Duty)
Dunedin's manager (Batter's Box)
Bullpen sucks (Jays Balk)
Deck McGuire (1 Blue Jays Way)
WTF, Cito? (The Southpaw)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Thursday, June 3, 2010

NUMB3RS: Bullpen Struggles Against Rays, With Added Perspective

So the first half of a home and home series with the Rays (three games removed) is in the books, with the Jays winning the opener and then dropping the next two. To argue that this proves the Jays cannot compete with the elite of the AL East is nonsense, as they were able to take leads into the 9th inning on all three occasions. What it does illustrate however is a startlingly ineffective bullpen, at least against the Rays.

In three consecutive games, Blue Jays hitters got their starters in front early. In three consecutive games, they took a lead into the 9th. In three consecutive games, the Jays relievers conceded runs. In fact, the bullpen has coughed up runs in each of the team's 6 games against the Rays thus far. The good news is that this team has shown it is clearly capable of competing and driving baseball's best to the very brink. The bad news is that, so far this year, the Jays have been completely incapable of earning their coffee against Tampa.

So just how bad has the bullpen been against the original purveyors of Tank Nation? Here's the complete team-by-team splits of the relief corps:

YIKES. Despite accounting for only 7 percent of the bullpen's workload in 2010 so far, games against Tampa Bay have accounted for almost 30 percent of the runs allowed. A 17.47 ERA against the Rays is more than twice as high as against any other team, and in fact higher than the next three highest ERAs put together. The ratio stats are just as ugly, with the pen averaging more than 10 walks per nine. And having given up 24 hits already in just 11.1 IP, they've put up an absolutely miserable WHIP of 3.265. I wish I could offer a strong explanation for why they've struggled so mightily, but I'm not sure there is one. At least not a substantive one. Sometimes they've walked themselves into trouble, sometimes the Rays have found some timely hitting and power. But I'm going to go for the infuriating, intangible-disregarding answer: bad luck.

Don't get me wrong, 10.32 BB/9 is a truly ugly stat. Giving away on average more than a batter per inning on balls is a recipe for disaster. And I'm not saying at all that this bullpen's numbers against Tampa should be good, just not nearly as bad as they've been. But consider that this team has also averaged 9.53 SO/9. Consider that until Scott Downs served up a grand slam to Carl Crawford after his team had already taken the lead, the bullpen had held Tampa without a home run. The walks account for a lot of the problem, but for the most part the pen has been putting the ball in play. The fielding independent pitching statistic (FIP) suggests that they're more deserving of an ERA less than a third as high. But that depends on balls finding gloves at the rate they've historically found them. And so far that hasn't happened.

Consider this: against all other opponents, Jays relievers have posted an ERA of 3.25, which would be good enough for 6th in baseball. Include the Rays and the ERA jumps more than a full point to 4.27 and the Jays fall to 18th in bullpen ERA. In 2009 they posted a disappointing but manageable 5.33 ERA against the Rays in 52.1 IP. The year before they were dominant with a 2.11 ERA in 47 IP. Defense independent metrics, history and common sense suggest something is going to give. Let's just hope it happens real soon, because the next tilt with these Jay relief killers comes on Tuesday.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Month 2 A.D. In Review

31-22, 3rd in AL East (19-10 in May)

Notable Performers:
Shaun Marcum - 6 GS, 5-0, 1.85 ERA, 39 IP, 32 SO, 10 BB
Brett Cecil - 6 GS, 4-1, 3.89 ERA, 37 IP, 29 SO, 10 BB
Jason Frasor - 11 G, 2-0, 0.82 ERA, 11 IP, 10 SO, 2 BB
Scott Downs - 13 G, 1-1, 1.26 ERA, 14.1 IP, 13 SO, 4 BB

Jose Bautista - 29 G, .287/.422/.766, 5 2B, 2 3B, 12 HR, 25 RBI, 1/1 SB
Fred Lewis - 27 G, .333/.366/.561, 15 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 20 R, 2/4 SB
John Buck - 23 G, .297/.342/.554, 7 2B, 4 HR, 13 RBI

While Cito Gaston spoke softly, his players continued to carry a big stick into May, launching a club record of 54 home runs in the month. The Jays have hit 89 big flies on the season, a full 20 ahead of the 2nd place Red Sox which suggests that we'll be hearing "In the Hall of the Mountain King" on Sportsnet for at least a little while longer. But it wasn't just the long ball this month that was providing the offense. After a month that saw the Jays find themselves last in on base percentage and relying overwhelmingly on homers while posting a team line of .230/.303/.446, the team showed improvement across the board in May with a line of .258/.318/.493. On the pitching side of things, the bullpen settled down nicely and the addition of Brett Cecil to the rotation helped the team lower it's ERA 20 points to 4.13 (3.96 on the month). Like 2009, the Jays have exploded out of the gates much to the surprise of the baseball world. Unlike 2009, the Jays will carry that momentum into June, having won the final 5 games of May.

High Points:

May 3rd -Jays 5, Indians 1
Brett Cecil takes a perfect game into the 7th inning. Finally with 1 out in the 7th, Grady Sizemore and Shin Soo Choo earn walks before Jhonny Peralta lines an RBI single to left for the Tribe's first hit of the game. It would be the only one they'd manage off of Cecil, who promptly struck out Travis Hafner and retired the final 4 batters he faced. Jose Bautista hits his first home run of the month. There would be 11 more to come, a feat matched by only Carlos Delgado and Jose Cruz Jr in club history. Travis Snider and John Buck also go deep.

May 14th - Jays 16, Rangers 10
We go from Cecil's finest performance of the month to easily his worst. The young lefty manages only 2 innings, giving up 8 earned runs and putting his team in an 8-3 hole that would soon become 9-3 after Josh Roenicke gave up a run in the 3rd. No lead, no problem. With one out in the bottom of the third, Lyle Overbay hits a solo shot to make it 9-4. Three batters later, Travis Snider works an 11 pitch at bat where he fouls off 5 consecutive pitches before he takes a 3-2 splitter out of the park to make it 9-7. A single and a walk later, Adam Lind finds the hole on the right field side to make it 9-8. And in the next at bat, the game's decisive blow comes when Vernon Wells parks a 3 run shot to make it 11-9. They would add 4 runs in the next frame as Aaron Hill and Adam Lind would go back to back with four baggers, but they wouldn't need it. Roenicke gave up another run in the 4th, but from there on the combination of Casey Janssen, Rommie Lewis, Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp shut the Rangers explosive offense down.

May 31st - Jays 3, Rays 2
We now find ourselves amidst the 9 game span that has been overblown as being the entire season on the line, with the team's first of 6 games at home against the Rays and Yankees. The inconsistent Brandon Morrow against noted Jay killer Matt Garza. Only while Brandon Morrow went 3 up, 3 down to start the game, Matt Garza gives up a base hit to Aaron Hill and then Adam Lind takes a pretty good fastball on the outside corner the other way and over the wall in left to give the Jays an early 2-0 lead. They add a run in the 5th and Morrow takes a no-hitter into the 6th, facing the minimum over that span, until Sean Rodriguez just manages to beat Alex Gonzalez' throw to first on a sharp grounder up the middle. No matter, as Jose Molina promptly picks him off 3 pitches later. Morrow goes 7 strong allowing just one run, and although the bullpen made it very interesting (as they have in every game against the Rays so far this season) Kevin Gregg is able to get the big save and push the team to within 3.5 games of the division lead.

Low Points:

May 10th - Red Sox 7, Jays 6
What would a month in review be without both an appearance from Morrow the Good and Morrow the Bad? He is certainly the latter on this night, walking 6 in just 1.2 IP and giving up 6 runs. Defense is also an issue, leading to an unearned run conceded by Josh Roenicke after an Alex Gonzalez throwing error in the 3rd. The boys tried to mount a comeback, but in the end all it did was increase the drama so Jonathan Papelbon could be extra douchey in the save.

May 20th - Mariners 4, Jays 3
Jays have a 3-1 lead going to 9, Kevin Gregg on for the save. After two ground balls that find holes, Gregg forgets what the strike zone is. Walks in a run, then a Josh Bard sac fly ties it. And then the ultimate indignity - the carcass of a future Hall of Famer named Ken Griffey Jr hits a walk off to win it for the M's and avoid the 2-game sweep. Surprisingly, Gregg manages to not blame the umpire for this one.

May 26th - Angels 6, Jays 5
Scott Downs really did have a great month of May, so it's a shame that his last few appearances kind of blew. He gets through the 8th inning in order in this one, but two of those outs came on deep fly balls. 14 pitches in, Cito Gaston opts to leave him in for the 9th. Mike Napoli leads off with a double, and Maicer Izturis is able to move him over. With 1 out, they decide to load the bases with a pair of intentional walks. Howie Kendrick grounds to Alex Gonzalez and they get the runner at home, but Bobby Abreu is able to lace a ball to left for the walk off win. It ends a road trip where the Jays won 3 of 8, disappointing but not the absolute collapse of the late May road trip last year.

What to look for in June:
Well I hate to say this again because it certainly didn't carry through into May, but Lyle Overbay has posted a line of .292/.343/.569 since May 14th. After a disastrous April, he was merely bad in May, but he'll have to really heat up in June if he's to be trade bait in July. There's really no sample size, except for maybe the last 2 games, to suggest Adam Lind is close to rebounding, so let's just say it's because he's far too talented to continue to post a sub-.700 OPS. Same could be said for Aaron Hill. And for everyone else, we're just kind of hoping business as usual continues.

In the early part of the month, things should get pretty interesting as a number of players start to return from injuries and create roster questions. Jesse Litsch is eligible to be reactivated on June 3rd, and it remains to be seen whether they intend to immediately call him up or look to get him more rehab time considering he still has options. Marc Rzepczynski is still wallowing in Triple-A, but if he starts to put it together again he'll have to be a consideration for the 5 spot in the rotation as well. And Travis Snider has been eligible to be reactivated for a couple of days, but the team doctors are being very cautious so as to avoid further aggravation of his sprained right wrist. That being said, when he returns it will force the Jays to ponder their everyday lineup. Snider had been on an absolute tear and as the team's top prospect really does need to play every day. Jose Bautista is leading the league in home runs, while Fred Lewis led the league in doubles in May. If Edwin Encarnacion starts hitting again by the time Snider returns, who sits?

Roster questions and performance pipe-dreams aside, this is going to be a tough month. Of the 26 games on the schedule, 23 of them come against teams with records above .500 and 17 are against teams in 2nd or better in their division. And among the pitchers the Jays may very well see: David Price, Wade Davis, AJ Burnett, Andy Pettite, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jeff Francis, Jon Garland, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Adam Wainright, Chris Carpenter and Cole Hamels. Oh, and that Halladay guy. I hear he's pretty good. The Jays got by on a fairly easy schedule in May, and now the question of whether the salad days are here will be answered over the next month or so. Nervous? Sure. But this is what makes baseball great. You can't get to the post-season without proving your meddle against serious competition (not unless you're in the AL Central, at least) and I for one look forward to seeing how these guys match up. And the one thing we can continue to look forward to as we've enjoyed all season is exciting baseball. Pitchers who have the ability to take no-hitters deep into games. Hitters who can turn a game around on a dime. A GM who has shown the ability to drive certain Bay Area GMs to bouts of insanity. This is a team worth following. Hopefully, after the terrifying-twenty-three are over and we get to close out the month against the miserable Tribe, this will be a team with a heavy bandwagon.