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Steve Phillips

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The Blue Jays are 25-25 since June 19, including an 11-6 record in their last 17 games. A .500 record isn’t a great accomplishment, but it’s a pretty good run for a rebuilding club that is 51-73 on the season.

Rebuilding teams worry less about wins and more about developing players and getting answers about who is part of the solution for the long term. Sure, wins are nice, but they are less of a priority than the growth of young players. At some point that will change and winning will become the absolute mission.

For now, fans can cheer when a hitter grounds into a double play, like they did last week when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. battled Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman in a 13-pitch at-bat in the ninth inning of a loss.

There are moral victories during a rebuilding process. It’s okay to be excited about Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio slugging doubles and turning double plays, even in losses. It shows an acceptance by the fan base about the rebuild and a level of excitement and hope about the future. Fans know they are watching the start of something special.

There will come a point when it’s appropriate to expect more from the players, but that time isn’t now. There are still tough times ahead. There will be streaks where the Jays lose 15 of 20. They just don’t have the kind of pitching depth yet to sustain a high level of success. Young players can be very streaky. Just enjoy the process and surrender the outcome.

The pursuit of pitching is the priority for the Jays’ front office now. Ross Atkins and his staff will look to find arms wherever they can: draft, trades, waiver claims, free agency, international free agents, etc.

While they pursue pitchers, they need to keep the flow of talent of all types coming through the organization. In recent years we have seen Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Zach Greinke, Chris Sale and Trevor Bauer traded. It is a fallacy to think that aces can’t be acquired. It will be critical for the Jays to be positioned properly when that next guy becomes available.

 

Galvis goes to Cincinnati

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Now that there is only one trade deadline (on July 31), teams have nowhere to go over the last 60 days of the season to find talent other than sifting through castoffs on release or outright waivers. It’s like running in a marathon only to realize that there is no one handing out water over the last eight miles of the race.

We’ve seen teams just releasing players or placing them on irrevocable outright waivers in August, effectively giving them away for an inconsequential waiver claim fee.

For example, Freddy Galvis was placed on outright waivers by the Jays and claimed by the Cincinnati Reds this week. The Reds became responsible for the remaining $1 million-plus of salary and the $1 million buyout for his 2020 option year if they don’t keep Galvis and pay him a $5.5 million salary for next season.

Galvis is a good player who served his purpose well as a placeholder and leader for the rebuilding Blue Jays. If he remained with the team he would have only taken away at-bats from the kids who need playing time to grow as major leaguers. The Reds must see Galvis as an upgrade on shortstop Jose Iglesias.

There obviously wasn’t a trade to be made at the deadline for Galvis like there was for Eric Sogard, or the Blue Jays would have moved him. It was the right decision by the Jays to place Galvis on outright waivers, saving the $1 million. If they had kept him until the off-season and tried to make a deal they wouldn’t have received a prospect in return who was worth $1 million.

They are better off saving the money and spending it on another free agent next year or a top prospect in the draft. 

Tellez returns to Toronto

Justin Smoak’s time as a Blue Jay is winding down. In fact, I’m surprised the Jays haven’t run him through outright waivers to see if there are any takers.

I thought for sure the Yankees would want him, since both former Blue Jay Edwin Encarnacion and first baseman Luke Voit are on the injured list. Maybe they will consider it now that Rowdy Tellez is back with the big club.

The Jays sent a struggling Tellez down to Buffalo for a reset. He got off to a pretty good start this year in Toronto, but pitchers quickly found his weakness. They kept feeding him high fastballs and sliders inside, and he couldn’t hit or lay off either of them. His batting average and on-base percentage plummeted to .227 and .280, respectively.

Give Tellez credit; he took the demotion in stride and worked on his approach. He did his part to earn the return to Toronto, hitting .366 with nine doubles, seven homers and 21 RBI in 26 games for Buffalo.

Manager Charlie Montoyo has said Tellez will get the majority of the at-bats at first base the rest of the way to see what he can do. Now it is up to him.

This is probably the most important month and a half of Tellez’s career. This season is about answering questions and he needs to show whether he is capable of plugging the gaping hole in his swing that was exposed. I’m not convinced he has the bat speed to handle the inner third of the plate.

 

Spitting Seeds

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- The Mets fired their pitching coach, Dave Eiland, earlier this year and promoted 82-year-old Phil Regan from their Class A affiliate in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Regan had been a major-league manager and pitching coach in the past, but hadn’t been on a major-league coaching staff since 1999, when he served as pitching coach in Cleveland. The Mets have completely changed their fortunes and are now in the mix for the NL Wild Card because their pitchers have dramatically improved from early season struggles.

The Phillies fired their hitting coach, John Mallee, and hired their former manager, 75-year-old Charlie Manuel. It has only been a couple of days for Manuel, but the Phillies hitters have already responded. On Wednesday they scored 11 runs against former Phillies’ ace Cole Hamels. On Thursday they scored seven runs, including sixth in the ninth inning, capped by a Bryce Harper walk-off grand slam.

There were many who joked about the age of the two new coaches, but both have had an impact. They are not analytical coaches. They have come in and gotten the players to simplify the process. Regan has his staff back in the strike zone with well-executed and located fastballs, while Manuel is preaching swinging at strikes and hunting for fastballs.

The two veteran coaches are reinforcing the basics because players can get lost in the percentages and tendencies of opposing players and pitchers. They have given their teams exactly the messages they needed.       

- If you ever needed proof that pitching is more important than offence just look at the Boston Red Sox. A year ago, the Sox scored an MLB-leading 876 runs while winning 108 games.  Their pitchers had a 3.75 ERA, which was third best in the American League. This season, Boston is on pace to score 50 more runs (926) than last season, yet they are only projected to win 84 games. Why? It’s because their pitchers have a 4.78 ERA. Teams with excellent pitching and mediocre offence have a better chance to play October baseball than teams with mediocre pitching and an excellent offence.

- The National League wild-card race has a crowded field with a collection of flawed teams. It’s baseball’s best race. We could potentially have three or four teams all tied at end of the regular season. Here is how I see the race and the Achilles heel that could keep each of the contenders out of the playoffs:

Washington Nationals: Washington is currently the No. 1 wild-card team but their bullpen is an issue. They have the worst bullpen ERA (6.03) in the NL. Plus, ace Max Scherzer has been on the injured list with a back strain all but four days since July 13.

St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals are currently percentage points ahead of the Cubs in the NL Central race and a game and a half behind the Nationals. They are third in runs scored, second in ERA and first in fielding percentage in the NL, but can’t seem to put it together. They are only a +23 in run differential despite stats indicating they should be better. Yadier Molina just returned from the injured list and he could impact every component of the game.

Chicago Cubs: The Cubs are currently the second wild-card team, sitting a game and a half behind the Nationals. They have 22 blown saves already this year and they are not a very good defensive team. Plus, they’ve been terrible on the road (23-38) all season. Chicago hopes to get relievers Craig Kimbrel, Brandon Kintzler and Steve Cishek all back from the injured list by next Tuesday.

Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers are one game behind the second wild-card spot. Milwaukee reeks of mediocrity as they are ninth in runs scored, 13th in ERA and eighth in fielding percentage. No team in the NL has relied upon their bullpen more than the Brewers as their starters have thrown the fewest innings as a staff. Plus, NL MVP Christian Yelich has a nagging back issue that is hindering his performance.

Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies are one game behind the Cubs for the second wild-card spot.  Like the Brewers, they are mediocre in all components of the game: eighth in runs scored in NL, 11th in ERA and 10th defensively. Their already subpar rotation just lost Jake Arrieta to season-ending surgery on his elbow to remove a bone spur.

New York Mets: The Mets are two games behind the Cubs but they’ve won 16 of their last 20 games and are playing better than the numbers indicate. Mets fans want to believe this red-hot team is for real, but statistically they’re another middling team: ninth in runs scored, eighth in ERA and 11th defensively. The bullpen has improved during this run but for the season they have the second-worst ERA (5.20) as a corps. They just lost Jeff McNeil (.929 OPS) to a hamstring injury after losing veteran second baseman Robbie Cano to the same injury a couple of weeks ago. That takes two lefty bats out of the lineup.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Arizona is three and a half games out of the second wild-card spot. The Diamondbacks have been surprisingly good (61-61) despite losing first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, centre fielder A.J. Pollock and ace Patrick Corbin to free agency. Throw in the deadline deal that saw their best pitcher, Zack Greinke, traded to the Astros and they just don’t have the manpower to overcome five teams and a 3.5 game deficit, despite having the best run differential of all of the remaining wild-card contenders.

San Francisco Giants: The Giants are tied with the Diamondbacks at three and a half games behind the Cubs. They traded away several relievers at the deadline, but not their most important guys. They also held on to ace starter Madison Bumgarner instead of cashing out on the impending free agent. Their biggest issue is they have an anemic offensive team that is ranked 14th in runs scored. Their pitching isn’t bad, but they just don’t score enough to support it.

My prediction is that the Dodgers will win the NL West while the Braves will secure the NL East. I believe the Cubs will win the NL Central title and the Nationals and Cardinals will earn the wild-card spots.