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Jays Can’t “Steal” Series vs. Yanks

Posted By Ben Fisher On Jul 19 2011 @ 12:36 pm In Toronto Blue Jays | No Comments

What Happened

An eventful four-game series against the Bronx Bombers saw the Blue Jays (47-49) fail to capitilize on a pair of series-opening wins and only manage a split. Along the way, they had an eight-run first inning (which they nearly blew), an injury to Jose Bautista, a franchise appearances record for Jason Frasor and faced accusations of stealing signals from the Yankees.

A Closer Look

Stealing Signs: During a weekend where Bautista was felled by a sprained ankle and Frasor became the club’s all-time leader in appearances (moving past Duane Ward), most of the buzz was about allegations from Russell Martin and Joe Girardi that the Jays are ‘one of the clubs known for stealing signs’ and were doing so in Thursday’s 16-7 win. It’s hard enough to pick up on indications of sign stealing when you are involved in a game, much less watching from the stands or on TV, so it’s impossible to verify or discredit their claims. But what was lost in the coverage of the comments was that Martin wasn’t making an angry accusation so much as being annoyed with himself over letting Toronto do so (“I’m not bothered by it. I was more angry at myself for figuring it out too late and changing [the signs] too late”). Martin may not object to cheap tactics like sign stealing, but after watching Cito Gaston have far too much class to resort to such methods, I certainly hope John Farrell isn’t more lax in that department and can find an edge elsewhere.

Morrow, Villanueva Headed in Opposite Directions: It’s taken Brandon Morrow half a season to get healthy and on track, but he appears to be there now. As he heads into a series against his former club, the Seattle Mariners, and trade counterpart and AL All-Star Brandon League, Morrow is enjoying a string of quality starts in five of his last six, having lowered his ERA nearly a run and a half since June 11. Morrow has risen into the No. 2 co-ace role alongside Ricky Romero that was expected to be filled by Kyle Drabek and could be in line to cash in as an arbitration-eligible player who the Jays will want to lock up long-term following the season. On the other end of the spectrum is first half revelation Carlos Villanueva, who also has quality starts in five of his last six, but appeared to be lacking confidence against New York on Sunday as the Yanks were clearly figuring him out and tagged him for five earned runs and eight hits over six innings. That allowing five runs against the Yankees can be considered a disappointment for Villanueva reflects just how pleasantly surprising his first half has been. There’s no reason to expect him to maintain that level of play in the second half (some fans are hoping that Alex Anthopoulos will shop the right-hander, reasoning that his value could be peaking), but even an adequate second half will make this a season for the 27-year old to remember.

Trade Bait or Type B?: The Blue Jays are widely expected to remain fairly quiet on the trade front in the coming weeks, but the non-waiver deadline is 12 days away and so speculation will still arise as to who may be on the move (plus, I seem to get a spike in readership for trade chatter pieces). Alex Anthopoulos is likely willing to discuss moving some of his bullpen arms, with none of Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski, Shawn Camp, Jesse Carlson, Frasor or Villanueva owed any guaranteed money for next season. That being said, we’ve also seen Anthopoulos’ tendency towards holding onto players in hopes of seeing them gain Type B free agent status and help the team secure an additional draft pick once he signs elsewhere in the off-season. After all, why deal a guy for a low level prospect when you can hold onto him for two more months and possibly come away with a better return through the draft? The concern is that any player would have to be a) categorized within the 21-40 percentile of his position statistically and b) offered – and turn down – salary arbitration in order to qualify as a Type B. The first clause would potentially be an issue for Dotel and Carlson, who may not have the stats to reach Type B level, while the second could affect Dotel and possibly Francisco, both of whom may accept salary arbitration if they view it as a viable alternative to testing the open market. Therefore, of the relief group, Dotel should be offered up to anyone, while the others may be worth holding onto.

The Other Guys: I’ve spoken enough about the Yankees as it is, plus there are still two more opportunities to discuss them forthcoming, so let’s focus on something else. Seeing C.C. Sabathia mow down the Jays on Saturday got me wondering about the AL’s pitching elite. Outside of Sabathia, Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver and Felix Hernandez, who’s in that top tier? Certainly not Ricky Romero, whose career numbers are fine (34-27, 3.79 ERA), but hardly exceptional. He probably fits on a sub-tier alongside guys like C.J. Wilson, Mark Buerhle and Dan Haren. The AL East boasts three other contenders in Josh Beckett and Jon Lester of the Red Sox and David Price of the Rays. However, it’s hard to consider any of the three to be currently among that elite group, given their inconsistency (Beckett) and relative inexperience (Lester and Price). All told, it’s interesting that in an era of supposedly superior pitching, the AL boasts so many good pitchers and – at least for now – precious few great ones.

Up Next

Yesterday was an off day for the club, but they are back at it at Rogers Centre tonight, kicking off a three-game set against the free-falling Seattle Mariners, losers of nine straight. Rookie phenom Michael Pineda, who silenced Jays’ bats over 7.1 innings on April 12, gets the ball for Seattle against Brett Cecil.

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