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Phillips: On Jays' struggles with Yankees, Price and more

Steve Phillips
6/20/2014 12:31:53 PM
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TSN Baseball Insider Steve Phillips answers several questions each week. This week's topics include the Blue Jays' struggles at Yankee Stadium, what the Tampa Bay Rays should do with David Price, remembering Tony Gwynn and his pick for the best team in baseball.

1) What is it about the Blue Jays and Yankee Stadium that don't go together (15 straight losses through Wednesday)? You would think an offensive team would do well in a hitter's park. In your experience, what was the toughest park to play in and why?
 
There isn't anything wrong with the Blue Jays. They just can't seem to beat the Yankees. The Yankees have the Jays number. 

Baseball is such a mental game. What you think or feel impacts how you play. When one team dominates another like this it gets in the mind of the losing team. It also empowers the winning team. As each subsequent game unfolds, the losing team feels that a loss is inevitable. When something goes wrong in the game it feels like that will be the reason the team loses on that day. In contrast the winning team has a feeling of inevitability as well. They just know someone will make a play or get a big hit to win the game. 

The Jays have a defeatist attitude against the Yankees. I'm sure they start out each game telling themselves that this will be the day they end the losing streak. But at some point a lost scoring opportunity, an error, a bloop base hit, etc causes the voices of doubt start to scream in their psyche. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

I lived this nightmare when I was Mets' general manager. We could not beat the Atlanta Braves, especially at Turner Field in Atlanta. It didn't matter what we did, we lost. We could get good starting pitching but their starters pitched better. We could score a bunch of runs but they would find a way to outscore us. We lost every way imaginable. We lost some games with bad first innings and some with bad ninth innings. We lost on home runs, errors, wild pitches and squeeze bunts. We would rally and look like we were coming back and then hit in to a double play to end the game. We even walked in a game-winning run in the NLCS in 1999. 

What makes matters worse is when the team that has your number is in your division. With the unbalanced schedule we played division rivals nineteen times each. We always finished second to the Braves mainly because we couldn't beat them head-to-head. I told Braves GM John Schuerholz and manager Bobby Cox that if I ever had to pick them out of a police line-up I would have to have them turn around because I chased them for six years and only saw their backside and never saw their faces.  In fact I am convinced that the only reason we advanced to the World Series in 2000 against the Yankees was because the Braves lost in the NLDS that year to the Cardinals. 

Our struggles ran from one season into another season. Not even an off-season flushed out the demons. In fact, several years after I was general manager I returned to Turner Field as a baseball analyst to broadcast a game. I remember walking in the visiting clubhouse and the awful feelings of past losses at Turner Field flooded me. It was still in my head.

Every team has that other team. Unfortunately for the Jays that team is the Yankees. 

2) There are a lot of suggestions that the Rays should be trading David Price now. Would you do it, and what would be your expected return in a deal for Price? What team has assets that fit that wish list?

The Rays must trade David Price. Small market teams have to do all they can to maximize their assets.  Price is the Rays' most substantial asset.  They can't afford to keep him and they can't afford not to trade him. In order to continuously reinvent themselves, small market teams have to recycle their roster. 

It seems highly unlikely that the Rays would trade David Price within
the AL East. It is already a very difficult division so why make it that much tougher. Certainly the Jays, Orioles, Yankees and Red Sox would all have interest in Price.  But so do the Tigers, Athletics, Angels, Braves, Cardinals, Reds Giants, and Dodgers.

The Rays have had success being an organization built around deep pitching and just enough offense. Unfortunately for them, this year they don't have anywhere close to enough offence. The challenge for small market teams is finding the right balance between their pitching and offence. The timing between the two is critical since they can't spend significant dollars in the free agent market to fill deficiencies.

The Rays want to compete again as soon as possible so finding young major league talent instead of a bevy prospects is preferred.

The team that can make the best deal with the Rays is the St. Louis Cardinals. The Rays should ask for 1B Matt Adams and RHS Michael Wacha. This would replace Price's role in the rotation and give them a big power bat for the middle of their lineup. I would expect the Cardinals to say no to including Wacha in the deal.  So the Rays should then ask for RHS Shelby Miller and RHP Carlos Martinez in the deal with Adams. The Cardinals would have a rotation that would include Adam Wainwright, Wacha, Price, Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia. Alan Craig can play first base in the absence of Adams and Oscar Tavares can play right field. The Rays would get a quality young starter in Miller, a potential impact starter/closer in Martinez and a big bat for their lineup. 

It will be very interesting to see where Price goes and what the deal will be.  One thing for certain he will not finish the season with the Rays. 

3) We lost one of the great hitters and great personalities in baseball last week. What is your fondest memory of Tony Gwynn and where does he rank among the hitters you saw play?

Tony Gwynn is one of the best pure hitters that baseball has ever known.  He was a student and a teacher of the game. Gwynn is one of the rare players who played for one team his entire career. He is known as Mr. Padre. He never had a contract dispute. He didn't play for the money. He could have taken advantage of the free agent market and squeezed every last dollar out of his ability. But he wasn't about money. He played for the love of the game.

Interestingly Gwynn got more attention in his death than he did as a Hall of Famer. People in some ways diminished his accomplishments because he was a singles hitter. The most home runs he ever hit in a season were seventeen. He could have hit more but he chose to stay within himself and do what he did best. He punched the ball the other way. He was a contact hitter. He hit for average.

Gwynn had a .338 career batting average. He led the league in hitting eight times. He was a 15-time All Star and a five-time Gold Glover. His .393 batting average in the strike-shortened 1994 season, was the closest that anyone has gotten to .400 since Ted Williams did it in 1941. The hole between the shortstop and third baseman became know as the "5.5" hole because of Gwynn. He had an uncanny knack of being able to hit any pitch anywhere in the zone through that hole. 

I remember an afternoon when I was GM for the Mets that I was sitting in my office and heard the crack of the bat coming from the field at 1pm. We had a 7pm game that night so I wondered who could possibly be hitting that early. I went out on the concourse and saw Tony Gwyn taking early batting practice with one of the Padres coaches. I couldn't believe it. The game was six hours away. Then after regular batting practice I saw Gwynn walking with a bucket of balls down to the batting age under the stadium.  He was going to practice some more. The best pure hitter of his era was also the hardest worker. That told me all I needed to know.

The other remarkable thing about Gwynn was his smile. He was the least Hall of Fame acting Hall of Famer I have ever met. He was genuine, sincere, compassionate, kind and friendly. He greeted fans and opponents and ground crew workers in exactly the same way. He wasn't too big for anyone and no one was too small for him.

Baseball lost the best pure hitter of this era and one of the best ever in the game. But the bigger loss was that of the man that was Tony Gwynn.

4)  Baseball is such a great sport. Everyday gives you some different feeling about your team and its chances. It is made for sports talk radio. Or maybe it made sports talk radio. Either way our team can excite us one day and disappoint us the next. One week we feel like we are going all the way and the next week our team is a bunch of bums. The season is a marathon-long roller coaster ride. 

It can be exhilarating or exhausting depending upon the end result. Statistics allow us to continuously grade the progress of our team and how it is performing. The numbers can be made to tell just about any story and often times suit our bias. 

I love the weekly power rankings that come out and show which team is ranked ahead of its competition. Each week the teams are moved up and down based upon how they performed over a seven-day time frame.  Seven days in a baseball season is only a snapshot of a team and who they are. There is a saying in baseball that no team is as good as they are when playing its best or as bad as they are when they play their worst. Yet each week we come up with an ordering of the teams according to some arbitrary evaluation.

This year is no different. So far in one ranking the Giants, Cardinals, A's, Brewers and Tigers have all been atop the rankings at one point or another this season. This is bizarre to me because there is one team that is the best and no one else is even close.

The best team in baseball by far is the Oakland A's. 

Why? The A's have outscored the opposition by 134 runs. The next closest team is the San Francisco Giants who are a +47. 

Isn't the idea to outscore your opponent? The A's have scored the most runs in baseball. 

"Well isn't pitching more important?" you ask. The A's have given up the least number of runs as well.

Back when Billy Beane co-wrote "Moneyball" everyone focused on the need for hitters to have a good OBP. Yet, Beane's teams back then had much better pitching than they did offence. They didn't win because their hitters had a great plan at the plate, they won because their pitchers didn't give up OBP. 

This A's team is a true "Moneyball" team through and through. They are baseball's best offensive team while also having the best pitching.  

Beane has been criticized because his teams never won anything. That means championships. His clubs won a ton of games and got more bang for the buck than anyone else but that doesn't seem to matter. This is their year.

Here are my power rankings: It's the Oakland A's and then everybody else. 




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