Sports

Blue Jays Monthly Report - May

Source: Toronto Star

Source: Toronto Star

What a time to be a Jays fan. Just when all hope seemed to be lost, and everybody and their mothers were on the disabled list, the scrappy Jays found ways to grind out important wins and not only keep the team afloat, but propel them back into the playoff picture. After ending the month of April with an 8-17 record, the beaten up blue birds ended the month of May with a 17-10 record, finishing as the third best team in baseball during May. If you told me at the beginning of May that the Jays would be the third best team in baseball during the month with all the injuries they had, I would have encouraged you to call a doctor.

Not only did the bench bodies contribute massively, but certain regular players that survived the DL plague improved on horrendous performances in April. We will touch on a few key contributors that helped the Blue Jays get to where they are currently and what we can expect from this team moving into June.

Source: Toronto Star

Source: Toronto Star

Look no further than the Blue Jays "Player of the Month" for May than Devon Travis. In my opinion he should have won AL Player of the Month as well, but that's another discussion all together. After batting an abysmal .130, Travis turned it around and batted .364 for the month of May and had 16 doubles to go along with that. Along with the hot bat came some great defence, and we were treated to a lot of stellar plays from Travis this month. His improved play is arguably the most influential factor in propelling the Jays back up near .500.

Source: UPI

Source: UPI

Sense a theme here? The longest tenured Blue Jay on the team took a long time to reclaim his WBC form, but once Bautista figured that out it's been nothing but rave reviews for the fan favourite. Bautista struggled mightily in April, but had a .317 average and nine home runs during the month of May. These improved numbers help the Jays finally put runs on the board, something that they struggled to do all April. I recently wrote an article showcasing the highlights and disappointments of the 2017 season so far (you can read it here if you haven't already), and I had Bautista listed as a disappointment. I knew that list would look different, I just didn't realize it would only take 10 days for any changes to happen...

Source: Sportsnet

Source: Sportsnet

I don't think there's enough that can be said about Smoak and his season that he's put together so far. At the time of writing this article (June 4th) he leads the team in average (.283), home runs (14) and RBI's (39). If that doesn't have you impressed for whatever reason, here's Smoak's ranking in categories among AL first basemen: Home Runs - 2nd, Runs - Tied for 1st, RBI - 1st, Slugging Percentage - 1st, OPS - 1st and WAR - 2nd. Smoak is on his way to not only being in the All-Star game, but being the AL starter for first base. These type of numbers and productivity from someone you never expected it from goes a long way for a once struggling team. I have been so critical of Smoak in the past, so all I can really do at this point is say that I'm sorry I ever doubted you.

Source: Toronto Star

Source: Toronto Star

I know I'm going off the board here, but in my opinion the most underrated (or underappreciated) add to this team has been the 8th inning presence of Joe Smith. The 32 year old right handed sidearm pitcher came into this season fighting for that set up role, and he has done a tremendous job closing the gap between the starting pitchers and Osuna. In 27.2 innings pitched, Smith has a 2.93 ERA to go along with 42 STRIKEOUTS! He's also only walked seven batters all year, and has not issued one walk to a right handed batter. This shows an incredible ability to control and locate pitches, and Smith has brought a calming presence to a bullpen that had no sure thing other than Osuna leading into May.

I know these guys, they get frustrated like everybody else, but they never shut down.
— John Gibbons

Maybe Gibbons knew something that the fan base didn't leading into May. He stated that his players "get frustrated" but "never shut down." He must have a great feel for his clubhouse because it appears as though the words "shut down" aren't in anybody's vocabulary.

June promises to be a month in which the Jays can build upon their success of May. Do they have another 17-10 month in them? It's possible. With series matchups against weak opponents such as the A's, Mariners, White Sox, Royals, and the choke of a team Texas Rangers, expect the Jays to finish June no longer being the basement dwellers of the AL East, and being closer to first place than last.

Where Do The Raptors Go From Here?

Source: Raptors Republic

Source: Raptors Republic

Never has there been an offseason as important or unclear as this one upcoming for the Raptors.

The Raptors find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. They can't seem to get past the massive hump that is LeBron James, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, and the greatest that I have personally ever seen play the game. As long as that guy is breathing on the court, the East is his playground.

*Note: If you have not watched Masai Ujiri's End of Year Press Conference, you can watch it in its entirety here.*

It's clear that change is coming with this team. The words that came right from Masai's mouth were "We need a culture reset." When Masai says something, you can take it to the bank, because you know #InMasaiWeTrust.  There are a few things that stuck out to me after listening to Masai's press conference, which will be tied in to every topic discussed. Let's begin with the often energetic and enthusiastic coach, Dwane Casey.

We need a culture reset.
— Masai Ujiri

Dwane Casey

Dwane Casey has arguably been the best thing to ever happen to the Raptors. After coming off of a championship run with the Dallas Mavericks as their assistant coach, Casey faced the daunting task of turning a failing Raptors squad around into perennial contenders. After going below .500 in his first two years, he's gone above .500 in the last four, with 48, 49, 56 and 51 wins respectfully. When fans were calling for a rebuild during the 48 win season, Casey was able to get the most our of his players and have them play at a level that was unexpected and welcome in the Toronto basketball landscape.

Even though there's a long list of pros regarding Casey, there are accompanied by cons as well. His iso-ball style of gameplay is no longer effective, with Masai even making mention that this style of play will not work going forward. Couple that with his questionable starting lineup decisions, and he's created a #FireCasey section of the fanbase that arises every time a poor decision is made.

I'm not going to sit here and make excuses for Casey. I love him as a human being and I think he's a players coach and all around good guy. He says the right things and supports his guys no matter what. In the same breath, he makes me want to pull my hair out of my head when he starts DeMarre Carroll over Norman Powell, or when he never properly utilizes weapons such as Jonas Valanciunas or even James Johnson.

Personally, it wouldn't surprise me if the Raptors decided to fire Casey or keep him. There's valid arguments for both, but if I had to make a decision at this very moment, I think I would be more inclined to let Casey go and let another voice such as Rex Kalamian or Jerry Stackhouse take over the room.

It's hard to really read into where Masai's head is at regarding Dwane Casey. He didn't tip his hand much regarding the 60 year old coach, but it seems as though he will have an opportunity to get back in his chair and continue with this team next year. But make no mistake, his seat will be very, very hot.

I just want a ring.
— Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry

The hot debate topic surrounding the Raptors might not be around Coach Casey, but rather his all star starting point guard Kyle Lowry. Today, Lowry officially opted out of his final year in his contract, becoming a free agent. This comes as a surprise to absolutely nobody, unless you are my mom and thought the move meant that he was leaving Toronto for good (I know you're reading this mom, I'm sorry but I had to).

Lowry has been nothing short of a revelation for the Raptors, and this past season was by far his best of his career. Posting career highs in points per game (22.4), field goal percentage (46.4%), three point percentage (41.2%), and even defensive rebounds per game (5.0), Lowry has shown that he can be a complete player and a top tier point guard in the game.

One thing Lowry can't combat though is age. Lowry is on the wrong side of thirty (31), and signing him to a max contract would mean that you have him until the age of 36. While that may be a good contract for the first two to three years, the last two years may come back to haunt the team. The question now becomes this: is that a risk you are willing to take?

The Raptors have good young point guards in local boy Cory Joseph and 2015 1st round draft pick Delon Wright (who I absolutely love). There is no way to completely fill the void left by Kyle Lowry if he or the Raptors choose to part ways, but the Raptors did play well enough without Kyle, going 14-7 once he sustained his wrist injury. Not to mention that the Raptors played some of their best ball against Cleveland during the final two games, also known as the games that Lowry was out of the lineup.

If the Raptors choose to not sign Lowry, its because they have chosen to spend his max dollars elsewhere. If Lowry chooses not to come back, I wish him the best of luck. I believe that if an agreement if not reached between Lowry and the Raptors, fans should expect to see him with the Spurs. If Lowry is serious about a ring, his best chance other than Toronto would be the Spurs. Sorry 76ers, Lowry doesn't have time on his side to "trust the process".

It’s not realistic.
— Masai Ujiri on retaining all free agents

The Other Guys...

Lost in the shuffle and conversation surrounding Casey and Lowry is what to do with the other free agents the Raptors have coming off the books. Serge Ibaka, PJ Tucker and Patrick Patterson all hit the open market as UFA's this summer. When the Raptors traded for Ibaka, they also retained his bird rights, which gives the cap situation a bit more flexibility.

Here's where fans and analysts alike can get creative with their offseason plans. Obviously all decisions will be affected based off of Lowry's decision, but I would like to see Ibaka and Tucker back, and Patterson gone. Masai obviously traded for them for a reason, and I believe that he wouldn't have made those trades if he has no intention of keeping them around after this year. Ujiri made it clear that it is impossible to retain all four pending free agents, and I see Patterson as the odd man out. He is a good serviceable stretch four off the bench that can hit shots from deep, but he has shown that he can't be relied on in the playoffs and has a fragile mentality and confidence issues.

There are a lot of players I would love to see the Raptors target. If the Raptor's don't retain Lowry, then they have more money to spend to fill holes on the team. Some players that I would like to see the Raptors target include:

  • Kyle Korver - Arguably one of the best shooters from deep to ever play the game, Korver is deadly from beyond the ark, and if he can come at a reasonable price tag it will fit the new play style of shooting threes.
  • Danilo Gallinari - He won't come cheap, but if the Raptors decide to go small ball and have Serge at center and move JV, then this would be target number one. He has the versatility to play small forward and power forward, and seems to have unlimited range on the court. Again, fitting into the new found three point offence.
  • Bojan Bogdanovic - See a trend here? Looking for small/power forwards that can hit the three well. Bojan fits that bill, and can be a guy to come off the bench and log some solid minutes for that second unit. He has shown an ability to lead a second unit during the Washington vs. Boston series.
  • Joe Ingles - Read above, and just replace Bojan Bogdanovic with Joe Ingles.
  • Vince Carter - Didn't think I would leave out my boy VC right? I've been advocating for his return to the six for a few seasons now. If anybody could get VC to sign a veteran's minimum to come off the bench for the Raptors next season, its Masai.
100 per cent
— Masai Ujiri on ability to spend into the tax threshold

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Raptors right now. Decisions are coming, and the only thing that is certain is that this team will not look the same one way or another. It's an exciting time to be a Raptors fan. Let's just sit back and watch Masai & Co. get to work

3 Reasons For and Against a Blue Jays Rebuild

Source: TSN

Source: TSN

Should they, or shouldn't they?

That question seems to be on the minds of every Blue Jays fan when pondering the possibility of a rebuild. The franchise that stole the hearts of over 35 million fans across this beautiful nation by making it to two consecutive ALCS series has taken a massive nosedive to the cellar of the league's standings. Yes, I know it's early. Yes, I know nobody should be looking at the standings before July 1st. However, when a team that has been picked by experts to make the playoffs starts this poorly, it becomes hard not to look at the standings. 

As of May 3, 2017, the Blue Jays hold a record of 9-18, which places them 29th out of 30th in the league only behind Kansas City (which is a whole other story in itself). Ironic that the two teams who ferociously dueled it out in the 2015 ALCS and created the infamous Caleb Humphreys scandal are now dueling it out for last in the entire league just two years later. At least we won't have to hear any more terrible interviews from Erin Andrews and awful lies from the Amish sensation...if you forget what I'm talking about, click here.

The Blue Jays are not strangers to slow April starts. Last season, the Blue Jays finished April with an 11-14 record. Should we classify the past month as just another "slow start" for the Jays, or should Toronto fans be slamming the panic button? Below are three reasons why the Jays should rebuild as well as three reasons why they shouldn't.

Reasons to blow this team into smithereens:

1) The start is the main catalyst for the whole "rebuild" conversation to even take place. The benchmark record to make the playoffs based on last year's standings was the Blue Jays record of 89-73, which placed the team in a tie for the Wild Card spot with Baltimore. Let's assume that it will take 90 wins to get to the playoffs in the American League this year. In order to accomplish this, the Jays must go 81-54 the rest of the way. Even that mark might not be enough to get this team in the playoffs. Does the core of this team have what it takes to reach this benchmark?
2) This team isn't getting any younger. With an average age of 30.7 on the MLB roster, the Blue Jays are the oldest team in baseball (thanks Grilli...). A rebuild is inevitable, so why not get a head start on it and get some value for quality players sooner rather than later. Some valuable Blue Jays that will become free agents after the 2017 season include Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano. They have been one of the few shinning spots in an abysmal start to the year, and there's nothing more coveted by a playoff team than reliable pitching down the stretch.
3) Our farm system is actually better than most Blue Jays fans realize. Ranked 19th by SB Nation (who admits they could have ranked the Jays system as high as 12th) and 16th by Bleacher Report, the Jays farm system is not top tier but it is serviceable. If the Blue Jays were to trade players such as Estrada, Liriano, Happ, and even Bautista and *gasp* Donaldson, they could grab some mid to top tier prospects and suddenly have a top 5 farm system once again. Players such as Rowdy Tellez, Sean-Reid Foley, Lourdes Gurriel, Anthony Alford, Richard Urena and more are waiting in the wings for their opportunity to shine on the big stage. They would be more than capable of coming on to a big league roster that would go in the direction of "we don't need to win now, but keep the game exciting" stage. Oh, and don't forget about Vladimir Gurerro Jr. He's pretty good too.

Stay the course you overreacting idiot (actual words from a colleague of mine):
1) I don't need to remind you that the Jays started the year 1-9 do I? I didn't think so. BUT since that disgusting start, the Blue Jays have played better of late, going 8-9 to bring their record to 9-18. Hovering around .500 at this time of the year is respectable, especially when you couldn't even reach .120. The recent play suggests that the Jays players might actually be adjusting to playing proper baseball and potentially turn this season around for the better.
2) Feeding off the first point, the Jays have been able to accomplish this recent record of 8-9 without arguably their best players. Donaldson, Tulo, Happ and Sanchez are all on the 10 day DL with some form of injury, and yet this team has found it within them to play at a level that keeps them treading water. Yeah, we see you Goins and Pillar.
3) Remember that 11-14 record I told you about from April 2016? The Blue Jays were the only team in the league last season to make the playoffs with a record of more than one game under .500. They seem to find an extra gear in the months of May and June, so what's to stop this team from doing the exact same thing and shocking the baseball world yet again?

There's a lot of information to digest, which makes this decision not an easy one either way. Fans seem to be divided on the topic, and one way or another someone won't be happy with the outcome. What would I do if I were Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro? I give this team until the end of May before I start making a decision. If the team performs at a rate lower than a .500 clip (a record worse than 22-31 by end of month) I would blow it up. Percentages and odds are not in your favour, and I would want to recoup value for assets as supposed to letting them go for free.

It's going to be an interesting summer, regardless of the Blue Jays results.

Toronto, PLEASE Don't Turn Into New York

Source: Cogeco

Source: Cogeco

Dear Toronto sports fans,

As a city, we are collectively in a situation that has never been experienced before. We are finally beginning to breed success with all three major sports teams. The beloved Maple Leafs finally appear to have a promising future ahead with all star rookies and arguably the league's brightest coaching staff and front office. The Blue Jays have made it to two consecutive ALCS series, lead by an American League MVP and a fantastic starting rotation. The Raptors have made it to the postseason for the fourth year in a row, and Ujiri has single handily turned around a franchise that was the laughing stock of the NBA (excluding the Kings, they will always be trash). Hell, even TFC has managed to capture the hearts of all sports fans across this wonderful city.

Rolling Stone recently wrote an article explaining why Toronto looks to become the next sports mecca in North America, which can be viewed here. Reading this article made me think of other sports cities and meccas across North America. Cities such as Boston and Los Angeles come to mind, but arguably the highest profile of them all is New York. When New York teams are successful, sports media can't get enough coverage of them, players flock to the city practically begging to play for their teams and fans will lay roses at the feet of anything and anyone associated with sport success. We are currently in an era where New York sports have taken a turn for the worse. Let's take the Knicks for example. Media still cover them, but every piece that comes from them seems to revolve around negativity. Players and their agents claim to be avoiding the sinking ship and its captain James Dolan. Which leads me to the fans...they will not hesitate to pick up the roses they laid on the ground and use the thorns to stab everyone they deem to be "a disgrace to the city", which on a failing New York sports team is literally everyone.

The city of New York is used to seeing championships. The fans expect nothing less than championship calibre teams year after year. As quickly as they praise athletes is as quickly as they shun them. I see the same behaviour in Toronto whenever a team is on a losing streak or doesn't start the year off quite like it hoped (we are all looking at you Blue Jays). Toronto sports fans can't be like this, and I am here to explain why.

1) We are Canadians. It is literally unpatriotic to be rude or impolite to anybody, especially our sports teams. I have never heard anyone say they love people from New York more than people from Toronto, so let's not go down to their level.
2) They have seen a lot of championships in the past few decades. Toronto fans haven't stood in a parade route for almost 25 years. I get it, I'm hungry for a championship too, but let's take success where we can.
3) People will begin to view Toronto and Canada in a different light if they see us running players and executives out of town. While an extreme example, Vancouver has left its reputation tarnished forever with these riots from losing the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
4) Speaking of negative perceptions, Toronto needs to act like it's been there before. Throwing beer cans on the field during the playoffs and being labelled as "the most despised fan base in baseball" doesn't help distinguish us as the polite Canadians that we are... 
5) There's a difference between critical analysis and plain stupidity. It's okay to have an opinion and have healthy debate, but saying outlandish things such as suggesting trading former AL MVP Donaldson because he is hurt doesn't give us true fans a good profile.

People in general seem to like and respect Toronto. For some sports, Toronto represents not only a city, but a nation. We as Toronto sports fans need to understand this, accept it and embrace it. Let's enjoy the ride, and let's enjoy the processes and changes that come along with it. When the mighty Toronto teams fall, and they inevitably will, we need to hold our heads high and know that this generation of Toronto sports has firmly placed our city as a premier North American sports city.