The Buffalonto beatdown

Wearing his NYPD hat to commemorate the 9/11 atrocity, deGrom pinned the Blue Jays while his mates bludgeoned them Friday night.

Until two starts ago, Jacob deGrom must have felt like the single most neglected spouse in town. He was said to be keeping non-support court filings signed and sealed in his locker just in case things went from bad to worse to lost cause entirely.

Then, last Sunday, his New York Mess (er, Mets) gave him seven runs to work with before his day ended and dropped seven more on the Philadelphia Phillies after he came out of the game. You couldn’t blame deGrom if he’d awakened the next morning asking himself whether he’d been dreaming.

So what to make of Friday night against the Buffalonto Blue Jays in the Jays’ temporary, pandemic-season home?

With the Mets allowed to wear first-responder hats at last to commemorate victims and their attempted rescuers in the 9/11 atrocity nineteen years earlier?

With deGrom pitching like the two-time defending Cy Young Award winner he is . . . and the Mets giving him fourteen runs to work with before his outing ended after six innings? Including and especially a ten-run fourth featuring Dominic Smith slicing salami?

This was no band of pushovers deGrom and the Mets massacred Friday night. The Jays were in second place in the American League East with a 24-19 record when the game began. They’re not exactly driven back to the basement after the Mets’ carnage. But they might have been tempted to crawl into the nearest Buffalo basement to hide at least until Saturday’s game.

Maybe the Jays just faced the wrong New York team. Earlier this week they dropped a ten-spot on the Yankees in the sixth. On Friday night, the Mets—who came into the game leading the National League with a .275 team batting average and a .351 team on-base percentage—looked more like Murderer’s Row than a Mess.

“The guys did a good job of going out there and putting up runs for me,” said deGrom to reporters after the 18-1 bludgeoning, in what was probably the understatement of the night. “It was a little cold out there, so I was trying to stay loose in between, but I’m thankful for the runs and they did a good job all night of that.”

The Mets already had a 4-1 lead when Wilson Ramos opened the fourth working a walk out of Toronto reliever Anthony Kay. You may remember Kay’s the one the Mets traded to the Jays last year to get Marcus Stroman, who opted out of this season after it began and goes to free agency after this season.

Well, now. Brandon Nimmo chunked a base hit into shallow left to follow Ramos. After Kay walked Michael Conforto to load the pillows following that, the fun really began. J.D. Davis grounded sharply to Jays shortstop Santiago Espinal. Espinal had a clean shot throwing Ramos out at the plate. The throw hit Jays catcher Danny Jansen right on target. And it bounced right out of Jansen’s mitt and off to his right just before Ramos crossed the plate unmolested.

Up stepped Smith with the pillows still full. He swung on 2-0 and drove it clean over the right field fence. 9-1 Mets, five runs home in the fourth thus far, and the Jays hadn’t seen anything yet.

Robinson Cano followed Smith with a line single. Pete Alonso, who had a night he’d rather forget at the plate, struck out on a full count, but Kay came out of the game in favour of Jacob Waguespack and Jeff McNeil greeted the new man on the mound with a line single up the pipe, before Waguespack hit Mets rookie Andres Gimenez with a pitch that ricocheted off to the left side.

Here came Ramos again, and into the right center field gap went his three-run double. Nimmo pushed Ramos to third with a ground out to Espinal playing him up the middle, then Conforto—who’d hit a three-run homer in the four-run Mets third—sent a liner to left that bounced past a sliding Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. hoping for a shot at the circus catch. And Davis cued one just past third base and up the line for the double sending Conforto home.

Smith looking at strike three hitting the absolute edge of the low outside corner must have felt to the Blue Jays as though he’d decided to have mercy upon them. DeGrom in the Mets dugout must have watched the carnage and wondered, even for a split second, what new and unheard-of ways his mates would find to blow a thirteen-run lead.

The long layoff in the fourth and the Buffalo chill all night may have affected him a little. He had to wrestle a bit for his outs and to keep the Jays from getting any friskier than second and third in the bottom of the fifth, but he still finished his evening’s combination of work and leisure with nine strikeouts, two walks, one measly earned run (Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. singling home Randal Grichuk in the bottom of the first), an ERA shrunk to 1.67, and a second-best 0.87 walks/hits per inning pitched rate.

This time, the only thing the Mets blew was what remained of the Blue Jays’ fight for the night.

Erasmo Ramirez came out of the bullpen for the final three innings’ scoreless relief and a save under the three-inning side of the rule, while the Mets added two in the seventh (a bases-loaded walk to Cano; Davis scoring on Conforto’s ground out to shortstop), one in the eighth (Ramos hitting one over the center field fence), and one in the ninth. (Gimenez doubling home Alonso, who’d reached when he got plunked.)

If this is dreaming, deGrom must have thought when the game went into the books at last, I’ll kill the guy who wakes me up. To death.

“First and foremost,” said Conforto, “we got the win, and we got a win for Jake too. We’re always feeling good when Jake’s on the mound no matter how many runs we put up, but it felt good to do that for him.”

DeGrom wore a New York Police Department hat for the game. Other Mets wore that or hats for the New York Fire Department, the Port Authority Police Department, the Department of Sanitation, and the Office of Emergency Management commemorating the 9/11 atrocity.

Last year, after baseball’s government again told the Mets not to even think about wearing the hats during a game on that anniversary, Alonso decided to let the world know what he thought about that. He paid for 9/11 commemorative cleats for himself and his mates to wear when they played the Arizona Diamondbacks on the anniversary—and beat them with nine runs and eleven hits.

This year, baseball government wised up and let the Mets and the Yankees have their heads about the commemorative hats, just in time for the Mets to hand the Blue Jays their heads and for the Yankees to sweep the Yankees in a doubleheader Friday. Doing the right thing with or without official permission invites its own kind of good karma.

“You just have to wear some things”

Buck Showalter facing the press after the 2016 AL wild card game.

Former major league manager Buck Showalter had the perfect chance to explain himself once and for all. He sat for an otherwise splendid interview with the New York Post‘s Steve Serby, published Friday. He offered several splendid recollections, revelations, and insights.

Then, just after he explained today’s Yankees sticking with Gary Sanchez behind the plate despite his problems at it, Serby asked the money question: “Your Orioles controversy in the 2016 AL wild-card game when you didn’t call on Zack Britton and lost in the bottom of the 11th in Toronto.”

Showalter, one of the most intelligent managers of his time, a man who once resigned as the Yankees’ manager rather than stand for one of his most trusted coaches being removed, defaulted: “You just have to wear some things, and I can sit here and tell you ten things you may not know about that situation, but nobody wants to hear it. I’m at peace with that.”

Serby didn’t seem to push just a little for the ten things Showalter thinks we may not have known about that situation, and Showalter’s probably dead wrong that nobody would have wanted to hear even one of them. If Rob Neyer ever gets the chance to update 2006’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders, bet big on Showalter’s wild card game mistake, ten years after that book, showing up prominently.

Bottom of the eleventh, Showalter’s Baltimore Orioles tied with the Toronto Blue Jays at two. One out, and Ubaldo Jimenez, usually a starting pitcher, relieving Brian Dueseng after Dueseng opened by striking Ezequiel Careera swinging. Back-to-back singles setting the Blue Jays up for first and third, and Zach Britton, the Orioles closer and arguably the best relief pitcher in 2016 baseball, nowhere to be seen—even though Showalter used six relief pitchers already.

Just like Mike Matheny of the St. Louis Cardinals not even thinking of Trevor Rosenthal in the 2014 National League Championship Series in the bottom of the ninth in San Francisco, Showalter reasoned, too, that Britton’s job as his closer was to come in strictly with a lead.

As Matheny stuck with rusty Michael Wacha in San Francisco, Showalter bargained on Jimenez, who’d pitched well down the Oriole stretch, holding fort in Toronto and the Orioles breaking the tie in the twelfth with Manny Machado due to lead off. (The real shock of that game: two of the league’s most bludgeoning lineups got themselves into a pitching duel most of the night.)

Like Matheny, Showalter forgot—if it was ever programmed into their software in the first place—that the time to bring in your best relief pitcher was when you needed a stopper right then and there, not when his “role” mandated.

“It wasn’t just that he hadn’t used Britton,” wrote Jeff Passan, then a baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. “It was that any number of game states presented themselves with Britton’s use optimal, and Showalter ignored them all the way to his team’s demise.”

Travis Ishikawa delivered Matheny’s reminder a lot more brutally when his three-run homer sailed to the top of Levi’s Landing with a Giants pennant attached. Showalter got off easier by comparison. Edwin Encarnacion’s three-run homer into the second deck merely sent the Blue Jays to a division series.

What were the ten things about that situation Showalter could have told us but he thinks we don’t want to know?

Surely he knows he’s not the first and won’t be the last manager having to wear, own, and live with such things. Some of them owned and explained them with no attempt to evade responsibility. Some of them owned but excused them. Some of them could barely bring themselves to own them. Some of them thought it was God’s will or somebody else’s fault.

Hall of Fame manager Joe McCarthy took the blame squarely for picking Denny Galehouse to start over Mel Parnell at the last minute (Parnell reported to Fenway Park that day expecting to go) against the Cleveland Indians in the 1948 pennant playoff game. A McCarthy biographer quoted the old man as telling Parnell himself, “I made a mistake. I’ll just have to live with it.”

Charley Dressen, as Neyer pointed out, “never made a mistake he couldn’t blame on somebody else.” Citing Brooklyn Dodgers exec Buzzie Bavasi, Neyer revealed Dressen blundered when the Dodgers won the coin flip for the famous-turned-infamous 1951 pennant playoff—and elected to play Game One in Ebbets Field, where the Giants didn’t usually play well, but Games Two and Three in the Polo Grounds, where the Dodgers usually didn’t.

Ill-fated Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca would remember Dodgers ticket manager Jack Collins calling the coin flip back in Brooklyn since the Dodgers were in Philadelphia at the moment. Not quite. “Dressen . . . probably told anybody who’d listen,” Neyer wrote, “that the pointy-headed ticket sales manager was the one who screwed up.” The pointy-headed ticket sales manager got canned after the season, too. The Giants stole the pennant, but the Dodgers blew their cleanest shot at it when Dressen blew that coin flip.

Casey Stengel had to answer for failing to align his 1960 World Series rotation well enough to give his Hall of Fame lefthander Whitey Ford three instead of two Series starts. The Pittsburgh Pirates still like to thank him for that. The Ol’ Perfesser didn’t discuss it in his memoir Casey at the Bat. A month after Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente was killed in his humanitarian-mission plane crash, the Hall of Fame skipper gave Boston radio reporter Ken Meyer an interview:

I blame myself on the whole Series. I mean for the Yankees losing. Now here’s the reason why I make that statement was because I thought Ford was so good . . . if I’da pitched him in the first game he’da been in better shape to go in the last game when I blow the Series.

Stengel’s biographer Robert W. Creamer translated the Stengelese to mean pitching Ford in Game One instead of holding him back until Game Three might have let Ford pitch Game Five and then be available in relief, maybe even to start, for Game Seven.

Showalter has more company in that special club whose membership requirements are that you’re a manager who blew one of the biggest decisions of your major league life, if not the big one. He has Matheny, Dressen, Stengel, and Gene Mauch to join him.

He has Leo Durocher, who burned the 1969 Cubs out as the Miracle Mets heated up fresh to stay. He has Tony La Russa, who blew a 1990 World Series he might have won, or at least kept from losing in a sweep, if he’d thrown his personal Book out and let his Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley pitch at least twice before ninth innings.

He has Dusty Baker. (Reference Mark Prior staying in but no activity in the bullpen, Game Six, 2003 National League Championship Series, with the Cubs six outs from the World Series.) He has Grady Little. (Pedro Martinez, gassed but left in two hitters too long, Game Seven, 2003 American League Championship Series.)

Most of the time such men wear, own, and explain their mistakes plausibly, even if their teams’ fans would still prefer to see them strapped in the electric chair. Most of the time. When Mauch’s 1964 Phillies returned home after finishing the pennant race they’d blown, Mauch refused to let his players leave the plane before he did: “You didn’t blow the pennant. I did.”

But when John McNamara elected to keep Bill Buckner at first base for the bottom of the tenth in Game Six, 1986 Series, rather than send his uninjured regular late defensive replacement Dave Stapleton out, McNamara refused to change his original tune. He wanted his wounded warrior Buckner out there as he “deserved” to be when the Red Sox finally won it all and that was it, that was all, and that was goodbye.

To the day he died McNamara never backed off. His widow was very right saying upon his death that his entire career shouldn’t be judged by one game. McNamara clinging that stubbornly to his original rationale is its own kind of admirable, but it didn’t make him any less dead wrong.

What’s the worst that Showalter could face now if he’d just given Serby what was asked for and explained himself once and for all about why Zach Britton was nowhere to be seen when Edwin Encarnacion destroyed the 2016 Orioles’ season in one fell swing? Twenty-second guessing?

Oriole fan would still love to hear it. So, really, would baseball fan without a particular Baltimore rooting interest. Showalter has to wear that, too.

So why did the Mariners trade Walker?

If the Mariners traded Walker over his speaking out pro-protest postponement, they got some splainin’ to do.

Me and my big mouth. Well, keyboard.

Earlier today, writing about baseball game postponements in protest over the Jacob Blake police shooting, I referenced a 1968 trade involving pitcher Milt Pappas, who supported no games played during Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral. Pappas fumed when his Cincinnati Reds management may have strong-armed players into playing. In sort of a blink, he was then an Atlanta Brave.

That’ll teach me.

On Wednesday, when the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres elected not to play, Mariners pitcher Taijuan Walker tweeted, “Glad to be apart of this organization and group of people!” Thank you for standing with us always!!” Come today, Thursday, Walker became a Buffalonto Blue Jay, traded for the proverbial player to be named later. He inprocesses with his new team Friday, when baseball is supposed to commemorate Jackie Robinson.

Pappas would never really know whether the Reds’ then general manager Bob Howsam told the truth when he insisted that 1968 trade was in the works before the Kennedy funeral issue. Walker at this writing may or may not really know soon, or even ever, if Marines general manager Jerry Dipoto had a deal in the works before the protest postponements, either.

In 1968, then-commissioner William D. (Spike) Eckert ordered no baseball to be played during Kennedy’s funeral. Washington’s notorious traffic issues delayed the procession, bumping the funeral to coincide with the start of the Reds’ scheduled game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Pappas supported not playing; the team voted 13-12 to play, possibly after pressure from Howsam and manager Dave Bristol. Three days later—Pappas was gone.

Major League Baseball’s official statement on the protest postponements said, “Given the pain in the communities of Wisconsin and beyond following the shooting of Jacob Blake, we respect the decisions of a number of players not to play tonight. Major League Baseball remains united for change in our society and we will be allies in the fight to end racism and injustice.” Walker tweeted his approval of his team’s protest postponement decision the same night they made it. One day later—gone.

If timing is everything, this timing looks more than a little out of time. It may not even pass the proverbial smell test.

Pappas, who died in 2016, was a white man born in Detroit of Greek parents. (His name at birth: Miltiades Stergios Papastergios.) Walker is a black man born in Shreveport, Louisiana; his father was black, his mother a Mexican-American woman who raised him alone. One dead pitcher and one living one can now hold hands as they say, plausibly enough, that baseball still has growing pains over intolerance not solely regarding a racial issue.

The game has never been entirely comfortable with players known to be outspoken on all sorts of matters. Once upon a time, the Chicago White Sox tried to compel the late pitcher/author Jim Brosnan to sign a contract enjoining him from writing for publication without prior team approval. The author of from-the-inside baseball classics The Long Season and Pennant Race elected to retire rather than allow the White Sox to decide what he could or couldn’t write.

When the then-Florida Marlins traded first baseman Carlos Delgado to the New York Mets after the 2005 season, Delgado—who’d sat in the dugout as a Blue Jay and a Marlin during seventh-inning-stretch playings of “God Bless America,” in protest the Iraq War and using his native Puerto Rico’s island of Vieques as a bombing practise spot—changed his protest tune, possibly under compulsion from the Mets’ front office.

“The Mets have a policy that everybody should stand for ‘God Bless America’,” Delgado said at the time, “and I will be there. I will not cause any distractions to the ballclub . . . Just call me Employee Number 21.” Said Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon at the same time, “He’s going to have his own personal views, which he’s going to keep to himself.”

Delgado didn’t act during playings of “The Star Spangled Banner,” but on Wednesday Mets outfielder/first baseman/designated hitter Dominic Smith did. A young black man who’s a product of south central Los Angeles, Smith took a knee during the song’s pre-game playing to protest the Blake shooting.That contravened his stance in the George Floyd aftermath, when he said a knee wasn’t enough compared to teaching and learning.

There went that idea. Though his teammates had his back, too, refusing to criticise and some supporting him publicly (outfielder Michael Conforto in particular), Smith spoke for himself at a press conference. In tears. Asked by a reporter to describe the most difficult part of the past two months, Smith paused, then sighed, then said through a few sobs, “I think the most difficult part is to see people still don’t care . . . it just shows the hate in people’s hearts and, I mean, that just sucks.”

The Mets’ administration hasn’t said or done anything regarding Smith as I write. That can be considered good if we’re talking about dealing him out of town, post haste or otherwise, as the Mariners may or may not have dealt Walker over his comments. But that can be bad if we’re talking about whether Smith’s team above and beyond his clubhouse teammates will stand for his elementary right to speak his mind and heart.

I’ve said it before in these pages, but I’ll say it again: I have skin in the game of police lawlessness. I’m the paternal grandson of a New York police officer whom you could call both a true man’s man and yet one of the gentlest and most playful of men you’d ever meet in your life, especially with any and all of his eight grandchildren.

Grandpa Walter would have been as appalled at police officers behaving like the thugs they’re charged with apprehending as he would have been about people using police criminality as an excuse to break entire cities. If he’d been presented with the case for doing away with the “qualified immunity” that shields police officers from consequences for their crimes, I believe Grandpa would support its end, as I do.

But I think baseball fans and those who play and administer the game should want to know, for dead last certain, whether the Mariners traded Taijuan Walker—a serviceable, about-average major league pitcher—because it was an already-in-the-works trade on baseball grounds alone.

If they really did, they’re guilty perhaps of bad timing alone. If they didn’t, well, Lucy, they got some splainin’ to do. Did they deal Walker out of Dodge because the very thought that he spoke out proudly and unapologetically on behalf of his teammates postponing a game in protest of racism and police lawlessness offended them?

Dante’s Paradiso

Toronto Blue Jays coach Dante Bichette looking over a sea of cardboard cutouts behnid the plate in the Jays’ temporary Buffalo home.

Whether one of the too-numerous young comers the Los Angeles/California/Anahiem/Los Angeles Angels let get away over the decades, or whether the wizened veteran who called it a career after a season and a half with the Boston Red Sox, one thing stood out especially about Dante Bichette. He looked at times like a mob enforcer.

Wide, wide eyebrows above narrow eyes, plus his muscular 6’3′ physique, often made Bichette look as though he’d break your legs on demand. Until he flashed his boyish, friendly smile. Pitchers who faced him in his prime probably thought they escaped with their lives when he tagged them for one of his 274 home runs.

At 56 today, Bichette remains a muscular specimen whose concurrent sporting of a clean-shaven head makes him resemble Mr. Clean’s tough but tender inner-city nephew. The Florida native also remains one of the friendliest men in the game and, since returning to the profession, one of its most enthusiastically attentive coaches.

The Buffalo Blue Jays of Toronto invited him to spring training as a guest instructor, perhaps because one of his two baseball-playing sons, Bo, has been raising eyebrows among teammates, team officials, and enemy pitchers with his howitzer of a bat. The lad came by it honestly; his father has coached him and his older brother, Dante, Jr. (now a Washington Nationals prospect), since boyhood.

The invitation turned into something the elder Bichette hadn’t felt since he last worked as a Rockies coach. He’d given that up on behalf of not missing valuable time working with his sons. But with Bo helping to make Blue Jays baseball fun again and Dante, Jr. settling into the Nats’ organisational picture (uneasily, with the minor league season mostly cancelled), Dad enjoyed working in the Jays’ “summer camp” so much he got what he called the itch to coach full time again.

Call it Dante’s Paradiso if you must. Even if Bichette wouldn’t necessarily know The Divine Comedy from a double play. “Should I put [my sons] in baseball and put that kind of pressure on them to be like the dad that played in the big leagues?” he once asked his wife, Mariana. “And she said, what else are you gonna teach them? And I was like, yeah, I don’t know anything else.” Then, he laughs.

All that is according to a pleasant profile by The Athletic‘s senior Blue Jays writer, John Lott. “The understanding was, let’s see how it goes, let’s see if I can really help,” Bichette told Lott about joining the Jays.

I was more sensitive with Bo on the team. I didn’t want to make it awkward at all, so I had a long talk with Bo. It was just, let’s try it out first and see how it goes down. Spring training just seemed to work real easy. I helped out where I could and all of a sudden you start to develop relationships with the kids. As a coach, you kind of fall for them. So that’s when I said, yeah, I gotta do this.

Because of the Show’s current pandemic-inspired restriction limiting teams to eight coaches in the dugout, Lott wrote, Bichette had to pick a spot in the ballpark to watch his co-charges (with hitting coach Guillermo Martinez) during Blue Jays games. He likes to station himself atop a section of seats behind and to the first base side of the plate.

From there, he watches to see Jays hitters exercise his counsel. Bichette isn’t big on the mechanics of the swing but he’s huge on encouraging players to step up to the plate with a plan. He teaches or reminds them to take advantage of the reams of information now available about enemy pitchers, and he teaches and reminds them likewise—and especially—to think hard about hitting with two strikes.

Bichette as a Rockies player with his Hall of Fame teammate Larry Walker. He still has the smile that turns his expression from enforcer to big kid.

Much like the Rockies teams for whom Bichette himself played, these Blue Jays have power to burn, think of bases on balls as castor oil, and love to swing their bats. Bichette tries to get them to swing intelligently especially after that second strike is rung up. Since the Show’s overall batting average on two strikes is about .169, Bichette probably had his work more than cut out for him.

“I also point out that every count without two strikes, the whole league mashes,” he told Lott. “So turn (all) those counts into two different counts, not a bunch of different counts. You have a two-strike count and an I’m-looking-to-do-damage count, period. That’s two approaches.

“When you’re looking to do damage, you’re hunting a certain pitch and you’re committed to that pitch,” he continued. “When you’re hitting with two strikes, you have to handle all the pitches in all the parts of the zone. You have to let the ball get a little deeper, so if you are fooled by an off-speed pitch, then you still have some room for the bat to get through the zone and make contact.”

Bichette’s own idol was Hall of Famer Ted Williams, though he was born three years after Williams’s final major league game. Merely mention Teddy Ballgame, and Bichette will talk your ears off more than a politician given an excuse for a speech, if not a tweetstorm.

When he talks about all parts of the zone, he’ll point out happily enough how he read Williams’s book The Science of Hitting and paid scholarly attention to the charts that showed Williams’s batting averages on every pitch in every nook, cranny, and crevice of the zone.

(Fair disclosure: It’s also personal with Bichette. When he was named 1995’s Players Choice Award winner, he told Lott, Williams himself presented the award at a ceremony, leading to an evening’s discussion of hitting and a breakfast invitation for the following morning. “I’ve got it somewhere at home on a CD, the whole conversation,” Bichette said. “It’s the neatest thing I have.”)

Two-strike hitting is something Bichette learned about the hard way. As a player himself, a second strike usually meant he was dead meat. His OPS on two strikes, lifetime: .587. Once that second strike was on the clock, Bichette—who hit 63 of his lifetime home runs after two strikes—was swim-or-sink. His challenge with the Blue Jays’ hitters was helping their Rockies-like aggressiveness deliver instead of drop the packages.

“[T]o me, letting it get deep and getting on top is kind of an inside-out swing,” he continued. “You know, taking the air out of it. We live in an era of launch angle, but we gotta take the air out of it with two strikes. That’s where the pitchers are taking advantage of hitters with two strikes. The hitters are trying to get air and they throw the fastball over the bat.”

So just how much coaching does Bo Bichette now require from the father who first gave up professional coaching the better to make sure he didn’t lose invaluable time with his sons?

“Bo’s very self-sufficient now,” Dad told Lott, who got one of Dad’s 2013 Rockies charges, Michael Cuddyer, to talk about the kid being so attentive while seeming just to hang at the park with his old man that he’d pepper the Rockies’ hitters with serious questions about serious hitting, then take his own batting practise and hit balls into the mountains. At fifteen.

We talk at-bats. He’ll tell me what he was thinking, and most of the time, we’re so connected now that I can tell when he’s looking for a certain pitch or he’s trying to do a certain thing. So we’re pretty much in tune with each other. Now it’s more game plans. Very little swing stuff. We’ll talk about intent or conviction to the game plan . . .

It’s actually really neat because I feel like Bo is an old soul at this. I feel like I’m talking to a 38-year-old veteran when I talk to him about hitting because I’ve talked to him like that since he was six years old. That’s probably why he’s so advanced at hitting for his age.

So says the former Rockie bombardier who was only half kidding when he told Lott his wife raised two sons and a husband. (And, who was as relieved as the rest of Blue Jays fans and the game itself when Bo’s knee injury proved not terribly serious.)

The man who must have had questions and doubts when the Angels traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers for an ancient Dave Parker. Or, when the Brewers traded him to the Rockies for a fading Kevin Reimer. (Both after he’d been little enough used despite his potential, blooming somewhat late with the Rockies at 26.)

The man who quit after a decade plus as the Rockies’ hitting coach because the idea of missing his sons’ continuing development and learning any more than he already missed worried him. The man who now doesn’t mind when his senior Martinez sends him video at two in the morning asking for his takes on this player’s swing or that pitcher’s factoring in the next day’s game plan.

The man who only looked like a headbreaker at times in his playing youth, but whose geniality and intelligence have married to invite anyone who wants it to take a seminar in smart baseball and more than a few reminders that these Blue Jays made him fall in love with them. Not to mention more than a few recollections and lessons from Ted Williams.

Marcus Stroman and other trade deadline thoughts

2019-07-30 MarcusStroman

Marcus Stroman to the Mets—method to madness or madness to method?

As regards the Mets dealing a pair of mixed-reviews pitching prospects to the Blue Jays for their staff ace Marcus Stroman, and the coming trade deadline in general a few observations. Beginning with the one that tells me it seems at least three-quarters of baseball never saw this Stroman deal coming.

Anyone who thought Stroman’s new address would be New York by this year’s new single trade deadline figured it would involve the Yankees, leaders in the American League East, and not the Mets, strugglers to stay within reasonable sight of even the second National League wild card.

Or, if Stroman was going to move on from Toronto, he’d be more likely to land with one or another viable 2019 competitor—say, the Braves, where I seem to recall some observers thought he’d make a better mutual fit if the Yankees really were convinced Stroman was good enough to pitch but not necessarily fit.

But Stroman, who makes his living largely by way of his ability to lure ground balls, is now a Met. So where do we and they go from here?

1. Former major league general manager Jim Bowden, who now writes for The Athletic, says the Mets have no intention of landing Stroman just to flip him for a better package by the close of trade business Wednesday. And the two pitching prospects going to the Jays—Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods-Richardson—are considered solid but not elite prospects, but the Jays believed they weren’t going to get better than them for Stroman when all was said and done.

2. The Mets aren’t a team of elite defenders especially around their infield this year, and yet Steven Matz—returning to the rotation after a brief spell in the bullpen to re-horse—pitched a complete-game 3-0 shutout Saturday night in which his calling cards were a deft blend of breaking and off speed stuff and putting his fielders to work, which for a change they did rather admirably behind him.

3. Matz’s performance may well have had a firm impact on the Mets’ pitching thought. May. They’ve tried since 2013 to cultivate an arsenal of power arms in the rotation and seen, when all is said and done, only Jacob deGrom live up to any expectations. They watched Matt Harvey’s injuries collapse him from a power pitcher to one in search of a new cause and, now, a new team. They’ve seen Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler bring the power without delivering the consistent results.

If the Mets had eyes for Stroman before Matz took the mound Saturday night, Matz’s performance had to have told them it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to add another arm to the rotation that belonged to a young man who uses more than his arm to survive on the mound. Stroman isn’t a strikeout machine; he has the second highest ground ball rate among all Show starting pitchers.

4. Maybe acquiring Stroman begins to get the Mets re-thinking their incumbent defense, too, especially marrying him to Matz in their rotation. Rookie of the Year candidate Pete Alonso forced Dominic Smith off first base, but Smith in the outfield looks almost exactly like the un-natural he is out there even though he hits with authority. Rookie general manager Brodie Van Wagenen’s willingness to take aging Robinson Cano if he wanted closer Edwin Diaz from the Mariners last winter forced Jeff McNeil, their obvious second baseman of the future, likewise into an outfield where he’s about as comfortable as an elephant in front of a mouse much of the time.

5. Diaz has been a mess not entirely of his own making this season, mishandled, sometimes mis-deployed, and while the raw talent is still there the Mets are now rumoured to be shopping him. Cano has four years left on the contract the Mets took on from the Mariners, making him almost an immovable force. Whether the Mets’ contradictory ownership might be willing to take a bath on the deal in order to start moving defensive parts back where they belong is anyone’s guess.

6. With Stroman off the market eyes turned not just upon Syndergaard but the rest of this trade deadline’s pitching market.

The Giants’ unexpected resurgence means Madison Bumgarner isn’t likely to go anywhere the rest of the season, compared to a month ago when the observers and speculators pondered where, not if he’d move on. The Yankees need whatever starting pitching help they can get but the market now seems more constricted—and as much as they’re wary of dealing with the Mets, Syndergaard now might look like an attractive Yankee target. Might.

And the Nationals, like the Giants but at a higher level, have had an unexpected resurgence of late after they were all but written off as dying as late as early June. They ran into a buzzsaw in Los Angeles this past weekend, needing Stephen Strasburg to pitch the masterwork he did in seven Sunday innings to escape with even a single win, but now Max Scherzer—whom all the Smart Guys said had to go on the trade deadline block once upon a time, in large part to bring them badly needed bullpen relief—may find his barking back barking well enough into August.

At first glance, then, it would seem the Nats have a big problem as they prepare to square off against the National League East-leading Braves Monday night. Except that the Braves, who ran roughshod over the league before the All-Star break and still lead the Nats by five and a half games, have suddenly regressed to being only human. Not only have they lost seven of their last eleven, they’ve lost two critical elements—shortstop Dansby Swanson, resurgent veteran right fielder Nick Markakis—to the injured list. The Nats won’t have Strasburg or Scherzer to throw at the Braves this week but the Nats might still gain key ground, anyway.

7. The bullpen dominos began falling over this past weekend, too. Veteran Sergio Romo, once a key to a couple of Giants World Series winners, just went from Miami to Minnesota where the Twins, this year’s American League surprise, just bumped their bullpen up several notches by bringing him aboard. Jake Diekman went from Kansas City to Oakland, a sign the Athletics are gearing up for another wild card run. There are contenders aplenty who need help in the pen and few more than the Nats.

8. If the Jays are rebuilding in earnest, bullpen-longing eyes may be cast upon the surprising Ken Giles. After his 2017 World Series mishap (which wasn’t entirely his sole responsibility) and subsequent personal and mound meltdowns, Giles has rehorsed completely in Toronto. As in, a career year: a 1.54 ERA and a 1.60 fielding-independent pitching rate. Not to mention a 5+ strikeout-to-walk rate and a 14.9 strikeout-per-nine rate.

Yes, the Nats have eyes upon Giles and his Jays pen mate Daniel Hudson. But so may the Red Sox and any other contender who needs a bump among the bulls. Even the Twins, despite landing Romo, might still make a play for Giles at least or, if Giles eludes them, Norman, whose 2.87 ERA and June-July of only four earned runs in 21 innings’ work yanked his trade value up accordingly.

Bowden rates the Stroman deal a B+ for the Mets and a B- for the Jays. It wouldn’t hurt the Jays’ standing to try prying a slightly better haul back for Giles and/or Hudson. And although Giles is dealing with a slight nerve issue in his pitching elbow, wiping out the side as he did in a Saturday night assignment should make his suitors breathe a little easier, assuming they don’t fall tempted to overwork him while he works through it.

9. The Mets may or may not yet have a wild card long shot this year, but don’t kid yourselves: they were thinking as much about 2020 as now when they made their play for Stroman. And since Stroman is under team control through the end of 2020, don’t be surprised if they like what they see from him the rest of this season and start talking extension with him before 2020 begins.

Which might also mean that Syndergaard at minimum, and Wheeler at maximum, may yet have changes of address coming by Wednesday afternoon. And with whisperings that the Red Sox have eyes upon Diaz for their pen, which needs a little help but isn’t as badly mismanaged as the Mets pen has been this year, the Mets should be thinking smart and looking very closely at that Red Sox farm system.

Because the Mets could also use a third base upgrade from veteran Todd Frazier, who’s reliable but beginning to show his age. And as thin as the Red Sox system is for now, AAA third baseman Bobby Dalbec was named both the offensive and defensive player of the year for 2018 in the Red Sox’s minor league award valuations. If the Olde Towne Team wants Diaz for their pen that much, the Mets should all but demand Dalbec in the return haul.

10. Too many teams never quite do what they should when it counts. The Mets, alas, are notorious for that. Even when they’re winning.