Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Bottom of the Order's 2008 Regular Season Wrap-Up

Part-Time Lover

You have to admire my commitment to a motif, don't you? All season long, I've been late with the news and reactions, if I've been there at all. And now I'm late with my season wrap-up, originally intended for posting on Sunday night. I understand now why most of the blogs in the Jays universe who manage to post daily or near-daily content marry the work of more than one contributor. A little like the Jays, I more or less limped to the finish of the '08 season, and now it's time to regroup, assess damages, and determine priorities for next season. Whatever form this blog takes in going into '09 isn't yet clear, but I do intend to be back. In the meantime, I'll be around for the postseason and for what comes after -- deals, near-deals, recriminations, winter meetings and those inescapable longings for baseball that strike in the dead of January.

Take These Broken Wings

It's all over but the crying. Look, there's plenty of blame to go around. We all had high hopes, reasons for optimism. The pieces were there, and they might not be next year.

It seems to me that, at different times, everything was in place, but never at the same time. The pitching was the only constant, give or take a few games, and beyond that you had flashes of brilliance amid disappointing stretches for the guys the Jays were counting on. Once Hill went down, there was a hell of a lot of shifting going on around the infield, and that had its ripple effects. Scutaro proved a nifty pick-up as a result, going where he was told and acquitting himself capably.

The injuries didn't help, and neither did the time it took to sort out the mess in left field. Below-expected offensive performance is the big culprit, of course, a huge letdown from what we thought we'd see going into the year. But I'll side with Lloyd the Barber and say that it was still a pretty damn good season to watch the Jays. Maybe that's just my quick-setting historical revisionism at work, but what the hell. Cito's aim of finishing ten games over .500 was, in fact, a bang on prediction, and that'd give them the NL West, so that's something. I mean, you know, if they switched leagues and if the Big One would just hurry up and swallow up everything west of the Ontario-Manitoba border, or whatever. And, and, we all got swept up there, for a few brief, shining moments in September -- September, mind -- and it was exciting and awesome and we dared to think that a Wild Card might be ours. How amazing was that?

Requiem for a Dream Forestalled

There's an ineffable sadness linked to the final Sunday of the season, it seems to me, at least when your team is missing the playoffs for the umpteenth consecutive season. They play nine, like they've done 161 times previous, only once the 27th out is recorded, everybody's going home, just like that. It happens so quickly. Just ask Mets fans.

But there's always next year, so they say, and it's not to early to crow about our chances in 2009. There are buckets of positives. We have the best pitcher in baseball, for one. We'll have a full season to see what Lind can do. Maybe we'll have that elusive big hitter to anchor the middle of the order -- there are a few candidates available this winter. And who knows, we might even have AJ back.

You Lift Me Up

Just one last awkward, slobbery kiss for those non-official outlets of Jays news, conjecture and hilarity that brightened my world on a daily basis. The Tao, the Drunkards, the Lefties, and the rest -- they're all up there on the links list. But I want to reserve a special word for the Ghostrunners' Wednesdays with JP schtick: that shit was funny. Also, Hum & Chuck's Ballad of Doc and AJ was as touching as anything on Oprah's list, and more true.

Thanks, y'all. Though I wouldn't have thought it possible, you make baseball even more enjoyable.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Does 20 Matter?

As I write this the Jays and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees are just getting underway in the last hogtown home game of '08 (look at all those wingnuts going apeshit for their beloved boys in blue!). Halladay makes his 33rd and final start, his lone shot at 20 wins on the season (though I suspect it wouldn't take much begging from Cito for Roy to agree to start all their remaining games -- off-days are for lesser men and mere boys). I don't need to tell you that the last time The Ace won 20 was '03, when he nabbed his Cy Young, and Roy's not going to reach that season's total of 22 bedpost notches, but in every other respect he's been better. In every peripheral category, The Inning Eater has bettered his '03 numbers, and the only thing missing, of course, has been run support (5.67 runs/game then vs. 4.48 this year). Anemic bats are his W-L kryptonite.

When I was a kid, and the world was dewy and green and splendid, and polution hadn't yet begun, and America was sexy, wins were really all that were used to determine a pitcher's greatness. I think Ws and Ls were all they put on the back of Opee-Chees (and maybe strikeouts). They used the extra room for the French translation of those zingy factoids. Who the fuck cared what Dwight Gooden's WHIP was, or his K/BB ratio? Dude was 17-9 as a rookie, and 24-4 in '85 -- of course he was good (and always would be, right?).

Of course, since the internet and all these web-logs have sprung up, we've all developed calculators for brains (I'm right about that, aren't I? People are smarter now?), we've begun to see the demise of the W as the sole stat in determining a pitcher's worth (Fanks, Bill James!). If that proverbial coffin required a final nail, Roy's '08 season will do, because, whether he ends up with 19 or 20 victories, that number won't do justice to the season he's gifted us with. I know the sense that good pitchers get wins and bad ones don't -- period -- will linger in many minds, maybe forever. I know this after trying to convince my father of the fallacy of the W-L tally on several frustrating occasions, most recently while seated in the nosebleeds at Yankee Stadium, and discussing Mike Mussina's HOF credentials, or possible lack thereof. My father's ironclad defense in this or most any debate: "Call me old-fashioned, but I think 20 wins still means something." Ugh.

That said, obviously I'm pulling for Roy to get his 20th tonight, if only because it means he'll get a little more attention around the rest of baseball, where Toronto remains a provincial outpost about which little is known, and about which few care to learn. Also, to hell with the Yankees. I suggested in my last post that we were playing for third place. Well, er, we've lost two straight to the Yanks' scrubs, so maybe playing for Roy's 20th is a more realistic goal.

No doubt I'm biased, but Jeter's right, and so's GWB (and that is the only time I will ever say that): Halladay is the best damn pitcher in baseball. You can have your Cliff Lees and your Brandon Webbs and your damn Jobas; Harry Leroy Halladay is our ace and I hope it stays that way for seasons to come.

UPDATE -- How Fitting

A complete game victory. Beautiful. And the hugs with AJ and Arnsberg, and the pie in the face; perfect. And maybe I'm reading too much into it all, but there was something sorta kinda like a playoff atmosphere tonight at Ted's House, and it gave me a thought: if this team does make the postseason sometime in the next few years, is there any doubt whatsoever that Doc will prove himself a rock solid big game pitcher? Think about it: it's a crime against wee helpless orphans and Mother Nature that Halladay has never tasted October baseball. The Fates willing, it's an injustice we'll one day see righted.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What We're Playing For

Last night's game was just the tonic for a fanbase feeling dyspeptic from frustrated expectations, impending rotation breakdowns, and the prospect of yet another lonely October. Sure, the Yanks won, and that's plenty shitty, but the game felt like it meant something, and that gave me a charge. There's always a little animosity between Toronto and New York (AL), whether because they share a division, or because A-Rod is something less than a gentleman, or because the Hogtowners are trying to shrug off the inferiority complex they covertly direct at Gothamites while prattling on about diversity and cleanliness and relative safety (this, secretly, is kind of nice to see for me, since I grew up in Ottawa and have to endure on an ongoing basis the Sens-Leafs rivalry which is, in the 613 area code, merely the mask applied to Ottawans' hatred of Torontonians and their World Class City status, while Ottawa, nominally the capital of Canada, wallows in cultural provinciality [Jesus, I'm glad I moved out of Ottawa]).

Anyway, what with all the love directed at the Yankee Empire recently, and their now-abandoned ballyard (I was guilty, sure, all that Bronxian smog and grit obscuring my judgment, as well the massive Foster's I was able to track down, but then so too was Lloyd the Barber moved to say a kind word or two), it was nice to be reminded that these are the Yankees, and we hate the Yankees. Last night's game was full of spleen and invective, and it was a hell of a lot more intense than you might expect from two teams in a dogfight for third place. But it was obvious that both teams want to see the other finish in fourth.

So what, I hear you saying. Who cares how far out of the playoffs the Jays finish, the point is that they missed the playoffs -- again. Bullshit, I say. It might be third place, but it's our third place. Now let's take it back.

Friday, September 19, 2008

On Baseball and Being a Member of the Aging Punk Rock Alumni

Why do I love baseball? Easy, Champ. Same reason I loved punk rock (and am now a card-carrying member of the aging punk rock alumni, though you'd never know it from my clever mild-mannered housedad disguise), and why I love free jazz now: you never know what's going to happen. These days, this is especially true when BJ Ryan enters the game.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Meanwhile, in Seattle

I haven't had much to say about the Mariners this year, due mostly to the fact that there hasn't been much to say about the Mariners this year. They're stumbling through the worst season in team history. It's been ugly.

But then there's Ichiro. The Human Awesome has quietly gone and put together another incredible season, and last night he notched his 200th hit of 2008. For the 8th season in a row. My only question: will he employ a translator for his Hall induction speech?

But in other M's news, it comes to light now that Erik Bedard's got a torn labrum. USS Mariner suggests that we've seen the last of Bedard in a Seattle uniform, meaning that ex-GM Bill Bavasi traded the farm to Baltimore for 80 innings of starting work. Hard to argue that's not "the worst trade in franchise history."

The question becomes, can whoever takes over at GM rebuild while keeping the few essential pieces (Ichiro, Felix, Morrow, maybe a few others) in place?

Take heart, Jays fans. You could be Mariners fans.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Long Time Gone

They don't make 'em like they used to

Much has transpired since the last time I checked in here (despite assurances that I'd be a more regular presence -- what can I say?). I won't rehash; there are a ton of good, regularly updated Jays-related blogs out there that you probably read daily.

But part of my excuse has to do with baseball. I was in New York, at both doomed ballparks, Shea and Yankee Stadium.

The Mets game (v. Braves, with Santana scheduled) was rained out, alas, but I can report that Mets fans are a friendly bunch, that the sausage was good and the beer, well, cold anyway. The seats scored from StubHub were very good (they were behind home in the mezzanine level, not in the right field upper deck as suggested by that photo), and I imagine would've provided excellent views of players actually engaged in playing baseball. Oh well.

As for Yankee Stadium, well, it's the damndest thing. You despise the Yankees and you tell yourself that what's left at 161st and River Ave. is not the original, legendary House that Ruth Built, but a vintage '76 redo, a Steinbrenner bastardization, a hacked up corpse of a legendary ballpark.

But then you go there. And damned if there aren't chills a-multiplyin' up and down your spine. It really is a thing to see, and I'm glad that I got to witness the 10th-last game ever played there. Glad, too, that the Rays won 7-1. Because impressive ballpark or no, to hell with the Yankees.

The view from our seats in the upper deck

[Thanks again to Kingman at Loge 13 for the tips on what to see and do at Shea. Didn't get to do everything, but much appreciated nonetheless.]

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Several Different Varieties of Awesome

Is it me, or is this team playing some exciting baseball games right now? None moreso than last night. Sure, the normally reliable bullpen blew it (twice), but Our Boy Travis collected the most meaningful hits of his short major league career, and Johnny Mac knocked in the game winner. Also, Inglett? Power? What?

Nice to know that, if in fact this team is completely, 100% and totally out of contention, we still have some damn good baseball to look forward to.