Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saturdays with Stieb: Imaginary baseball is getting painfully real

One of us is owner of the the all-time Toronto Blue Jays team — the ATJs — in the Seamheads Historical League., So, how about those Blue Jays?

It's tight-collar time in T-Dot as July beckons.

The All-Time Jays' division lead has been cut to two games coming into a three-game home series with the Arizado D-Rocks — "four-pointers," to borrow a term from hockeyheads calling into the FAN 590 use just to push Mike Wilner's buttons. The somnolent Seattle Mariners, led by Edgar Martinez, Ken Phelps ("They kept saying, 'Ken Phelps, Ken Phelps' ") and others are also threatening to make it interesting.

At 39-28, the All-Time Jays have the best record of any of the expansion teams, and that two sub.-500 clubs are in first place in the other expansion groups. Still, there's a whole lot of frettin' and fussin', like there was back in the early 1990s when people called for Cito Gaston to be fired on a nightly basis while has was coolly guiding the Jays to back-to-back titles.

The blame has to fall on the ATJs general manager, who recently defended his decision not to get Dave Winfield based on his one season in Toronto as a 39-year-old DH) for his right-field problem by saying, "Do you know the guy doesn't even like baseball that much? Maybe we know some things about him that you don't." He later explained that in classic Sagerian knowitall fashion, he just trying to point out that the Hall of Famer played college basketball and was once drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. Not a lot of people know that.

The big snag has come on the mound. The staff ERA has ballooned like a blogster's waistline, all the way to 4.51. The 1-2 punch of Roger Clemens (5.17 ERA in June) and Roy Halladay (9.43 for the month, losing all four of his starts) have taken some body blows, possibly from overwork.

The SHL's 154-game season includes a lot of scheduled off-days. The effort to squeeze as many starts out of the top three of Doc and Dumber, along with left-hander Jimmy Key, appears to have left them plumb tired.

The rotation has been shuffled in a vain attempt to address the situation; from this point forward, a strict five-man rotation is in use. David Wells and A.J. Burnett have been summoned from Triple-A Las Vegas. It took 25 U.S. marshals to get Wells away from the craps table, but in his second start since being brought up (he refuses to call going from Las Vegas to Toronto as a "promotion"), he shut out the Milwaukee Brewers on three hits. Key and Dave Stieb have more or les picked up the slack, winning 5-of-6 decisions between them in June, while middle reliever Scott Downs is doing yeoman's work.

Actually, Stieb hasn't. The namesake of the best Jays blog going has a 5.96 ERA but somehow has a 7-3 record, usually because he's matched up against the dregs (relatively speaking) of the other team's rotation. The Jays have scored at least nine runs in five of his past seven starts, a little ironic considering he was always known as the pitcher who could never win 20 games. (Remember 1985, when he won the ERA title, but had just a 14-13 record?)

Naturally, Stieb was on the mound June 18 for a 26-3 curb-stumping of the New York Mets, when the ATJs pounded out 33 hits. All nine starters, including the one-time Southern Illinois Salukis outfielder who converted to pitching, had at least two hits. Stieb went 3-for-6 with two doubles.

That was a ray of sunshine in otherwise cloudy month. The ballclub is scoring a lot of runs (367, sixth in the league), but the hitting has been peaks-and-valleys. The corner spots have been hit-and-miss. The infield corners are getting it done, more or less. Carlos Delgado is leading the SHL in OPS (1.070), on-base percentage (.432), slugging (.632) and isolated power (.304). Across the diamond, lefty-masher Troy Glaus (five of his six dingers have been off portsiders) and the original professional hitter Rance Mulliniks are providing adequate production.

The outfield spots, not so much. The SHL version of Alex Rios (.273/.294/.439) has some pop in his bat, but has no clue how to control the strike zone (seven bases on balls, 50 strikeouts). George Bell has been busted down to platoon status in the left field. He's been bumped out by switch-hitting Devon White, who playing centrefield vs. right-handed pitchers, is OPSing 1.104 in June with five homers on the month.

Leadoff man Lloyd Moseby is moving between two positions and is still on pace to score 120 runs.

It promises to be bumpy, but it's provided some great brain candy over the past few months. A few highlights from the recent games:

Ill Devo: Putting White in the starting lineup up felt like a masterstroke after his two-run, walk-off homer in a 5-4 win over the Marlins-Rays on June 12. It also cut the Florida version of A.J. Burnett out of a victory, as an added bonus.

Caught napping: For some reason, the computerized ATJs manager is more notorious than John Gibbons was for overworking his starters. The Angels' 7-6, 14-inning win on June 21 looks like it would have caused our inner geek to drop-kick at least three inanimate objects across the living room.

Clemens was at 127 pitches and had a 6-2 lead going into the last of the ninth, but was left in for God knows what reason. Two singles and a four-pitch walk loaded the bases. Normally reliable Tom Henke came in and induced two tension-abating popouts, but then Mike Napoli (who has better numbers in the SHL than in real life) ripped a game-tying grand slam.

Napoli, a catcher no less, later tripled and scored the winning run in the 14th. Having the opposing catcher leg out a triple was a perfect capper to a dismal night all around, especially since in the 13th, White was thrown out trying to steal third and Moseby made an out after swinging on a 3-0 pitch.

Call goes out for Carter: Bell has been so bad that as of this moment, he's been sent to Triple-A, with Joe Carter catching the red-eye. Carter was shipped out early in the season and has been raking, with 11 homers and 42 RBI in 53 Triple-A games; he's even managed to draw 15 bases on balls.

This actually happened: Downs has earned two wins in a four-day span, which means he'll probably soon feel a twinge in his elbow like his real-life counterpart. On June 22, he pitched a shutout 10th and 11th in a 4-2 extra-inning win over the Angels. Three days later, he was in the right place at the right time in a 9-8 decision where Moseby hit a game-winning homer off Willie Hermandez in the bottom of the eighth inning.

That came on the eve of the big series vs. the D-Rocks. If you believe momentum exists in baseball, feel free to believe the ATJs have some.

1 comment:

Chad Finn said...

Apparently, Mike Napoli is the greatest player in Angels' history. Someone needs to tell Scioscia.