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Steve Phillips

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The Toronto Blue Jays may end up with one of the worst records in franchise history this season.

The expansion Jays of 1977 lost 107 games, followed by 102 losses in 1978 and 109 defeats in 1979. In fact, those first three seasons are the only times in Jays history that the team has lost 100 games or more. This year could change that, with the club on pace for 99 losses.

Trust me, the players, coaches, manager and front office staff are going to do all that they can to avoid that threshold. In reality, there is no real difference between a 100-loss team and a 99-loss team or an 89-loss team – it’s all just a lot of losing. However, there is still a stigma attached to 100 losses.

But the team’s record isn’t ultimately what matters. The most important thing is that franchise gains something valuable from a trying season.

Is the front office figuring out who is part of the problem and who is part of the solution? Are the young players figuring out how to make adjustments? Are they learning how to prepare properly using analytics and video? 

One thing Jays manager Charlie Montoyo and his staff have to guard against is players accepting losing. No matter how many games a team loses, the players can never become complacent or expect it. Players need to go in to battle each day with the idea that they will perform, execute and win. If they don’t win, they need to be disappointed, bothered and motivated. They need to learn how to win at the major-league level.

Players are resilient. They are wired and programed to surrender the previous day and live in the present. They find confidence from their successes and latch on to learning opportunities from failures. They need to keep an even keel and demeanor because emotions only get in the way while playing baseball.

It takes a special type of manager and staff to handle the rebuilding process. It takes patience with intensity and leaders who can challenge players to improve and work harder without beating them down because of failure. Not every coach or manager is built to take a team from rebuilding to playoff contention.

Losing gets old from a fan’s perspective because they are invested in the result, while the players are invested in the process. Players and coaches believe that if the process is done properly, the result will be winning. Sometimes fans go away during the rebuilding process because losing takes a toll. It isn’t that they don’t care; they understand what is happening but want some reward for watching the game and will come back when the chances of winning are better.

So, I continue to preach patience, perseverance and the process.

 

Dombrowski done in Boston

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The Boston Red Sox shocked the baseball world on Sunday night after their game against the Yankees, announcing their president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski had been fired. Less than a year after winning the World Series, the veteran baseball executive and future Hall of Famer is out of a job.

It was such odd timing. Normally, a move like this deserves a press conference with ownership making themselves available to explain their decision. Heck, they didn’t even tell manager Alex Cora about it and he was caught off guard with the media. It seems like the Red Sox thought they could bury it in the news cycle since the New England Patriots played their first game that night and had signed controversial wide receiver Antonio Brown.

The timing makes me believe that something must have happened that day. Maybe Dombrowski had a run-in with someone in the offices and ownership didn’t have his back. Maybe he pushed ownership about a contract extension and they weren’t going to give it, so the sides cut ties immediately rather than waiting.

There is all kinds of speculation about why they made a change. There are rumblings that Dombrowski was hard to work for and that his “old-school” style was much different than what people had been used to in the front office. I know Dombrowski well. He is as classy and polite a gentleman as there is in the game. The reports of his being tough to get along with don’t jive with my experience with him.

Dombrowski’s Red Sox won three straight division titles for the first time in franchise history. They won a record 108 games last season and went on the win the World Series. They seemed to have a hangover this season and never gained traction. Injuries impacted their pitching staff including starters Chris Sale, Davis Price and Nate Eovaldi. Their bullpen struggled after they let Craig Kimbrel go in free agency and never replaced him.

Dombrowski made some decisions that I wouldn’t’ have made. I wouldn’t have tried to recreate the 2018 championship season by bringing back all the same guys. A new season calls for new faces and personalities. I wouldn’t have given pitcher Eovaldi a four-year, $68 million contract because of his health history. I wouldn’t have been so quick to give Sale a five-year $145 million contract extension considering he finished the 2018 season with arm issues. I would have wanted to see him prove that he was healthy. I would have addressed the closer role with a more proven option than Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes.

The Red Sox payroll was right up against the highest luxury tax threshold last off-season, so they were limited on additions to their roster. Now they have to address Mookie Betts’ pending free agency after the 2020 season. Boston’s financial situation isn’t good considering the long-term dollars they have locked up, but there is no way that Dombrowski would have signed Sale or Eovaldi if he didn’t get approval from ownership and assurances that there would be enough money left to sign Betts if a deal could be struck.

People are critical of Dombrowski for depleting Boston’s farm system, but in doing so he won a World Series Championship. It was worth every prospect he traded away. Plus, they have a young core at the major-league level, which should allow some time for the Sox to replenish their farm system.

Whomever takes over the helm of the Red Sox has some tough decisions on how to handle Betts’ free agency and J.D. Martinez’s likely opt-out. Plus, the health of Sale, Price and Eovaldi is critical for the organization’s success considering they will earn over $75 million per year combined for the next several seasons.

The new president of baseball operations needs to rebuild while still competing. That is what Brian Cashman and the Yankees have done quite well. It’s a shame Dombrowski wasn’t given the chance to tweak his club for 2020 because they still have a very good roster.

If Dombrowski wants to run a team again there will be a job for him somewhere. He is a good baseball man with a track record of success.  

 

Bad break for the Brewers

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The Milwaukee Brewers suffered a devastating loss this week when Christian Yelich fouled a ball off of his right kneecap and fractured it. Yelich (.329/.429/.671) is the defending NL MVP and was on pace for MVP consideration again this season.

The Brewers keep winning despite losing their star on Tuesday, finishing on top in seven straight games and 10 of their last 12. They have moved into a tie with the Chicago Cubs for the second wild-card spot in the National League. 

The Brewers have surprisingly gotten a sub-3.00 ERA form their starters over the last 12 games, which has protected against their multiple injuries on the offensive side. Yelich’s injury is the most significant, but they have also been dealing with a sore left wrist for third baseman Mike Moustakas and rookie second baseman Keston Hiura’s hamstring. Moustakas’ wrist is healing and he has started swinging the bat well again. They activated Hiura but he isn’t quite ready to start a game.

They are getting big offensive contributions from veterans like outfielder Ryan Braun and catcher Yasmani Grandal, and from kids like rookie outfielder Trent Grisham.       

The Brewers are playing inspired baseball, plus they have the easiest schedule among the contenders for the second NL wild-card spot. That combination may just land them in the post-season, although we may be headed for another Cubs vs. Brewers Game 163 like we had last year.

The Cubs have the better roster but they are dealing with some injuries of their own. Shortstop Javier Baez is out with a broken thumb and his backup, Addison Russell, is out with a facial contusion and concussion after getting hit in the face by a pitch. They have second-year professional Nico Hoerner playing shortstop. He was their first-round pick in 2018.

The fewer games that are on the schedule the less it matters who has the better roster. It isn’t necessarily going to be the best team that wins, it will be the team that plays the best. With two weeks left, that is the Brewers.

 

Spitting Seeds

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- The other team playing well in the NL wild-card race is the New York Mets. They just swept the Arizona Diamondback in a four-game series and have moved from five games out to just two behind the Cubs and Brewers.  The Mets starting pitching is on a roll and their offence has suddenly come to life, led by rookie Pete Alonso and veteran third baseman Todd Frazier. The Mets have been streaky in both directions this year, so they just have to hope their timing is right because it may very well end up that the team that gets hot last may take the final playoff spot. The Mets have to play the Dodgers this weekend and the Braves in the final weekend of the season, but the rest of the schedule is against sub-.500 clubs. They have a shot.

- The Phillies are tied with the Mets, just two games behind the Cubs and Brewers. Philadelphia can’t seem to get hot, but they also don’t get cold. They seem stuck in mediocrity. Their schedule is daunting over the last two weeks. They play two games against the Red Sox at home, then they go to NL East-leading Atlanta for three games, then to Cleveland for three and then they have five games in four days against the NL wild-card leading Washington Nationals. They finish with the lowly Miami Marlins at home for the last three games, but they may be eliminated by then.        

- The Dodgers clinched their seventh consecutive NL West Division title this week. Manager Dave Roberts will be challenged to keep his team hungry and sharp while getting them some rest before the playoffs. They need to get starter Hyun-Jin Ryu straightened out as he and closer Kenley Jansen have struggled lately. They are also hoping to get Max Muncy back this weekend from a fractured wrist. They got good news on third baseman Justin Turner’s sprained ankle, learning that it isn’t as bad as feared. The Dodgers are hoping they can get back to the World Series for the third straight year. They also hope the third time is the charm.

- The Yankees will soon clinch the AL East title, in what has been an amazing season considering all of the injuries they have had to overcome. Their depth has been tested like no other team. Just when they think they are about fully recovered with ace pitcher Luis Severino, reliever Dellin Betances and outfielder Giancarlo Stanton close to returning, the injury bug bites again. In Thursday’s double header against the Detroit Tigers, starting pitcher J.A. Happ (bicep tendinitis), Edwin Encarnacion (oblique) and Gary Sanchez (groin) all had to leave the game with injury. It has been a painful (literally and figuratively) but successful season for the Yankees. They have a two-game advantage over the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers in the race for the best record in baseball and home-field advantage throughout the postseason. The Astros hold the tiebreaker over the Yankees while the Yankees have the tiebreaker over the Dodgers if it comes into play.