With the Pirates kicking off a rare series against the Toronto Blue Jays tonight, I exchanged questions with Tom Dakers of Bluebird Banter. My answers to his questions will be posted there at 2:00 PM. Thanks, Tom!
Has there been a reason for Jose Bautista's June swoon, and how many homers to you expect him to have by the end of the season?
I think the reason is the usual slump that players hit at some point in a season. Last year. Bautista had a lousy June as well, and still hit 54 home runs. Power hitters tend to be streaky. His swing is about timing and all-out effort - he swings harder than anyone I’ve seen before. He says the key is getting the swing started early enough. He is a pretty intense guy, and I think he’s been a little frustrated. He figures he should hit every pitch he swings at. The timing does seem to be coming back, since he has two homers in the past week to go along with a .368 average, so I think/hope he is coming around again. I think he will end up around 45 home runs.
What are your feelings about Edwin Encarnacion? Has he done enough this season to continue to receive playing time? Between his inconsistent offense and his rough defense, he must be a pretty frustrating player.
You want my feelings about Edwin? You understand that could run about 10,000 words and we’d just be scratching the surface? To try to give the Reader’s Digest version: The Jays signed EE this winter, after letting him go to the A’s on waivers, to be DH and maybe occasionally spell Adam Lind at first base. They went through spring training with that plan, and it seemed to be fine. There is a ton of power in that bat, so he could be a good DH. I went down for a week of Spring Training and saw him hit a couple of monster shots and he looked ok at first base. He was learning his way, but he does have a good glove. The team said Bautista would play third base.
About two days before the end of Spring Training, manager John Farrell [who turned down a chance to be the Pirates' manager in 2007 - ed.] announced that, instead of using the plan they started spring with, Bautista would play right field and Encarnacion would play third. I watched Bautista practice, in spring training, and he really didn’t look like a guy who wanted to play the position. Farrell said that it was because Edwin came to camp slimmed down and thus a little more mobile, while Jose clearly preferred playing right and isn't great defensively at third base.
Part of the reasoning was that third baseman of the future Brett Lawrie looked really good this spring. I think Farrell really wanted to bring him to Toronto at the end of spring training, but management decided it would be best if he started in Triple-A and let him up after he was no longer in jeopardy of being a super two. Since whoever played third would only be there for a bit, and why move around your best player for a two-month stay at a position he really didn’t want to play? Then, when the time came to call up Lawrie, he gets hit in the hand by a pitch, breaking a bone. He probably won't come back until August.
Encarnacion started the season playing third, with very little time to prepare in Spring Training. Honestly, the guy needs as much work as possible at the position. Even with a ton of work, he is going to make errors. He made some mistakes in the first few games. The fans, primed to dislike him from the start, get on his case. Not to make too many excuses, but official scorers are predisposed to consider any ball hit his way to be an error. Things snowballed.
Now, Farrell could have helped him out by showing confidence in the guy, but Farrell, so far in his young managerial career, seems to be master of the small sample size. He decides to put Jayson Nix at third. Nix resembles a major leaguer the same way I resemble a supermodel. If you were far enough away, say Mars, you might confuse me with one. Nix hit a couple of home runs in his first week on the job. You know what they say about first impressions. Soon Nix remembered how he plays the game. Right now he's hitting .169, and if you watched him bat you’d wonder how he got his average that high. But Farrell’s view was clouded by those first few games.
Fans, amazingly enough, are calling for Encarnacion to be put back at third. He did play there this past weekend and looked ok (no errors!). And his bat has come around. He is hitting .280/.345/.500 in June. But, before the weekend, the team announced that Bautista would be moving back to third, as soon as he gets enough practice time to feel confident at the position. At first it was to be a couple of days, then Monday was going to be the day. Monday came and Nix was back at third. Now they are saying that Bautista will take over after he takes a few balls on the carpet at Rogers Centre. So maybe we’ll see Jose there this series.
Encarnacion has a long swing and he’s a streaky hitter, like a lot of power hitters. I’d rather have him at third than Nix (but then, odds are I’d rather have you at third) and, to be honest, I’d rather have him at third than move Bautista. Bautista is the Jays' best player, and he is happiest in right. I’d leave him there for good. I always believed you put your stars where they are most comfortable and move the other guys around if you need to.
Aren’t you glad I gave the short answer?
What's preventing Brandon Morrow from developing into a star right now? His peripheral numbers are incredible.
Oh, I wish I knew. Brandon’s BABIP is .341. Basically, he either strikes guys out, or they get hits. It isn’t like they are hitting the ball all that hard off him - he has a .377 slugging percentage against. It seems like every bouncer finds a hole. Last year started like this too, though he was also walking guys at a terrible rate then. This year he isn’t walking as many.
Perhaps it is just that he is taking too much off his pitches to hit the strike zone when he falls behind a batter. Or maybe it is just bad luck. His last couple of starts have been better, so maybe he has turned a corner. At least I’m hoping.
What do Jays fans think about the possibility of MLB realignment? Not that we've heard any specific news about realignment possibilities that would benefit the Jays, but Toronto has probably had the worst draw of any team in baseball in the current divisional setup, so I would think their fans would be giddy at even the slightest possibility of a move to a division that doesn't contain the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays.
Realignment would be a dream. It is pretty tough being in a division with two teams that can spend without limits, and a well-run Rays team that has benefited from several years of high draft picks. The AL East has easily been the toughest division in baseball over the last decade.
We’d be thrilled if Bud would realign - or perhaps you guys would like to trade divisions? Think of the attendance boost you would get from seeing the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays 18 times each a season. Think of how much fun it would be to face them every other weekend? It doesn’t sound like fun? That’s what it is like being a Jays fan.
How do you feel about the disappearance of professional baseball from Canada, with the move of the Expos to Washington and the elimination of minor-league teams from Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary and Medicine Hat? Does it get lonely up there?
Baseball is an incredibly short-sighted industry. The Canadian dollar was low, so let’s get the teams out of Canada. No thoughts about riding it out. They have no ability to see past what is going on at the moment. You’d think an industry that has been around as long as Major League Baseball has would take the long view on some things. Of course, now the dollar isn’t low, and the Jays have moved a minor league team to Vancouver and have talked about other Canadian sites.
Montreal is a particular sore spot for me. Old Bud decided he was going to get rid of the Expos, put in his buddy Jeffrey Loria to dismantle the team and snuff out any fan interest that there might be for the team. Jeff did his job. He took the team off TV and radio (in both official languages) and fired everyone in the PR department. He killed plans for a new downtown stadium. This was a team playing in a building that was literally falling apart, that was tough to get to, in a city that loves its downtown core, and he shoots down the idea of a new downtown stadium. Loria did everything he could to kill the team, short of taking a sniper rifle to pick off the few folks who insisted on coming out to the games despite his best efforts. For his trouble, Selig gave him the Florida Marlins. Most folks would would have to pay to buy a major league team, but not Bud’s buddies. Yeah, I’m a little bitter.