July 31, 2008

Deep Thoughts Vol. 8: I Need A Hug Edition

It was a rough day at the office.

The Blue Jays are back at the God damn .500 mark after they dropped their rubber match against Satan's own Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Canadian content Scott Richmond was not magical by any means, but he gave us a chance to win. The hitters, as per the usual, couldn't get the job done with runners in scoring position.

Tampa Bay improved to 9-3 against the Jays this season, and that is ridiculous...

In other news that will have you reaching for the bottle, Scott Rolen's shoulder is fucked up. The same left shoulder which has been operated on three times already. That's, uhm, not good.

Rolen and the Jays are calling it a "mechanical issue," and I have no idea what the hell that means. At least now I can blame Rolen's terrible season at the plate on his injury. For those who don't know, much like Bryan McCabe, I'm great at using the injury excuse. Really, really great.

Everyone is well aware that Rolen is a wizard at third base, but with two years and a ton of loot remaining on his contract, is it fair to say that the Jays got absolutely roasted in the Troy Glaus for Scott Rolen trade?

Sure, I think Glaus is a steroid using douchebag, but he's a steroid using douchebag with 18 home runs and 72 RsBI. That is, like, more than all the Toronto Blue Jays combined...

Does anyone remember a time when the New York Yankees weren't buyers at the annual trade deadline? With catcher Jorge Posada lost for the season, New York went out and acquired Pudge fucking Rodriguez to replace him. This is after they picked up Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte last week. It must be nice to be a Yankee fan this time of year. The Evil Empire does not fuck around. I guess it's just the Yankees being the Yankees.

Speaking of the Bronx Bombers, is there a better last name for the general manager of the ball club than Cashman (Brian)? Oh, the irony...

Lastly, the news that completely ruined my evening yesterday: Mats Sundin has serious offers on the table from six NHL teams. And, no, we probably won't know his decision by August 1st. It was all a big tease. Let the madness continue.

Mats, you're killing me, man. A little more with each passing day...

As you can see, I need a hug.

July 30, 2008

Guys Dig The Long Ball Too...

Eric Hinske hit the 100th home run of his career last night against Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays. I found it rather fitting that Hinske reached the milestone in Toronto, where it all began, where it all went so wrong, and where he is lustily booed.

I can't imagine Hinske gets booed at any other ball parks. Nobody other than the fans in Toronto really give a shit about him. And we don't boo him because he spurned us, talked ill of the team, or ill of the fans. We boo him because he sucks. We boo him because he's Shitske.

As I watched Hinske club home run number 100 to deep centre field, and later learned that the Jays were shut out, I reached a new personal low as a fan of the 2008 Jays. I actually wished, just for an instant, that Hinske were still around and wearing Toronto digs.

I apologize fellow Jays fans, for there really is no excuse. A moment of sincere weakness is all I can attribute it to. I feel dirty inside and out, I really do, but Hinske's got 15 home runs and 47 RsBI. I know, he's only batting .255, but it's the power that I want. The power that I miss.

I miss the long ball. The saying goes that "chicks dig the long ball," but guys like me dig the long ball too, dammit. The Jays have hit only 75 all year, good for second last in the American League. Ironically, the Minnesota Twins are last in the AL with only 73 round trippers, yet they're playing .557 baseball, and are only a half game out of the Central Division lead. Fuck me. Isn't life wonderful?

You know, it's not as if Hinske is ripping shit up with his 15 home runs. It's a decent amount. A middle of the road amount. But it's just that those 15 are as many as Scott Rolen and Lyle Overbay combined. With three to spare. And that hurts my soul.

It has been a difficult season for me as a Jays fan. A roller coaster ride. A frustrating experience of watching the team take a few steps forward, and then a few more steps backward. Buoyed by A.J. Burnett's efforts on Monday night, I was looking forward to Roy Halladay ensuring that the Jays would win this three game set with the Rays.

Didn't happen. Shut down by Matt Garza, and another sublime effort from Doc wasted in the process. Say what you want about the Rays, and I've poo-pooed on them for a long, long time, but they improved to 3-0 against Halladay this season. Based on that statistic alone, I'm beginning to believe they are for real. They've got one hell of a lineup, and that Evan Longoria fellow is having a bonerific rookie campaign.

I'll be the first to admit that Matt Garza has pitched well for Tampa Bay this season - he came into the game with a very respectable 3.83 ERA - but I'm still adding him to my list of pitchers who have no business dominating the Blue Jays, and who have done just that. The list is, most unfortunately, growing rather lengthy. There's no way Matt fucking Garza should be coming into our house and throwing a complete game, five-hitter, on only 106 pitches.

In order to now win the series, the Jays need a magical performance this afternoon from 28-year-old Vancouver boy Scott Richmond. Don't worry, it's only his first start in the big leagues.

The trade deadline is tomorrow afternoon, and Gregg Zaun officially wants out of Toronto. Not surprising, since he doesn't play much. It's also a little surprising that he doesn't, you know, play much. Rod Barajas' on-base percentage has dipped to .298, and that's pretty brutal. He's walked only 10 times in 226 at-bats all season.

I know Rowdy Rod is better at throwing out runners, and can hit for more power, but Zaun's sporting a tidy .349 OBP in 181 at-bats, which is good for third on the team. With Barajas lately really putting the "shit" in "shitting the bed," Zaun's right, he should have been playing more.

Anyway, J.P. Ricciardi said the whole issue with Zaun being dealt is that, uhm, nobody wants him. I think that might pose a problem. Yes, a slight problem.

For more on Zaun, Barajas' suckage, and Doc's brutal run support in games that he loses (it's 1.60 runs, and that also hurts my soul), check out Mike Wilner's most recent excellent bloggage. "Garzafied Again" indeed, Monsieur Wilner.

July 29, 2008

A. JAY Burnett

It was billed as possibly his final start in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform. If it was, he went out in style. But it won't be. The Jays have their sights set on the wild card, and A.J. Burnett's sticking around for the ride.

I must admit, I am quite enamored by these developments. I've become rather fond of good old A.J.

I took in the game last night from the ridiculously cheap 500 level at the Dome, and Burnett was well worth the $9 ticket price. He was at his filthy best. He struck out the side in the first inning and booked a free slice of pizza for the fans after only the first three frames. He finished with 10 Ks and allowed only one run. And it was unearned, to boot.

A $9, third-row seat in the upper deck, and a free slice of pizza. It doesn't get much better than that, folks.

If Burnett hasn't won you over yet, I fear he never will. The guy pitched his tail off again last night. He got into some trouble on a few occasions, and dealt with a brutal call by the third-base umpire, but he battled. He made big pitches and big plays, like picking off Eric Hinske at first base, when he needed them. A.J.'s now got as many wins - 12 - as that Roy Halladay guy. And that Halladay guy is supposedly pretty damn good.

For more on the recent exploits of Burnett, check out Mike Wilner's blog.

For the first time as a Blue Jay, Burnett's healthy, he's chucking, and he's winning. That's the bottom line. Sure, the opt-out in his contract looms large, but we can't worry about it anymore. He's not being traded. We've got a pennant race to worry about now.

Now I know we're six and a half games out, but fuck it feels good to write that.

We've got a pennant race to worry about now.

The offence didn't deliver much support last night (shocking!), but A.J., along with my main men out of the bullpen, Scott Downs and B.J. Ryan, made sure it was enough. It was a huge win against Tampa Bay and James Shields, who has dominated the Blue Jays this season, and pitched well again yesterday.

Doc's on the mound tonight. I'm thinking two out three. Definitely two out of three. Hell, maybe even a sweep. Go big or go home, right?


I'm thinking playoffs.

July 28, 2008

"Do You Like Hockey And Blow Jobs?"

My girl Heather over at Spokane's one and only Wrap Around Curl has written a most excellent post on female hockey fandom, inspired by douchebags who think saying things like "women belong in the kitchen" is actually funny.

I don't know about you, but I found it impossible not to read something entitled "Do you like hockey and blow jobs?" I followed up one emphatic "Yes!" with another one.

In all seriousness, I urge you to check it out. She's on point. And buy a "Tokarski Saves" shirt while you're at it, player.

I Hate Rafael Nadal

Nadal is the Toronto Rogers Cup champion. Oh joy.

I'm sick of seeing him bite all these trophies he's winning. It's lame.

I'm more of a Roger Federer type of guy. He's humble. Doesn't grunt. And doesn't bite his trophies like a lunatic.

The U.S. Open should be a beauty.

July 27, 2008

What Happened To Mashing Lefties?

Mere hours after I sang the praises of our beloved Blue Jays, they delivered a serious stinker. I can't say I'm surprised. We were up against a southpaw after all.

I guess we were due for a loss. Hell, I probably jinxed the boys. Sometimes, actually more often than not, I need to just shut the fuck up and enjoy the good times.

Seattle's Jarrod Washburn turned the Jays hitters into his personal bitches. Again. It was his second win against Toronto in three starts this season. He's held the Jays to only four earned runs in 20 innings. That's, uh, pretty good.

Washburn was on point this afternoon. He went eight innings strong, and gave up only four hits. The only hit of significance the Jays could muster off of him was a solo shot by the home run hitting machine known as John McDonald. It was Mac's first home run of the season. Hey, he's only five behind Scott Rolen!

Rolen has six home runs. In 80 games. Oh my, that is depressing.

So, what happened to that lefty-mashing lineup the Jays were supposed to have? Their record dropped to 10-18 against left-handed starters and it's one of the main reasons they keep scuffling around the .500 mark. With a predominantly right-handed hitting lineup, the Jays were supposed to dominate lefties. I mean, baseball is all percentages, right? I shouldn't be surprised. Nothing ever goes the way it's supposed to. But still, I'm surprised.

In contrast, the Jays have a more than respectable 43-34 record against righties. If they were 18-10 against lefties, which they should be, the Jays would be right where we all think they should be: in the heat of the race. Tampa Bay, the Massholes down in Boston, and the douchebags in New York all own better than .500 records against lefties.

It's frustrating, and extremely disappointing.

Back to Scott Rolen, and some happy thoughts, for a second. Yeah, the guy has forgotten how to hit, but he's marvelous over at the hot corner, isn't he? Sportsnet's Jamie Campbell commented today that he can't recall Rolen making one bad throw over to first base this season. I would have to agree with him. I really can't recall one. What about you? If it has happened, I wasn't tuning in that night.

It's only a formality that Rolen will win another gold glove award come season's end. His fielding percentage and zone rating are both tops amongst third basemen in the American League.

It doesn't matter whether Rolen is bare-handing a slow ground ball or a bunt, making a sweet grab on a hard hit ground ball down the line, or ranging deep to his left or right, his throw is always right on the money. Lyle Overbay must love Scotty Rolen. In all my years of Blue Jays fandom, I don't recall ever seeing a more prolific fielding third baseman than Rolen. And he's only been here a few months. The guy is a machine, and a pure joy to watch. Now, about his hitting...

If the Jays really wanted to convince me and others that they were ready to make the leap to contender from pretender, they would have came out today and torched Washburn. I mean really torched him. Enough to make the Yankees think twice about acquiring him.

Here come the Rays for a huge three game set, beginning tomorrow night. I think I might have to make my way down to the SkyDome, sit in right field, and heckle the living shit out of Eric Hinske. A.J. Burnett will be on the mound tomorrow, and Doc takes the hill on Tuesday. Anything less than two out of three against Tampa might just have me reaching, officially, for the white flag.

I hope the Jays were pumping "It's Not My Time" in the clubhouse after the game because from here on out, the losses have to be few and far between.

Come on boys. Stay alive.

En Fuego

The Toronto Blue Jays are on fire. They've won five in a row, six of their last seven, and are sporting a tremendous 18-10 record since June 22nd.

This is all, of course, happening with less than a week to go before the trade deadline. It's been a frustrating up and down ride this season for fans of the local nine and, in the spirit of the season, let the confusion continue.

With the Jays sitting at 53-51, it's still obvious that we're sellers heading into the deadline. Does that mean I want the Jays to trade anybody? No, not really. Not unless we get an offer that knocks our socks off. Especially not A.J. Burnett. The guy has been pitching his brains out of late. Believe it or not but the oft-injured enigma is tied for fifth in the American League in innings pitched (139), is tied for fourth in wins (11), and leads the junior circuit in strikeouts (139). Burnett is deserving of some serious props.

You all know me, I'm still dreaming of that wild card spot, which is now 6.5 games within our grasp. I know, I know, it's going to be next to impossible, but that doesn't mean I'll stop believing. Without hope, I have nothing. Don't take hope away from me.

So, what to make of this recent stretch of incredible baseball by the Jays? I sure as hell don't know. Even though I'm an emotional wreck throughout the course of the baseball season, I like to think of myself as being part of the "stay-the-coursers" when it comes to the Jays. Never get too high, and never get too low. I'll be honest, I'm pretty high right now, but trying to keep things in check. And by "keep things in check" I mean continually cursing the fact that when the Jays finally, finally, get hot, those God damn mother fucking New York Yankees decide to reel off eight wins in a row.

Was this the Blue Jays team J.P. Ricciardi envisioned he had when the season began? You know, a team that could actually hit? I don't envy being J.P. right now. The team is finally showing signs of life, and he's got to decide whether to trade Burnett, Scott Rolen, David Eckstein, Johnny Mac, maybe B.J. Ryan, and God knows who else. Everyone's tradeable. Well, except Doc. All while calls for his departure are getting louder and louder.

I think we can all agree that we all knew the Jays' horrendous slump at the plate was going to end, sooner or later. It looks like it's finally happened, and that it happened a little too late to save John Gibbons. Has the sleeping giant been awoken? Or is this all a cock tease on a grand scale?

Perhaps Gibbons and co. were the problem. Perhaps Cito Gaston and Gene Tenace are, well, the greatest. Ever. Under Cito, the Jays are 18-12. Six hundred baseball. Yeah, I'll take that.

Perhaps Cito and co. have nothing to do with it, and the Jays finally just awoke from their season long slumber at the plate.

On an aside, here's what I love about Cito (from TSN's game recap):

A big moment for (David Purcey) came in the sixth, when Jose Lopez's two-run shot cut Toronto's lead to 6-3. Two more Mariners reached later in the inning and Gaston came out to the mound but left Purcey in to face Yuniesky Betancourt, who grounded out to end the threat.

Purcey, expecting to be pulled, was ready to hand the ball over and was pleasantly surprised by the confidence Gaston showed in him.

"Normally when I see a manager come out, it means you're done and they're going to go to the bullpen," said Purcey. "He goes, `You want to give me the ball?' I go, `No.' He goes, `OK, go get the next guy.'

That, folks, is why players love to play for Cito Gaston. He's the ultimate player's manager. I think I need to invest in a Gaston jersey.

Anyway, back to the offence. Since play resumed following the all-star break, the Jays have scored a whopping 52 runs in nine games. 52! That's serious business. Fifty-two!

Looking at it from a glass half empty perspective, maybe the recent offensive explosion is due to the fact that the Jays, by the time the weekend comes to an end, will have played seven games in a row against the sultans of suck, the Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners.

This is what the Jays do to me. Cause me to argue. With myself. It can't be healthy.

All I know is that it was nice to see Alex Rios hit two round-trippers yesterday afternoon. In the same game! Alex Rios! It felt like Christmas in July. Rios has doubled his home run output in the last week alone.

It should be an interesting few days leading up to the deadline, and a very titillating August. Starting with the Tampa Bay DEVIL Rays on Monday night, the Jays have 18 games against American League East opponents through August. We control our own destiny. The New York Mets proved last season, without a doubt, that no lead is safe.

Go Jays. Let's do the damn thing.

July 22, 2008

The Basement

Below are the updated AL East standings. Read em. And weep. Weep profusely. As I have been.

After yesterday's loss to the lowly Baltimore Orioles, the Blue Jays are back in the basement. Uh, I guess that makes us the lowly ones doesn't it? Fuck.

What makes all of this so difficult is that the Jays have allowed the fewest runs against - 396 - in the division. They've also scored the fewest - 416. Damn, pathetic, useless, offence.

And might it be time to send young Jesse Litsch down to Syracuse? He's looked Josh Towers-awful the last two months. Damn, pathetic, useless, Josh Towers.

Anyway, the series with the O's continues tonight, and I'll be in attendance at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, in the dangerous (or so I'm told by people who watch The Wire) city of Baltimore, Maryland. I'm looking forward to taking in the ball game at one of baseball's finest parks. Just pray to whomever it is you pray to that it doesn't rain, people. Thank you. Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.

My second-favourite Blue Jays pitcher Shaun "North of Steeles" Marcum is back from the disabled list and will be on the mound tonight. As much as I'd love to, I can't take credit for that gem of a nickname. That's all the inebriated ones at Drunk Jays Fans. Here's hoping Marcum puts on a show, bitch slaps the Orioles, and sends me home happy.

July 21, 2008

Don't Look Back, Mats...

Mats Sundin has not signed with the Vancouver Canucks. At least not yet. But I get the feeling that he is closer and closer to finally making a decision on his future.

I'm scared, I admit it. I convinced myself that Sundin, having not jumped at any of the lucrative offers that came his way when free agency opened on July 1st, was going to return to Toronto and retire as a Toronto Maple Leaf, something he's always publicly stated he wants to do.

Now I'm not so sure anymore. I won't be surprised if Sundin does indeed agree to head out west to finish his illustrious career.

Even after yesterday's false report, Sundin's agent continues to spew the same crap he's been giving us for months now, that Mats doesn't even know if he's going to play at all next season. I think that's some bullshit.

The Star's Garth Woolsely is reporting that, "according to reports," Sundin is working out, so it does indeed look like he'll be suiting up next season. The million dollar question, or $10 million dollar question, remains where.

I'm a big fan of British Columbia. Vancouver's a great city, and one I can see myself living in one day. I don't know, something about the mountains. Oh, and I hear the dope is great.

On a serious note, I would completely understand if Sundin chooses that route. If it comes down to a choice between Toronto and Vancouver, the Canucks roster looks a whole lot more inviting. Sundin could join some pretty gifted offensive players in Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and Pavol Demitra, along with some solid young players like Taylor Pyatt, Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond, and Alexander Burrows.

I know, both the Leafs and the Canucks missed the playoffs last year, but the Canucks got a weak season out of their former captain Markus Naslund, and saw Kevin Bieksa, Lukas Krajicek and Brendan Morrison miss a ton of time due to injuries.

Think about it: Sundin on a team with underachieving players and a ton of injuries. He would fit in perfectly in Vancouver.

Oh, and they have that Roberto Luongo guy in goal. He's good. Any team with Luongo in the pipes has a chance to win the Stanley Cup (uhm, except the Florida Panthers).

I've come to the point where I'm ready for the Sundin soap opera to end. Everyone who reads (I won't say it, Greener, and where the fuck are you man?) this weblog knows how I feel about Mats. I've always been in his corner and always will be in his corner. But it's time for him to make his decision. James Mirtle put it best: "It's been 114 days since (Sundin) stepped foot on an NHL ice surface, and we still don't have a clue what he'll do." That's a mighty long time to decide.

Before I forget, check out this piece - Mats Sundin vs. Brett Favre: One is worse - over at Down Goes Brown. Sean nails it, as usual.

If Sundin does become a Canuck, I wish him nothing but the best, and harbour no ill will. You all know this. You also know that I'll be the first one at the mall, cash in hand, ready to buy my new Mats Sundin Vancouver Canucks jersey (yes, that does feel disgusting even writing it).

But all I ask, Mats, is that you don't look back. Because, man, I don't think I can deal with that. I am emotionally taxed. If you're going to leave, just go already, Mats. Just go...

July 19, 2008

Same. Old. Bullshit.

So much for the Blue Jays starting the unofficial second half of the baseball season with a win. Instead, it was the same old bullshit from the Jays hitters, who can't score any God (is "God" supposed to be capitalized?) damn runs and keep wasting gems from their starting pitchers.

Well, they scored one run, but, fuck. One isn't good enough.

This one hurts, it really does. And the following post is profanity laced because of it.

Before I start the curseage, I've got to tip my hat to A.J. Burnett, who took the mound again and pitched another beauty. Seven innings, six strikeouts, only five hits and two earned runs allowed. Yet he takes the loss. Because he made one mistake. And because the Jays' offence is so fucking pathetic, it cost him.

It's got to be tough to be a starting pitcher on this Jays team, knowing that you have little to no margin for error. Knowing that you have an offence that is, on most nights, not capable of bailing you out. It has got to be incredibly frustrating for each and every member of that Jays pitching staff to watch. If it frustrates the fuck out of me, it must frustrate the fuck out of them even more.

And who the fuck is Ben Zobrist? While Burnett did pitch a gem and is going to allow some runs while he's out there, he walked Eric Hinske before allowing the two-run, game winning, home run to Zobrist.

You don't walk Eric Hinske. Ever. Let him beat you. He is a sac of shit. Damn Shitskie. Ugh. And Zobrist with a two-run shot? Brutal. Zobrist now has four home runs on the season. That's as many as Alex Rios has.

Of course, after relinquishing their one-nothing lead, the Jays had a splendid chance to tie up the game in the 8th inning. Lind was standing on second base with nobody out, thanks to an error by said douchebag Zobrist. He was sacrificed splendidly - well, as splendid as a sacrifice bunt can be - to third by Joe Inglett. One out, a runner 90 feet from home, and the Jays couldn't get get it done. As per the usual.

You have to score that fucking run. Have to. This is Major League God damn baseball. Straight fundamentals should bring that run home. All I'm asking for is a sacrifice fucking fly. Marco Scutaro grounds out to first, and Alex Rios strikes out. Game over.

If last night was the only Blue Jays game you watched all season, it was a shining example of the '08 Jays. A wonderful pitching performance by the starter, nurseage of a small lead, blowage of said lead, and the inability to score runs. It is absolutely unacceptable that Lind did not score in the eighth inning. Especially in a game against the Rays, whom the Jays are chasing for the wild card, and whom the Jays are now 1-6 against this summer. One and six against the Devil Rays. Jesus. Where's the fucking urgency, fellas?

I'm one of the few who has yet to throw in the towel on the Jays season. Yes, that may very well be because I'm an idiot, but, well, go fuck yourself. But it's hard not to be on the brink after last night. And people wonder why Roy Halladay is frustrated. His comments were not surprising, not in the least. Doc's a competitor and he wants to win. This Jays team, and their inability to get it done, must be eating him up inside, like Kramer when he punched his idol Mickey Mantle (I tried to find the YouTube link to the clip but, unfortunately, it does not exist).

I'm also pretty fed up with Rios and his awful plate appearances. Yes, he's been better since Cito took over, but this season has been a massive, massive disappointment for him and, in accordance, me. I know home runs aren't everything, but four? Four home runs? Seriously? Fuck. Even Lind, who's played 24 games to Rios' 90, now has four, after his jack last night.

And, no, I refuse to give Rays starting pitcher James Sheilds any credit for his performance last night. None. Fuck it. Sure, he held the Jays to only one run - the solo jack by Lind - but the Jays have been schooled on too many nights by too many pitchers for me to believe that another pitcher shut down the Jays offence. The Jays hitters simply stink, and are beating themselves. Useless fucks.

I need a drink. Ok, you're right, I need another drink.

July 17, 2008

Where's Marvell?

I don't know who, but somebody fucked up. Toronto FC's Marvell Wynne has been left off Major League Soccer's all-star team, and I'm not happy about it. Like Jackie Chiles would say, "it's outrageous, egregious, preposterous!"

It's bad enough that next week's MLS all-star game against West Ham United is being played in Toronto and there are no TFC players in the starting 11, but Wynne won't even be coming off the bench.

Toronto will only be represented by captain Jim Brennan. I've got mad love for Brennan, but if anyone from TFC deserves to be on the all-star team, it's Wynne. Hell, both of them should be on the team. Call me crazy, but I thought MLS would want to name two or three TFC players to the team since the game, you know, is being played in Toronto, arguably the league's most successful franchise and only in its second year of existence. Wild idea, I know, eh?

I'll be honest, I don't know much about the other players that make up MLS outside of Toronto. Sure, David Beckham and Landon Donovan of the LA Galaxy made the all-star team, and deservedly so, but who gives a fuck about those two? I'd rather be cheering on Amado Guevara, Greg Sutton, and Danny Dichio as they take on West Ham. I think most of the die-hard TFC fans who fill BMO Field every game would agree that they'd rather see some of their own boys on the pitch.

But, seriously, how did Wynne not make this team? It's an incredible oversight. I've been to three games so far this season and have had the pleasure of watching Wynne shutdown the opposition each time. There's nobody faster on the pitch than Marvell. The kid can straight fly.

Here's a little writeup on Wynne from an article on ESPN in regards to the all-star game:

"When Wynne entered the league as the No. 1 pick in 2006, he was a raw prospect with unmatched speed and athleticism. While he is still growing as a player, Wynne has enjoyed a breakout 2008. He still has the speed to catch anybody, but he has gotten smarter with his decision-making, has improved his once-awful touch and has shut down some of the league's best."

He doesn't put up numbers, but Wynne's an all-star. Somebody fucked up.

July 15, 2008

What About The Kids?

On a team chalk full of third and fourth line players, Cliff Fletcher has added another one to the mix. Ryan Hollweg, with five career goals to his name, is the newest member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Hollweg's here to drop the gloves and add toughness. That's it, that's all.

Going the other way to the New York Rangers is - you guessed it - a draft pick. This time it's Shittsburgh's Pittsburgh's 5th round pick in 2009, the draft pick the Leafs acquired when they sent Hal Gill to the Pens.

Here's some reaction from Leafs bloggers Bitter Leaf Fan, PPP, Maple Leafs Hockey Analysis, and Down Goes Brown.

For the record, I've got no problem with the tradeage of the pick. The odds of a fifth round selection making a huge impact on an NHL team are mighty slim. But I think Sean over at Down Goes Brown hits the nail on the head: why aren't guys in-house being promoted to fill the Hollweg role? As Sean points out, isn't that role what Ben Ondrus and Kris Newbury are all about? Both are only a year older than Hollweg (25), and both are known for their energy, toughness, and willingness to mix it up.

So why send a draft pick to get a player the likes of which we already have? I don't get it. Hollweg's acquisition takes a roster spot away from another young Maple Leaf looking to make the jump to the NHL.

The Leafs are rebuilding. That's a fact. With rebuildage upon us, I was fully expecting to see more of guys like Robbie Earl, Jeremy Williams, John Mitchell, Darryl Boyce, Ondrus, Newbury, and Alex Foster this season. I mean, isn't it about time Jeremy Williams got a full-time gig with the big club? But with the acquisitions of guys like Jamal Mayers and now Hollweg, and the re-signage of Dominic Moore, it's clear most of the kids are in for another season on the farm.

Below is my opening night line-up on offence. Yes, I'm penciling in Sundin, because in my homer heart I believe he will return.


Extras: Stajan, Hollweg, and Devereaux.

I know, there's no way Stajan is a healthy scratch. A man can dream can't he? He'll probably be in there for a guy like Moore, or Bell. All I know is that guys like Kulemin, Tlusty, Steen and Grabovski need to see a lot of ice time. And I'd like to see Steen at centre full time. I have dreams of him becoming a Mike Richards type of player.

Now all I need is for Mats to let everyone know he's coming back...

July 14, 2008

Deep Thoughts Vol. 7: All-Star Edition

The midsummer classic is upon us once again, which means half the excruciatingly long baseball season is already over. Which also means it's time for some deep thoughts. On the local nine, and the rest of the major's.

- If yesterday was indeed a trade showcase, A.J. Burnett did the Blue Jays a huge solid. He dominated the NY Yankees, whom even Jesus apparently hates, Halladay style, while taking the mound on only three days rest and a hard pitch count. It was a most clutch performance, and if it was his last in a Toronto uni, he sure as hell went out on top.

Believe it or not, Burnett's got 10 wins, good for third in the American League (he's tied with six others). That's more than guys like Josh Beckett, Justin Verlander, Mark Buehrle, Chien-Ming Wang, Felix Hernandez, John Lackey, and Eric Bedard. I know, a bunch of those cats have spent time on the disabled list, but that's the point. A.J.'s healthy, and he's winning games.

With Dustin McGowan on the shelf with a torn rotator cuff, perhaps J.P. Ricciardi, or "Godcciardi" as sager from at Out Of Left Field calls him, should think twice about dealing the enigmatic A.J.

Shaun Marcum's still a couple of weeks away from joining the rotation, McGowan's out for the foreseeable future (if not the rest of the season), and Jesse Litsch is doing his best Josh Towers impression the last little while. Dealing Burnett would really, well, fuck up the rotation. After yesterday's performance, I'm all for keeping A.J.

Yes, that's all it took, one gem against the Yankees on three days rest...

- Toronto heads into the all-star break nine games out of first in the AL East, and 8.5 behind Tampa Bay for the wild card. About a week and a half ago, the Jays were 14 games behind in the AL East. This season is not over. We're going to need A.J. more than ever down the stretch. Seriously J.P., don't trade him. He's fun to watch. It's always a pleasure wondering which A.J. will show up every fifth day...

- The real Tampa Bay Devil Rays are back in the building, and it's about fucking time. They've lost seven in a row, and saw the Red Sox take back first place yesterday. All is right in the world once again, my friends...

- The Jays are 12-9 since Cito Gaston and co. made their return to the dugout. That's .570 baseball. I'll take it, but they'll have to play even better - actually, much better - if they want to make a run at the playoffs...

- Remember, all I want from the Jays this season is meaningful baseball in September. That doesn't mean a playoff appearance...

- Cito's goal was to have the Jays at .500 by the all-star break. They missed by one game: 47-48. Considering the boys took five out of six against the Orioles and Yankees, and that Litsch was spotted a 4-1 lead against the Yanks on Saturday which he blew, I'll take it...

- Gaston is a rudey...

- If the Jays played in the National League's West division, their 47-48 record would be good for, you guessed it, first place. Stupid geographical divisions...

- Much has been made of Toronto's 15-21 record in one-run ball games. Yes, it's bad, but we've got nothing on the Atlanta Braves, who are 5-22 in games decided by only a run. Yikes...

- The Chicago Cubs, playing .600 ball, are the best team in baseball. It's been exactly 100 years since they last won the World Series (and I thought we Leafs fans had it bad). Could this finally be their year?...

- The Jays have hit 65 home runs this season, good for 29th in the 30 team league. At the all-star break last season, the Jays had hit 101 home runs. A little power outage, please...

- Toronto's team ERA of 3.63 is third-best in the American League and in all of baseball. The pitching has been phenomenal all season long. It's really a damn shame these lads can't hit because, wow, what a pitching staff...

- Baltimore's Aubrey Huff has more home runs (18) than Alex Rios (4), Lyle Overbay (6), and Scott Rolen (6) combined. With two to fucking spare. Unreal...

- The Jays are the only team in the American League without a home run hitter in double figures. Vernon Wells and Matt Stairs lead the team with 9 jacks each...

- This post is depressing...

- While his power numbers are way, way, way, way, way, down, Alex Rios is running crazy on the basepaths. He's already swiped 23 bags, good for fifth in the AL, and should be aiming for 40. Pure thievery! Run to your hearts content, Alex. God knows the Jays need to manufacture as many runs as humanly possible...

- Tampa Bay is 16 games above .500...

- Seriously. Tampa Bay. Sixteen games. Above .500...

- Remember Eric Hinske? Of course you do. The Tampa Bay "slugger" has 14 home runs, 45 RsBI, and an .873 OPS. No Blue Jay, save for Vernon Wells and his 42 RsBI, comes close to those numbers. Eric fucking Hinske. I can't help but look down and shake my head in complete disgust...

- Not to make excuses, but injuries have fucked with the Jays, again, this year. Here's a rundown of guys who have spent time on the disabled list: B.J. Ryan, Jeremy Accardo, Scott Rolen, Vernon Wells (twice), David Eckstein, John McDonald, Brian Wolfe, Aaron Hill, Gregg Zaun, and Shaun Marcum. That ain't right...

- As much as Doc deserves to start tomorrow's all-star game, I think with it being in Yankee Stadium and all, Mariano Rivera should do the honour. That would be pretty sweet...

- I'm calling Canadian Justin Morneau to win tonight's home run derby. That short porch in right field is going to be his bitch...

July 12, 2008

Worth The Price Of Admission

I had the sheer pleasure of being in the audience last night as Roy Halladay threw his seventh complete game of the season, absolutely dominated the New York Yankees, and led the Blue Jays to a 5-0 win.

Watching Doc do his thing on the mound is akin to watching a master at work; like watching an artist paint a masterpiece. It is simply beautiful. Like poetry, man. No one in baseball does it like Harry Leroy Halladay III.

For Doc, yesterday was simply another day at the office, despite facing one of baseball's most feared lineups. He struck out eight and walked only one. The only hit Halladay allowed before the 9th inning was a line drive to centre field by uber douchebag Alex Rodriguez, which Brad Wilkerson completely misplayed. If Vernon Wells or Alex Rios were playing centre field last night, Doc would have taken a no-hitter into the 9th inning.

Over his last 12 starts, Halladay is 8-1. He leads the American League in innings pitched and strikeouts. His seven complete games thrown are more than any other team - team! - in baseball. Cleveland's entire staff has thrown six complete games, good for second behind Halladay. Read that again. Let it sink in. The man is a machine.

Remember in Terminator 2, when Arnold knifes himself up and reveals his robotic arm? I think Halladay has that same arm. He is from the future. A pitching machine sent back in time to save the Toronto Blue Jays. He is truly a joy to watch, and an argument could be made that he is the greatest pitcher to ever take the mound in the history of the franchise. Enjoy him while he's here, Toronto. Appreciate him. Give him a hug. Tell him you love him. Because he won't be around forever.

While Halladay was at his filthy best last night, he did get some help from his defence. I was thinking about how best to describe the play Marco Scutaro and John McDonald made in the 8th inning, but some blessed soul has already uploaded it to YouTube. Check it out:

A thing of beauty, eh? Johnny Mac had to reach for the ball from Scutaro, spin around, and throw a bullet over to first in time to get the runner. No problem. He really is the Prime Minister of Defence. That might have been the best defensive play I've ever witnessed at a baseball game.

All of a sudden, after the sweep of the Baltimore Orioles, which included two - two!!! - come from behind, walk-off wins, the Jays are only a game under the .500 mark, with two more dates with the Yankees. And A.J. Burnett, on only three days rest, is getting the start on Sunday.

A sweep of the boys from the Bronx will send the Jays into the all-star break with a 48-47 record, and make manager Cito Gaston look like one incredibly smart man. I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to throw in the towel on this season just yet. Not when I see that type of effort from Roy Halladay and the boys against the New York Yankees.

Doc will of course be representing the Jays at next week's all-star festivities. Sure, Cleveland's Cliff Lee is having a great season and it looks like he'll get the nod to start the all-star game for the American League. That's great. I don't really care who starts, because we all know who the best pitcher in baseball is.

His name is Roy Halladay, and he's well worth the price of admission.

July 08, 2008

Middle Relievers Need Love Too

When it comes to baseball's annual All-Star game, middle relievers often get overlooked. And I'm sick of it. With the Blue Jays sending only one player to New York - Doc, who else? - the question I'm left asking is: what about Scott Downs?

Middle relievers need love too, dammit!

Downs has been the model of consistency and efficiency for the Blue Jays. He put together a solid 2007, parlayed it into a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract (which some folks didn't like), and has come back in 2008 as advertised: one of the more reliable arms out of the bullpen.

What makes Downs so special is that, even though he's a southpaw, he's effective against both right-handed and left-handed batters. So far this season Downs has seen more action against righties, 23.2 innings, and held them to a .224 batting average. Against lefties, Downs has pitched 16.1 innings, and held them to an almost identical .226 batting average. For a manager, Downs is money.

Wait, I'm not done selling him. In 25 consecutive appearances from May 2 to June 29 - a remarkable 26 innings of work - Downs did not allow a single run. I know what you're thinking and, yes, that is the longest scoreless innings streak in baseball this year.

Take a look at Downs' numbers over at FanGraphs. I know it's not as cut and dry as I'm about to make it out to be, but his LOB% (left on base percentage) is a phenomenal 89.4%. The league average is just over 70%. Downs, more often than not, gets the job done, and leaves runners on in the process.

Based on his stats and stats alone - 38 games, 5 saves, 40 innings pitched, 33 hits allowed, 8 earned runs allowed, 17 walks, 36 strikeouts, an ERA of 1.80, a WHIP of 1.25, and an opponents batting average of .224 - I truly believe Downs is an all-star. Sure, starting pitchers and closers get all the glory, but middle relievers have a thankless job, and don't get the credit they deserve.

Still don't believe me? Fine. Check out how Downs matches up with Jonathan Papelbon, everyone's favourite Boston Red Sox douchebag closer. The numbers, except the saves of course, are comparable.

In my difficulty to understand why a guy like Downs always gets overlooked, I emailed the sage Tao of Stieb, who has his pulse on all things Blue Jays and baseball related. Lost, scared, and confused, I asked him for his thoughts on Downs and whether he was truly deserving of a spot on the American League squad. Here's what Tao had to say:

Sounds like an interesting take. We hadn't really considered it, but there's a good argument to make that Downs deserves a spot.

Middle relievers often get overlooked because the notion is that if they were that good, they'd actually be the closer. But the occasional guy (like Paul Quantrill in 2001) manages to sneak in if they've done something particularly heroic. Downs might have a chance if people recognize the fact that in addition to holding down the fort over 39.0 innings so far, he's also sewn up five saves along the way, helping to provide stability to a bullpen that has been without its primary closer (Ryan) and its putative set up man (Accardo) for chunks of the season.

It might help Downs was more of a K machine (his 36 in 39 innings is a very-good-not-great number) and he's given up a few too many walks (17) to really bowl the selectors over.

In all likelihood, Roy Halladay gets the call to the Bronx, but we'd love it if someone noticed the great work done by Downs this season.

There you have it. The Tao has spoken. He's right about Doc going to the Bronx, and how Downs' five saves shouldn't go unnoticed. They were big at the time, as the Jays were treading carefully with B.J. Ryan and Jeremy Accardo was busy sucking.

Alas, Downs isn't going to the midsummer classic (I really hate calling it that). But don't worry Tao, someone has noticed the great work by Downs this season. That someone is me.

Big ups to Tao of Stieb for taking the time to share his thoughts. If you don't read/subscribe to Tao of Stieb, do yourself a favour and check it out. It's one of the better Blue Jays blogs out there.

Oh, and congratulations to Roy Halladay on his fifth all-star appearance. No one works harder. No one is more deserving. Cheers, Doc.

July 07, 2008

I used to like Snoop Dogg...

Until I saw him in Ottawa Senators colours.

On a more serious note, look at the size of that blunt. Only a grown man who wants to be called "Snoop Doggy Dogg" could pull that off.

Well done, Snoop. Except for that dastardly sweater.

July 06, 2008

Tim Lincecum Is Good

Do you remember that Tim Lincecum guy? Starting pitcher, San Francisco Giants? You know, the guy Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi tried to acquire over the winter, by offering San Fran Alex Rios? Yeah, that guy. He's, uh, doing pretty well this season.

With Lincecum's freakish delivery set to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week, and rumours flying around that he's going to be the starting pitcher for the National League at the All-Star game, I thought it might be interesting to see how he's doing over in the Bay Area. Things might certainly be different in T.O. had the Lincecum/Rios trade gone through.

First of all, this post is not meant to demean Alex Rios. I heart Rios. I think he's one of baseball's best up-and-coming stars, and he's got a bright, bright future in the game. I'm more than glad we got his name on a long-term contract.

But Rios, like the rest of his Blue Jays brethren, has severely underperformed this season. His struggles have been well documented. We're 85 games into the campaign and Rios has only four home runs and 33 RsBI. I know, home runs and runs batted it aren't everything, but this was supposed to be Rios' breakout season, where he entrenched himself into baseball's upper echelon of star players. It's been extremely disappointing, as he's looked lost at the plate on too many occasions.

Want to know just how bad it has been for Rios? He's hit one more home run than Frank Thomas in a Blue Jays uniform this season.

And Frank Thomas was released on April 20th.

It simply hasn't happened for Rios this year, and I don't know why. Both his batting average (.284) and on-base percentage (.337) numbers are down from '06 and '07, and he's struck out 77 times already this season, most on the team by a comfortable margin. While he has stolen an impressive 21 bases, at the end of the day his .734 OPS simply isn't cutting it. Rios must improve his numbers in the second half.

As for Tim Lincecum, he's dominating the senior circuit. With all signs pointing to A.J. Burnett being traded before the July 31st trade deadline, or opting out of his contract come season's end, Timothy LeRoy Lincecum would look awfully, awfully, good in a Blue Jays uniform right now, and in the years to come. Oh, what might have been.

In only his second year in the big leagues, Lincecum is making Giants general manager Brian Sabean look like a smart man for holding on to him. And this is the same Sabean who threw a ton of money at Barry Zito. Barry fucking Zito.

Here are Lincecum's 2008 stats:

W-L: 10-1
Innings pitched: 115.2
ERA: 2.49
WHIP: 1.24
Strikeouts: 122
Walks: 44
Opponents batting average: .236

The Ks really stand out. For a scrawny kid with a strange delivery, Lincecum can throw some serious heat.

After his rookie campaign in which he showed so much promise, Lincecum is proving he's the real deal. You've simply got to tip your cap to Sabean and the Giants. They thought long and hard over the Rios deal, but in the end, it looks like they made the right decision.

I leave you with a link to Tom Verducci's excellent Sports Illustrated piece on "The Freak." Verducci is good people. Check out the layout.

July 05, 2008

"I Hate Andrew Raycroft"

It's not often I check to see how people stumble upon this website. Frankly, I'm amazed that people visit at all. If you enjoy - this one's for you Greener - this corner of the interweb, I'm humbled. Thanks for stopping by.

Anyway, yesterday I was perusing through some of the site's statistics and came across a nugget of information that, well, made my day, and I'd love to share it with you.

Someone came across good old Sports And The City using the Yahoo! search engine. Here's their search query: "I Hate Andrew Raycroft."

You see, a beautiful search query like that one, which brings someone to my blog, makes all of this worthwhile. Clearly I have succeeded in letting the world know how little I think of former Toronto Maple Leafs quasi-goaltender Andrew Raycrap.

The bloggage has not been done in vain.

Enjoy Raycroft in an Avalanche uniform you poor, poor Colorado fans.

July 04, 2008

Who's Next?

Now that most of the dust has settled, it's time to focus on who's next for the Toronto Maple Leafs. With over $8.5 million left in salary cap space, the roster is yet to be finalized.

The big fish, and my dearest, Mats Sundin, is still on the market. We learned a lot about good old Mats in the last three days. We learned that it isn't, and never was, about the money.

It looks like Sundin didn't even flinch over Vancouver's two-year, $20 million offer, which would have made him the highest paid player in the league. That says a lot. That says, at least to me, that he's coming back to Toronto.

Now that Marian Hossa is a Red Wing, Detroit's out of the picture. Markus Naslund is the newest New York Ranger, so the Rangers aren't in contention for Sundin either. If we're to believe that only four teams made actual contract offers for Mats' services, that leaves Vancouver and Toronto.

Here's how to persuade Mats to make the right decision and come back home: sign Jaromir Jagr.

I mean it. Now that Naslund is heading to New York, Jagr's checking out. Just imagine #68 in the blue and white. How sweet would that be? I know, he's on the downside and had one of the worst statistical seasons of his career last year. But that only proves that he's a perfect fit for the Toronto Maple Leafs (see: Lindros, Eric).

Jagr can be brought in to provide veteran leadership. Check that, he's not much of a leader. Sulks a bit too much. He can be brought in to play sound defensive hockey. OK, he's not much of a back checker. I'll be honest, I just want the 35-year-old Jagr in Toronto to play on a line with Mats Sundin, score a boat load of goals, and make what should be one brutal season a little more interesting and exciting.

In my fantasy, we bring both of them into the mix on one-year deals at $6 million each.

Of course, my Jagr fantasy cannot become reality unless the Maple Leafs trade Bryan McCabe and his $5.75 million per year salary. Umm, good luck with that, Fletch.

Fletch also still needs to sign restricted free agents Matt Stajan and the newly acquired Mikhail Grabovski, making it even more unlikely that Jagr will be joining the Maple Leafs.

Jeez, I really should have thought this through a bit more, eh? What can I say, I'm excitable.

So, uh, how about that Brendan Morrison guy? I think he'd look good as the second-line centre behind Mats...

How'd We Do?

The eye of the storm has passed. The frenzied part of the NHL's free agency period is over. So, do I like what Grandpa Cliff Fletcher and the Toronto Maple Leafs have done? Of course I do.

Instead of writing about the Leafs' moves in an emotional, and inebriated, state on July 1st, I decided to let a couple of days pass. I was actually just really lazy, but, hey, I'm sure you feel me.

Only one player from my free agent wish list is on his way to Toronto. Curtis Joseph, welcome back, my man.

I was a huge, huge Cujo fan back in the day. Until he left for Detroit on his quest to win a Stanley Cup ring. Much to my surprise, a column I wrote entitled "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do," back in 2003 for On The Wall Magazine, is still up online.

Basically, I loved Cujo, hated him after he left, wished ill upon him and his family, fell in love with Ed Belfour, and revelled in the fact that Cujo wasn't able to get a ring. Petty and bitter, I know. What can I say, it was an emotional time.

Years have passed. I've grown up. It's all water under the bridge now. It's evident that Cujo's quest for a ring has ended, hence his signing back here in Toronto, but it's going to be fun seeing him back in the crease at the ACC. He had some phenomenal years in Toronto and is the perfect back-up for Vesa Toskala. He knows his role.

Cujo's signing also means that Justin Pogge will be the number one guy and play the majority of games, in both the regular season and - especially - the playoffs, for the Toronto Marlies, and I'm all over that.

It has taken a few days, but I've rationalized the signing of Jeff Finger to a $14 million, 4-year contract. It took a while, and some deep soul searching, but I've done it. Don't get me wrong, it was a struggle.

Just when I thought I was happy about it, I went and read this. It was, needless to say, extremely disheartening. Could the Maple Leafs have actually confused Jeff Finger with Kurt Sauer? Like Kevin Garnett said a few weeks ago, "anything is possible." I mean, we're talking about the Toronto Maple Leafs here. If DeVry's motto is "We're serious about success," then the Toronto Maple Leafs' motto is "We're serious about incompetence." Being a Leafs fan has taught me that I can never, ever, ever, put anything past the clowns that run this franchise. They are capable of worldly acts of idiocy, including mistaking Jeff Finger for Kurt Sauer, and if it's true, Fletcher is every bit as old as he looks.

Anyway, after I learned of the actual terms of Finger's contract (originally I thought the deal was 4-years, $3.75 million total, not per year), saw that he's rated only 68 in NHL 2008 on my XBOX 360, I curled up in the corner of my bedroom and had a good cry. I then sat around trying to justify his presence on the Maple Leafs blue line.

Firstly, let's throw the terms of his contract out the window. It's a fucked up contract. Let's not pull any punches here. You know it. I know it. We all know it. Before Tuesday afternoon, none of us knew who this cat was - OK, except MF37 - and come Tuesday night, none of us could believe the terms of the deal. But such is the beast known as free agency. Everyone overpays. There is nothing free about free agency.

Before I go on, I've got to get something off my chest. It's really bothering me. In all seriousness, how is it possible that Andrew Raycroft was signed by the Colorado Avalanche? How!? Am I dreaming? How could they give him a contract? How could they agree to pay him $800,000? Did they not see him in action last year? Did they not see any videotape? Did they not check out YouTube? Do the Colorado Avalanche have scouts? No, really, does Colorado have scouts? Unbelievable. All I know is that whatever they are smoking down in Colorado, I want a sample. Please. It has got to be some unbelievable, "holy-shit-let's-sign-Andrew-fucking-Raycroft" type shit.

Back to Finger. Like I said, forget about the terms of the deal. Block it out of your mind. Forever. It's easier that way. Finger is a good signing because a defensive defenceman cannot, in any way, shape, or form, hurt the Toronto Maple Leafs. Think about it. A shutdown guy who loves to take the body and block shots. How can that be a bad thing?

The Leafs currently employ two defencemen who are allergic to playing the body, sort of like how seven-foot tall Andrea Bargnani is allergic to rebounding. They could do it. They just don't want to. I'm not going to name names, but playing the body is simply not part of Tomas Kaberle and Anton Stralman's game. Not that there's anything wrong with that. They're great defencemen, and huge parts of the team going forward.

The Leafs also currently employ a defenceman who loves playing the body, but who when he does so, costs himself about half or two-thirds of his season. Again, I'm not going to name names, but if Carlo Colaiacovo injures himself trying to body check an opponent this season, I'm not going to be pleased.

If you're counting, that's two defencemen who don't take the body, and one who injures himself in the process. Three out of six. That's why Jeff Finger cannot hurt being on the Leafs' blue line. Sure, we overpaid, but look at the coin Brook Orpiks got, and he's a shutdown guy who's -29 over his career. I know, he's got more experience, but, well, that -29 isn't exactly a good "shutting down" track record.

And don't tell me about Hal Gill, either. He's gone. I know, he was a shut down defenceman too, and now we're paying Finger more than Gill, but he's gone. We must turn the page. Like I said, I've justified Finger's presence on our blue line, and I'm at peace with my decision.

Niklas Hagman was Grandpa's other signing on July 1st. The money - $12 million over four years - is fair, and he brings speed, decent finish, and solid penalty killing ability to the squad. Welcome to hell, Hagman. Enjoy your stay. We expect nothing less than 27 goals you scored for the Dallas Stars last season.

Grandpa Fletcher also made a trade yesterday with the Montreal Canadiens, sending some dude we just drafted and a second-round pick in 2010 the Habs' way. In return, the Leafs get Mikhail Grabovski, a flashy, 24-year-old centre with tons of potential and who's been successful in the AHL. Grabovski's a free agent and the next order of business will be for Fletcher to get his name on a contract. All signs point to Grabovski being a big part of next year's Leafs squad. He'll get every opportunity to play a big role, and here's calling him pushing Matt Stajan further down the depth chart, where he belongs (Stajan will never be more than a third-line player).

Expect Damiex Cox, among others I'm sure, to be bitching about how the Leafs gave up yet another prospect and draft choice in a trade, but we're not getting a veteran in return here. We're getting a young player who's already had a taste of the NHL and who knows what it's going to take in order to belong. There's a big, big difference between trading a second-round draft choice for an aging Yanic Perreault and trading a second-round draft choice for a guy like Grabovski. Keep that in mind when you read your regular dose of Leafs/Fletcher bashage today, tomorrow, and in the days to come.

July 01, 2008

Drunk On Hope

You know, I've been thinking. If Mats Sundin returns, and the Maple Leafs dip into the free agent market and get him some help, perhaps the Leafs can contend in the Eastern Conference as early as next season.

I'm thinking playoffs. Yes, I'm serious. No, really. Hear me out. But remember, it all depends on what Sundin decides to do. If he doesn't return, all bets are off.

I love July 1st. Not only is it a holiday thanks to Canada Day, it's also the day the NHL's free agency period opens up. July 1st is capitalism at its finest, man. Supply is always low, and demand is always high.

The big day is finally upon us, and here's my wish list:

1) Mats Sundin

You all know where I stand on the big Swede. I won't be mad if he leaves, but first and foremost I want him to stay a Maple Leaf.

2) Curtis Joseph

Cujo has been rumoured for the vacant backup goalie job, and I'm all over that. By helping Canada win the Spengler Cup and playing some solid hockey for the Calgary Flames in the playoffs, Cujo proved he's still got some hockey left in his 42-year-old body. While I was pissed that he bolted for Detroit a few years ago, I'd love nothing more than for him to come and finish his career in Toronto.

An actual NHL-calibre backup goalie - none of this Andrew Raycroft garbage of the last two years - will do wonders for the Maple Leafs. Think about it: the Leafs totalled 83 points last season and Raycroft won only two of the 16 games he started in goal. If Raycroft won six more games and finished with eight wins, the Leafs would have finished tied with the Philadelphia Flyers with 95 points. I know, Raycroft sucks. That's why he's gone. I have no doubt Curtis Joseph can eclipse Raycroft's stellar .125 winning percentage.

3) Sean Avery

With Darcy Tucker no longer part of the team, I think it makes all the more sense to try and land the 28-year-old Sean Avery. He's proved his worth as a hockey player, and a douchebag, over the last two years with the New York Rangers, and would go a long way in making the Maple Leafs a tougher team to play against. I don't care if you don't like him. I was never a big fan of Darcy Tucker. Until he became a Maple Leaf.

Make it happen, Uncle Cliff. Show Avery the money. I have no problem paying Avery $4 or $4.5 million a season. That seems to be the going rate for a guy who can score 20 goals and put up 45 to 50 points.

4) Kristian Huselius

Huselius really came into his own over the last two seasons in Calgary. He put up 77 points in 2006/2007 and put up 66 points last season while finding himself constantly in Mike Keenan's doghouse. He's moving on from the Flames and why not Toronto? The Swede will be 30 in November and I'm picturing him playing on the top line with Sundin and Nik Antropov.

I suspect he'll command over $5 million. I think he'd be overpaid at that salary, but such is the reality of free agency (hello, Jason Blake). You've got to overpay to get what you want. At the end of the day Huselius has decent finish and decent playmaking abilities, and could be a solid addition to a Leafs team in need of scoring help.

5) Brad Stuart

While it would be pretty sweet to add a defender like Brian Campbell, I think the Leafs need to be thinking more along the lines of the unassuming Brad Stuart, who will turn 29 in early November.

I've heard he wants to head back to California but I'm hoping Fletcher gives his people a call. Stuart was a rock for the Detroit Red Wings after they picked him up at the trade deadline, and finished the playoffs with a +15 rating.

I'm not sure what the hell is going to happen with Bryan McCabe, but a Leafs defence core with both McCabe and Stuart could look something like this:

Pavel Kubina & Tomas Kaberle
Bryan McCabe & Carlo Colaiacovo
Brad Stuart & Anton Stralman

Ian White would be the odd man out, but you've got to admit the above defence core looks good. Bringing in Stuart would also mean that the recently drafted Luke Schenn isn't rushed in his development.

I think Stuart will command $3 to $3.5 million on the market, and is well worth that type of dough.

Remember, the Leafs put up 83 points last season with: a beer league backup goalie, an injured and therefore mostly ineffective Darcy Tucker, Jason Blake scoring only 15 goals on a .045 shooting percentage, a useless Kyle Wellwood, a useless Bryan McCabe, a Jekyll and Hyde Pavel Kubina, and a number one goalie in Vesa Toskala who didn't get truly comfortable until December.

If the Leafs are active on the market today and can add a few of the names I've mentioned above - most importantly Mats Sundin - I think the roster will be in decent shape. With a new coach in Ron Wilson who is more focused on defence and penalty killing, you're damn right I'm thinking playoffs. Anything else would be uncivilized.

Now general manager extraordinaire Cliff Fletcher has just got to make it all happen.

I love July 1st.

Go Leafs Go.

The Good Doctor

Roy Halladay is a fucking machine. When Doc's on his game there is no better pitcher in baseball, and he was on last night. Was he ever.

Halladay made sure the Toronto Blue Jays' six game road trip got off on the right foot by shutting out the Seattle Mariners 2-0. It was Doc's league-leading sixth complete game of the year, and he was downright rude to the Seattle hitters last night, holding them to only four singles over nine innings.

What I find amazing is Halladay's ability to go deep into games, strike out batters, but still keep his pitch count low. I guess it helps when you don't walk anybody, and Doc didn't allow a single free pass yesterday. He struck out six and threw only 115 pitches. He makes it look so god damn easy out there.

Doc's among the league leaders in almost every major American League pitching category. You name it: ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, wins. Most impressively, he leads the AL in innings pitched, and has only walked 19 batters in 130 innings. Unreal. He spoils us, he really does.

For those of you keeping score at home, that's back-to-back shutouts by the local nine.

As for Cito Gaston, he continues to impress after making a couple of key decisions late in yesterday's ball game.

Replacing David Eckstein with John McDonald, the Prime Minister of Defence, in the bottom half of the eighth inning was absolutely the right move. Eckstein had already made an error earlier in the game, and McDonald got involved right away, making two outs in the eighth. Johnny Mac might be the best fielding shortstop in the game and since we've got him, we might as well use him.

I've also got to give Cito some props for sending Halladay back to the mind to finish the Mariners off in the ninth. It was definitely a B.J. Ryan save situation, but Halladay's pitch count wasn't too high, and I thought he deserved to finish what he started.

I must say, I am rather enamored by Gaston's reluctance to obsess over the hallowed pitch count. He won't live and die by it, and that's how it should be. The pitch count is overrated.

And speaking of props, Marco Scutaro deserves to have some sent his way. He drove in the first, and winning, run of the game yesterday, and also made one hell of a play with his glove in the bottom of the eighth inning to keep that speedy mother fucker, Ichiro, off the bases.

Scutaro has been tremendous for the Jays all year, filling in at third base, shortstop and second base. The super-sub has played in 72 games because, well, he can play almost every position. Great acquisition by J.P. Ricciardi.

Don't look now, but the Jays are only two games below the elusive .500 mark, with 11 contests left before the All-Star break.