July 16, 2007

Blue Jays Mid-Season Report Card

We're officially in the dog days of summer, which means the 2007 baseball season is already past the halfway point. It's time to pull no punches, my friends, and say it like it is. It's time to rate this year's Toronto Blue Jays.

The Blue Jays, today, sit in third place in the American League East with a 45-46 record. Simply not good enough. Not for a team that was supposed to contend. I will, however, give the Jays the props that they are due, because injuries have ravaged this year's squad. Although the Jays are not in serious contention for either the AL East division crown or the Wild Card, it's a Christmas miracle they are even hovering near .500.

I'm not using the Blue Jays' injuries as an excuse. Ok I am. A little bit. This season has had its fair share of bad already, but there has also been some good. Each player will be graded by yours truly. Let's get down to business.

Alex Rios: A +
Rios has blossomed into a star before our very eyes. He leads the Blue Jays in batting average (.297), home runs (18), RBI's (55), runs (64) and stolen bases (9). If you're keeping track at home, that's every important offensive category. He was the Blue Jays' lone all-star and makes less than $1 million a season. His salary takes up less than 1% of the Blue Jays payroll. From this day on, he shall be referred to as Alex Rios, the Grand Nacho Muchacho. Unfortunately, I cannot take credit for that nickname, but it sure is a beauty. I love you, Alex Rios.

Scott Downs: A +
Middle relievers don't get as much love as they should. He's been steady as a rock, giving up only nine earned runs in over 35 innings of work, while striking out 39. Downs is a certified rude boy.

Jeremy Accardo: A +
He stepped into B.J. Ryan's role with confidence and hasn't let the team down. Ryan's are not easy shoes to fill. Only 11 earned runs given up in over 35 innings while striking out 39. Where would the Jays be without this quiet, flame-throwing right hander? Acquired for Shea Hillendbrand, his acquisition might be the best trade J.P. Ricciardi has ever made while with Toronto.

Aaron Hill: A
Orlando Hudson who? Sure, Hudson was an all-star this year, but I believe Hill got shafted when he didn't make the team. His 52 RBI's lead all starting second basemen in the American League. He's a great hitter, and provides gold glove defense at second. He's driven home more runs than Vernon Wells, Frank Thomas and Troy Glaus. Ridiculous.

Casey Janssen: A
Janssen was thrust into a middle reliever role this season and he has embraced the challenge. He's willing to do whatever he's asked and all he wants to do is help the team win. He's done just that. Along with Downs and Accardo, he has helped stabilize the bullpen - a bullpen that was supposed to be this team's weakest link. He's also been a horse, pitching 47.2 innings while only giving up 12 earned runs. I said some bad things about Janssen before the season began. I take em all back.

Shaun Marcum: A
He's a pit bull on the mound because he loves to challenge hitters. Since entering the starting rotation Marcum has only lost one game. He's been dynamite and this team would be in even bigger trouble had he not stepped up when Gus Chacin, Doc Halladay and A.J. Burnett went down with injuries. In 88 innings, batters are hitting a putrid .225 against him. Marcum has solidified his spot in the rotation, and I'd take him over Chacin any day of the week.

Matt Stairs: A
I've got to show love to the lone Canadian on this team. Stairs was an after thought coming into this season, a left-handed pinch hitter who would see 200 at bats if he was lucky. Then Reed Johnson went down, and the unassuming Stairs started playing everyday. And he started to hit home runs. Without Matt Stairs, this Jays team would be in a world of hurt. It could be argued that he and Rios are co-mvp's during the first half. Stairs' .545 slugging percentage leads all Jays hitters and he's got more home runs than Wells and Glaus, and he's tied with Thomas. Actually, Thomas is tied with him. I dissed J.P. when he signed Stairs, and I've enjoyed being shown how stupid I really am. Good call, J.P. Matt Stairs - a true Canadian hero.

Troy Glaus: B
If Troy Glaus were a hockey player on the Toronto Maple Leafs, he'd be a legend in this city. This man plays through a lot of pain, and doesn't get enough credit for doing so. He's batting a solid .288 with a team leading .391 on base percentage. You know me, I'm all about the OBP. Glaus gets a B for not being a bitch and playing through pain, because he knows that even at 75%, the Jays desperately need him in the field. Troy, you are appreciated.

Brian Tallet: B
Tallet didn't even make the big club out of spring training. He was designated for assignment, took his demotion to Syracuse like a man, and worked his tail off. He came back up to the big leagues and hasn't looked back. He's pitched 40 innings and has held opponents to a .203 batting average. Attaboy, Brian.

Dustin McGowan: B
Injuries to Chacin, Halladay, Zambrano and Burnett, and the overall ineptitude of Tomo Ohka and Josh Towers, led to McGowan's call-up from Syracuse. He's here to stay and is finally showing the potential the Jays saw in him. His one-hitter against the Colorado Rockies was the best-pitched game by any Blue Jay this year, and his arm causes any fan to salivate. He's got the tools, now he's just got to put it together.

Roy Halladay: B
I've got to show love to my man Halladay. He's got 10 wins, but I know without a doubt that he's pitching injured. I've never seen him get hit the way he has this season. A 4.66 ERA and a .286 opponents batting average are just not Halladay-esque numbers. He gets a B- for pitching through whatever is ailing him. He's a warrior.

John McDonald: B -
I love Johnny Mac. He runs out every ground ball like he's just hit the ball into the gap. It's true what they say - if you work hard, you'll get what you deserve. Johnny Mac took over the everyday shortstop position because he plays hard. His defense is second to none and he's already made 10 jaw-dropping plays at short. He's a regular on TSN's "Honour Roll" and deservedly so. He's a magician with the glove. Love Johnny Mac.

A.J. Burnett: C +
I think a C+ is a generous grade for Burnett, but I'll give it to him because his 5-6 record doesn't justify how he's pitched most of the time he's taken the mound. He really stepped up his game when his boy Harry Halladay went down, but once again, he's on the disabled list. It's his third visit to the DL in only one and a half years here in Toronto. He's got to suck it up and pitch through pain. Take a cue from Halladay for God's sake. I guess $55 million only gets you an oft-injured arm, and no testicular fortitude.

Lyle Overbay: C
Overbay's a better hitter than his .267 average. He spoiled me in his first season with the Blue Jays. But I'm sure he'll be the first to agree that he needs to be better. I'll give him some slack, because he was injured, but he got off to a very slow start this year, and that's why he gets a low grade. But I've got faith in the doubles machine known as Overbay, so I'm confident that he'll be in the B to A- range once the season is over.

Frank Thomas: C
Congratulations to The Big Hurt on home run number 500. Frank, you booked your ticket to the Hall but now please stop trying to hit every single pitch out of the park. Clearly, the quest for number 500 was on Thomas' mind, but this guy has a career batting average of .303. His .250 average this year just ain't cutting it. A lot of people criticized J.P. for signing the aging Thomas and while I like his veteran leadership, his signing might turn out to be The Big Mistake unless he has a fantastic second half.

Vernon Wells: C
$126 million for this!? $126 million for a .252 batting average and a pathetic .314 on base percentage? Oh dear. What the hell has happened to the center fielder formerly known as Vernon Wells? To say he's struggled this year is an understatement. His 57 strikeouts lead the team for heaven's sake. He's got to be feeling the pressure of his huge contract. The move to lead-off has helped him and he's hitting the ball better of late, but we're not paying him that amount of coin to be a lead-off man. Someone pass me the TUMS, because Wells is causing me some serious indigestion.

Jason Frasor: C
He was supposed to be the closer once B.J. Ryan went down, but he couldn't handle it. Disappointing. Frasor was a promising reliever a couple of years ago but has fallen on the depth chart with the emergence of Downs, Janssen and Accardo. The .209 batting average against is nice, but Frasor let me down, and so is deserving of the C.

Gregg Zaun: C
He was another of the injured Blue Jays, so it's taking a while for him to get his timing back. He's a helluva competitor though, and just wants to win. I appreciate the never-say-die attitude he's got. When McGowan lost his no-hitter against Colorado in the 9th inning, Zaun was almost in tears after the game. He really wanted the no-no for his young pitcher. Zaun cares. I know he's struggling, but I just want to give him a hug. Zaun's better than a C grade, he knows it and I know it.

Reed Johnson: C
Johnson gets a low grade because he's barely been in the lineup, and like Zaun, needs time to get his timing back. He's better than his .233 average and it's only a matter of time until that number goes up. With Johnson, it's all about time. The Jays missed his attitude the most on the field. He takes fastballs on his arms for the team - he'll do anything to get on base. He's also a phenomenal fielder, and he proved that by making a diving catch in the 9th inning in his return to the lineup. I love Reed, but it's all about tough love here.

Jesse Litsch: C
Litsch is a young pup up from Double-A ball, so I've got to show him some love because he's won two games for the Jays, with one coming against the high octane Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park. He's got a lot of work to do in order to stay with the big club, but he's got a future in this game. His .320 opponents batting average is quite disturbing, but there will always be growing pains with young pitchers. He can keep his head up with the way he's carried himself with the Jays.

Jason Phillips: C -
Phillips is a dependable backup catcher. He filled in admirably for Zaun while he was gone, but Phillips is a backup for a reason. His .213 batting average being one of em.

Adam Lind: C -
Lind filled in for Johnson while he was injured, but needs some more seasoning in the minors. He's got decent power, but swings at EVERYTHING. He struck out 53 times in only 73 games, and that's brutal.

Royce Clayton: D
Thank God the Jays only signed this guy to a one-year deal. Clayton has already played for half the teams in baseball, and it's no wonder why. His work ethic hasn't been good and for a guy who was brought in for his defense, he's made way too many errors (6). That's five more than Johnny Mac. Clayton's a bum.

Josh Towers: D
Towers is officially the Blue Jays organization's bitch. This guy gets bounced around like he's a rag-doll. From the starting rotation, to the bullpen, to the minors, then back to the bullpen and then back into the starting rotation. His contract is mercifully up after this year and there's no way on God's green earth that he is in a Jays uniform next season. What does he care though? He's banking $2.3 million this season. Towers should talk to the guy in charge of player entrance music. Whenever he comes into the came, the loudspeakers at the Rogers Centre should play "Laughing Straight to the Bank" by 50 Cent. Because that's exactly what Towers is doing.

Gustavo Chacin: D
The five inning wonder Chacin can't even give us five innings anymore. After making five starts and posting a frightening 5.60 ERA, Chacin shut it down. He's supposedly throwing off flat ground these days, but I heard the Jays won't let him pitch again this season. He's still got a shot with this team, because the fifth spot in the rotation, currently occupied by the tool known as Towers, will be open next season. But Chacin's got work to do. A lot of work. He's been supplanted in the rotation by both McGowan and Marcum, with Litsch making a push as well.

Tomo Ohka, Victor Zambrano and John Thomson: F
J.P. Ricciardi signed these three guys off the scrap heap last winter, trying to make up Ted Lilly's lost innings. If one of them worked out, it would have been nice and I would have been singing J.P.'s praises. Turns out they all sucked. Big time. It was a calculated risk, it didn't work, and the only reason the Jays are still treading water is because of the contributions of Marcum, McGowan, Janssen, Tallet and Litsch. J.P. got lucky, and I think he'd be the first to admit that as well.

B.J. Ryan: N/A
Ryan went down so early in the season it's impossible to give him a grade. Just get well soon, big guy.

That's it for the players. There's just three more grades left to hand out.

Manager John Gibbons: B
With all the injuries this team has had to deal with, it's a wonder they are near .500. Gibbons has had to work with a patchwork lineup and he's done a decent job. I've always been a supporter of Gibbons, even though he does tend to make some questionable calls from time to time. However, I think he's done a solid job considering the cards that he's been dealt this season. Props out to Gibbons for keeping the clubhouse in order and the attitude positive.

J.P. Ricciardi: C +
Offensively, this team was supposed to be the real deal. Ricciardi boasted about how his team would have the best lineup in the American League. Granted, the lineup he put together in the off-season has played only a handful of games together. Injuries have ravaged this team, and I can't blame J.P. for that, as much as I want to. None of the pitchers he signed worked out, but guys he drafted stepped up, so it's a catch-22. I can rail on him for not getting enough pitching help, but then again it's his farm system that turned out to be the solution. I was hoping for a lot more out of the offense though, hence the C+.

Toronto Blue Jays: B -
As a team, I give the Jays a B -. I love this team, I really do. Alex Rios is quickly becoming my favourite baseball player. I admire the courage of Halladay and Glaus to play through significant injuries. I love Gregg Zaun's attitude. The man was ready to cry because his pitcher's no-hitter was broken up. He genuinely cares. I love Frank Thomas' attitude and his belief in this team. I love the shaving cream pies and the gatorade showers, even when seven regulars are missing from the lineup.

Everything had to go right in order for the Jays to contend this year. I knew that going in. And right from the get go, nothing went right. Johnson went down. Chacin followed. Glaus hit the d/l. Zaun broke his thumb. Overbay broke his hand. Burnett's shoulder acted up. Halladay had appendicitis. Ohka sucked. Zambrano's forearm hurt, although that was a cover up for him just plain sucking. Towers sucked. You get the point.

There's also been a lot of surprises - disappointing ones. How does Hill have more RBI's than Wells, Thomas and Glaus? The big hitters like Wells and Thomas have not produced like they are capable of, hence their low grades.

In order to make the playoffs, a team must win 95 games. That's the benchmark, at least in the tough American League. The Jays have 69 games left in their season. In order to reach 95 wins, they have to go 50 and 19. Ouch.

Reality bites. What can one say, when presented with a statistic like that? It hurts. Like a swift punch to the gut. Playoff baseball looks like it won't be happening once again in Toronto, and it's depressing. But I'm still proud of the Toronto Blue Jays. They're fighters. I know they won't quit. And I'll give them the utmost respect for that. For fighting through all the injuries and all the bullshit.

Props to the 2007 Toronto Blue Jays. Here's to them, and to making the second half interesting.

Blue Jays Baseball - I'm an idiot, because I still BELIEVE...


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