With the Phillies starting a three game weekend Interleague Series in Toronto this weekend, we thought we'd reach out to Bluebird Banter, SBNation's Blue Jays blog, for a diplomatic information exchange. My answers to their questions are here. BB author jessef took the time to answer our questions here:
1. Big story for the Blue Jays this season has been Jose Bautista, who started off as hot as anyone in baseball history, cooled off quite a bit, but has recently started hitting again. So... what did Joey Bats figure out over the past two years?
The Jose Bautista story has been a well-publicized one. Apparently, Bautista's timing had been off and he had been late on everything. According to this story by Joe Posnanski, Bautista had been working on starting his swing earlier and he just could not figure out how to do so; eventually, Vernon Wells simply told him, "Think about starting as early as you can possibly imagine, so early that it seems ridiculous. And then start even earlier than that. What do you have to lose? If you look like a fool, you look like a fool. It's just one game." In his next plate appearance, he doubled.
2. Phillies fans watched Kyle Drabek for a long time, and I think there's been a little twinge of disappointment watching his recent struggles. What's going on and do you think it's going to be fixable?
What's going on is that he hasn't been able to throw strikes (zone-rate of 34%). Kyle seems to fall behind in the count a lot (first strike-rate of just 51%), which has caused him to nibble. His breaking pitches seems to be working fairly well but he hasn't been locating his fastball, which is always a recipe for disaster. Kyle seems to wear his heart on his sleeve and a lot of folks think that it's gotten into his head that he hasn't been able to get the ball over. He's been sent back down to the minors to help him clear his head, while he works on pounding the zone. This has been sort of a point of discussion here. Personally, I think it's fixable and I think Kyle will be back and doing fine. Plenty of starters who get rushed up through the minors walk too many batters in their first major league season or two (though it is a little disconcerting that he's walking so many while striking out so few). I do think it was wise to send him down, particularly with how badly he was struggling and the fact that the Jays have plenty of depth at starting pitching.
3. A lot of the talk of realignment in MLB has centered around the AL East, and the incredibly stacked deck faced by the Rays, Blue Jays, and Orioles insofar as competing and grabbing one of the coveted playoff spots under the current system, where the Red Sox and Yankees almost literally spend their way into the postseason every year. As a Blue Jays fan, do you support some kind of realignment that would either add a Wild Card team, or an NBA-style system that would seed the teams by record, regardless of their place in the division? Or something different?
We've talked a bunch about realignment. Some people are actually glad to be in a division that makes you play against the best. Personally, I'm not. I think it's ludicrous that this team -- which has actually been pretty good overall during the past seven or eight seasons -- hasn't had made the playoffs since before the strike. If I had my druthers, the majors would be realigned back into two separate leagues and the top five teams in each league would make the playoffs every season (the league champion gets a bye through the first round). I think this would re-emphasize the importance of being regular season champion (which was equal in importance to the World Series for much of the 20th century) while also structuring an exciting playoff system. On a separate, but related note, I would also structure playoff series so as to require teams to use four starters instead of just three and -- as interleague play will never actually be abolished -- I would give World Series homefield advantage to whichever league had a better interleague play record (which would re-emphasize the importance of leagues).
4. Who is the real Adam Lind?
The one we're seeing this season. While his overall numbers look very bad from last season, his second half numbers were much more encouraging and he's obviously raking again this year. His LD-rate is 22.8% and his flyballs are carrying (22.2% HR/fly-rate). He is for real and, while his HR/fly-rate may drop a bit, he is the real deal. I normally don't subscribe to pop-culture psychoanalysis, but I wonder if DHing last season was a distraction to him and playing the field this season has helped him keep his head in the game. Of course, it's also possible that he was a young player who was struggling to make adjustments to a league that had adjusted to him.
5. Talk to me about the pitchers the Blue Jays will send to the hill this weekend. The Phillies are dodging the filthy Brandon Morrow, but what can you tell us about the rest of the staff?
Be glad you're dodging Brandon Morrow -- he'd make a lot of Phillies look foolish out there.
Tonight, the Jays will be sending Ricky Romero, who -- in my opinion -- is one of the finest southpaws in the American League. J.P. Ricciardi and the Jays took a lot of flak for drafting Romero over Troy Tulowitzki. Tulowitzki is obviously a phenomenal talent and this led to what was essentially a mainstream media meme about the Jays not being able to draft. Well, Romero has gotten better and better every season. In addition to posting above-average strikeout- and walk-rates, he has posted one of the best groundball-rates in the league every season he's pitched. He has a lot of poise and I do not think you're likely to see him wilt out there, either. His best pitch is his changeup but he commands his fastball well and has started to use his curve as an out-pitch to lefties.
Tomorrow, Carlos Villanueva makes the start but I think the attention in Toronto will be focused on who is starting for the Phils. The Jays picked up Villanueva for essentially nothing and, after he started the season well in the bullpen, moved him to the rotation where he's continued to flourish. One thing to watch with Villanueva is that he has reverse platoon splits, so he may keep the lefty-heavy Phils at bay better than expected. He doesn't throw hard but he changes speeds well and does a good job keeping hitters off-balance. Just not as well as that other guy who'll be pitching tomorrow.
Jojo Reyes pitches on Sunday. You likely remember him from his Hobbesian (nasty, brutish, and short) tenure with the Braves. Reyes has struggled to win games this season, but he's actually pitched fairly well. We wrote up a piece on him earlier this week, which (surprisingly) demonstrated that he's actually been in the third quartile of major league starters this season. Considering that the Jays picked him up as a throw-in in the Yunel Escobar deal, Jays fans are pretty satisfied with that one. His (albeit limited) success this season relative to years past has been due to staying in the zone. He's a hard-throwing lefty with your basic four-pitches. He has to stay down in the zone to be effective.