Monday, October 3, 2016

For the love of Liriano

What a see saw month September has been for the Toronto Blue Jays. Beginning the month in control of the American League East to finishing this dreadful month clinging on playoff life support by narrowly escaping with a Wildcard berth, John Gibbons and company should be counting their blessings by participating in any Post-season baseball at all.  The wildcard matchup is now set in stone with the Toronto Blue Jays drawing the fortune to host the swing for the fences Baltimore  Orioles. Is it  a good matchup for the Jays? It's a loaded question as Baltimore's potent offence does concern but when comparing it against what could've been the alternate possibility, a date with the red hot Detroit Tigers, this all of a sudden doesn't appear so  bad.  The pitching matchup announced earlier this afternoon will feature Marcus Stroman and Chris Tillman. On paper, this projects to be a coin flip when delving into the statistical lines of both Stroman and Tillman. From my humble opinion, if I was working for either Baltimore and Toronto I'm unsure if either is the option that pops in my head first. For Baltimore, based off the factual data that Ubaldo Jimenez stifled the Blue Jays last week I think he provides Baltimore's best chance and for the Blue Jays, what serves as the premise of the article, I think I'm leaning towards former Pittsburgh Pirate among other teams Francisco Liriano.

Marcus Stroman came back from his freak pre-season injury of 2015 and emphatically marked his triumphant return by coming back at the end of September and supplanting David Price as the team ace.There were skeptics aplenty about this decision. An innovative thinker like myself I was willing to look outside the box and quickly realized that no matter the track record he had that season, Marcus' mechanics were superior to that of Price but those in the public eye, ala the Fan 590's Bob McCown were hesitant to anoint the Duke alum as the savior but boy did he prove the doubters wrong.  In the now infamous Texas series in last year's ALDS, Stroman was especially clutch in the deciding fifth game which propelled the Jays to the ALCS. If we were exclusively dealing with the 2015 version, this is a no brainer from Gibbons regime, but the performances of this campaign have complicated the thought processes. Stroman is a sub .500 pitcher in 2016 sitting at 9-10 and what makes this particular adjuication perplexing is how the twenty five year old fared against the Orioles in his last outing. He got rocked around harder then Danny Willet did at this year's Ryder Cup press conferences.  Sometimes, and this is an area that I perceive as vastly overrated, analytical data will make the judgement for you and whilst I'm contradicting myself against my normal belief against solely relying on analytics, in this instance it backs up my reasoning for why Liriano should be starting this sudden death game.

Liriano was an afterthought as the trade deadline approached. If you believe some of the speculation coming out of Pittsburgh, if a trade hadn't been consummated with the Blue Jays that Pirate administration was considering a straight out release.  Aside from the fact that he's put together a cosmic resurgence since joining Canada's team(even in Seattle), I can't help but feel through assessing his entire career's work that the aforementioned Pirate staff let him go for mere peanuts. A resurrection was inevitable, his "stuff" is too good! You begin to recollect back to the earlier points of his journey, and as  a Blue Jay fan it's impossible to forget how electric he was as a member of the Minnesota Twins.  So why couldn't he re-discover that form? The short answer to that question is he could and has done as much. Pittsburgh fought through a shockingly disappointing campaign and I'm not necessarily advocating that the trade was the sole reason for the demise as they struggled long before the acquisition but you start to ascertain if given time would've Francisco eventually figured it out in Pennsylvania?  To me, it's a resounding yes. Circling this tangent back to why he should start versus Baltimore, to provide justification lets analyze the probable starting lineup. The Orioles possess a predominant lefty heavy lineup, the side of the box where the south paw flourishes. The only Oriole that statistically has had success against him is Manny Machado and quite honestly you can throw any pitcher to the mound and Manny will have a field day. The move would have neutralized Mark Trumbo and Matt Wieters specifically and Chris Davis struggles with the inside-out cutter. Stroman's repertoire doesn't mesh against their American League rivals. As a proud Canadian I hope the Blue Jays reign victorious but this coin flip was likely a more equitable one if Gibbons would've played the matchup and forewent blinded loyalty.

Before I wrap up this piece, I have  a couple thoughts regarding the lineup I'd like to parlay. The Blue Jays offence is seemingly more inconsistent than a episode of CBS' smash hit the "Big Bang Theory" but has the home run or bust mentality, which is ironic because that's pretty much the way Baltimore prides their offence on. One thing I observed in the past weekend's pivotal series against the Red Sox was their aptitude to engage in small ball. In football, offence may get you in the dance but defence ultimately wins championships whereas in baseball the Home run ball may carry you through to the post-season but the acumen to play small ball is what separates the great from the good. There were plenty of regular season contests that left me leaving aggravated because their were prime situations in which playing for one run was the paramount option but instead swung for the fences and failed. They posted a statistic on Sunday's telecast, I forget the exact number but the Blue Jays record in one run games is unacceptable.  I even think back to game six of the American League Championship series, a tilt hampered by a rain delay where in the ninth inning Russell Martin reached base as the opening batter, was pinch ran for by Dalton Pompey who successfully stole second. Nobody out down a run and a runner on second and you choose not to bunt???? Infuriating. For this years playoff run that could be short lived if they don't prevail past Baltimore, like any other post season game runs will be at a premium, so my advice to the Jays is take the runs as they come, don't set your focus on the crooked numbers. I'm predicting a 3-2, 4-3 game so I don't care if Jose Bautista or Ezequiel Carrera are at the plate, if the bunt is the necessary evil do it with no questions being asked, I was engaging in some friendly banter with a good bud of mine this afternoon and Edwin Encarnacion's defensive viability was being discused. I was very frank with my thoughts that if the decsion were made to start Justin Smoak for defensive purposes I would blow a gasket. His take on it was, and it's an opinion shared I believe  by a lot of Jays fan is that Edwin is a liability at first and that Smoak is much better off at the position. All this may be true but if we agree that Smoak is THAT much better than Edwin patrolling the bag, something I'm not willing to completely cosign, then how do we quantify the It's my theory that part of the reason why a lot of Canadians in tuned with Baseball, including my good friend that I was debating with this afternoon is that the Jays flagship station, Sportsnet consistently paints the picture that Edwin is a one trick pony which couldn't be further from the truth but as with any journalism outlet, the more something is stuffed inf ront of us, the more we're prone to believe it. Simply put, Edwin is a adequate first baseman and Smoak should NOT be seeing the field tomorrow.

Go Jays, and heres hoping we can book our rematch with the Texas Rangers. What a series that would be!!

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