Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The ATJs: A case of the 'Spos daze

One of us is owner of the the all-time Toronto Blue Jays team — the ATJs — in the Seamheads Historical League.

It figures the ATJs' first series loss would come courtesy of Jonah Keri's Montreal Expos.

Dropping the first two games of a three-game set at the Big O (a 17-1 curbstomping in the opener, followed by a 6-4 setback at the hands of Triple-A callup Charlie Lea hurts, man. The Expos have been just a memory for nearly five years, but it has not been forgotten that 'Spos fans never liked to admit anything about the Blue Jays is very good or useful. Toronto, after all, could never hold a candle to Montreal when it came to the finer things in life, no matter how many World Series titles or Canadian head offices of Fortune 500 companies it boasted. It sucks to see them gain imaginary bragging rights. These outrages will not be forgotten.

The Expos won the first all-Canadian interleague game. On June 30, 1997, the eve of Canada Day, Pedro Martínez, on his way to his first Cy Young, Award, beat Pat Hentgen, the Jays' first Cy Young winner, 2-1 in a tidy one hour and 57 minutes. (This is burned in memory since I was umping a ball game that night and had counted on getting home in time for the last couple of innings.) The Expos also won the final interleague game against the Jays, on the Fourth of July in a minor-league park in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The fact that Canadian Shawn Hill earned his first major-league W (to go with the one he now sports as a member of the Washington Nationals) provided the lone grace note.

Saying that it is just two games out of 154 is cold comfort. The ATJs are rolling otherwise, leading their division with a 23-12 record, good for a six-game lead over the D-Rox and the best record among the 12 expansion franchises.

Losing to the Expos sucked. The Jays have won 4-of-7 since the last update, scoring 48 runs in that stretch.

That day, he was Tom Terrible: Some of you might not know that the great Tom Seaver pitched for the Cincinnati Reds for a few seasons.

Cincinnati Tom could only get through three innings against the ATJs in a 15-3 shellacking on May 14. The starting corner infielders, Carlos Delgado and Troy Glaus, apparently begged out of starting against Seaver. In their stead, backup infielders Fred McGriff (3-for-5, three runs) and Rance Mulliniks (4-for-5, three runs) each got on base to start big rallies, a four-run second and a four-run fifth inning.

Grab some Bench: Right-hander Roy Halladay shaved his ERA down to 1.23 after pitching eight solid innings in a 4-1 win over the Reds on May 13. He struck out Johnny Bench, whom some consider the greatest catcher of all time, twice.

Clutchiness: Toronto's 9-2 record in one-run games does not include late-game breakthroughs they had in consecutive wins over the D-Rox on May 10-11, winning 15-8 (in 13 innings) and 7-3.

The lineup shuffle: The rule of thumb is you're supposed to stick with what works. Tony Fernandez, batting of the No. 9 spot, is on-basing .431 and is second on the team with 8.46 runs created per 27 outs. (Delgado leads at 9.31.) Fernandez has been more productive than leadoff man Lloyd Moseby (6.64 RC/27) and 2-hole hitter Robbie Alomar (5.22). Fernandez might rate some time in the 2-hole, much the same away that Cito Gaston flip-flopped Alomar and Paul Molitor in the lineup in 1993 depending whether the other team was starting a right- or left-handed pitcher.

Regardless, some changes might be coming. Cleanup man George Bell is racking up RBI (team-high 32 in 35 games), but his .245/.262/.396 rate stats are barely replacement-player level. Bell has come alive in the last week, so he stays put, for now. None of the other righty-hitting corner outfielders seem to offer much pop, so he's the best option.

Regrets, there a few: Not taking Dave Winfield based on his one season in Toronto in 1992 might have been a mistake, keeping in mind that the 40-year-old would have had to play the outfield every day. There's no need to double-check that Winfield only played the outfield 26 times during the regular season.

The not-as-cold corner: Third baseman Troy Glaus has hit safely in six consecutive games (big woop), including his first two homers. He's still hitting a tepider than tepid .196/.304/.278, which isn't cutting the mustard for a No. 6 hitter. He's lost at-bats to Mulliniks, who gets on base but offers no power.

The tall tactician: Jonah Keri has pulled out all the stops to keep his Expos around the .500 mark, going with a "seven-man rotation and a shuttle bus between Montreal and Ottawa," to cobble together a pitching staff.

How nuts is fretting over this? Well, not this nuts. (Tip of the cap to Baseball Over Here.)

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