Wed Jun 20 09:40am EDT
I'm not around the Blue Jays when they have their workouts, but you know this team goes at it hard. Batting practice, fielding practice, work on the mound.
Oh, and celebration practice. Strike a pose. No one seems to enjoy success quite as much as these guys, especially when the ball is flying out of the park.
The Torontonians needed a choreographer during Tuesday's 10-9 victory over Milwaukee, as John Farrell's crunch bunch knocked six balls over the wall (and thoroughly celebrated every one). Surging Colby Rasmus and Jose Bautista went back-to-back on two occasions, with the final two clouts flipping the game in the ninth. Brett Lawrie and Edwin Encarnacion also dialed long distance (the E5 blast followed Rasmus and Bautista in the sixth inning). The Blue Jays lead the majors in home runs this month, and they're just one dinger behind the Yankees for the season.
Get your popcorn ready, here's the highlight tape. Look where some of those blasts landed. Utterly ridiculous.
It was a welcome-to-the-bigs moment for Milwaukee starter Tyler Thornburg, as he allowed four homers in his MLB debut. He's not going to be around very long; this was a spot start in place of a dinged up Shaun Marcum (elbow tightness). Thorny can go back to his solid year at Double-A and work on what 23-year-old prospects work on.
But Toronto's final two homers came off a name roto owners know quite well: closer John Axford. Just when it looked like we were done discussing The Axman's job security, we have to open the file again. He's now blown three of his last five save chances, and his ERA has pushed up to 5.60.
Tuesday turned out to be a whirlwind 24 hours for Axford; his wife gave birth to a baby girl earlier in the day. Milwaukee skipper Ron Roenicke gave Axford the option to skip the game entirely, but the closer passed on that invitation. Maybe Axford didn't have his best focus in the ninth, who's to say? Maybe his location was a little bit off. Maybe he just ran into a hot-hitting Toronto club on the wrong night. A day of mixed emotions.
There's been some public jostling for Francisco Rodriguez to get a shot in the closing chair, but I don't see what that's really going to do. K-Rod's front-door ERA (3.43) is lower than Axford's, but the component numbers aren't really any better. If you hash it out with the ERA estimators, this is what you get: Rodriguez has a 3.43 FIP, 3.46 xFIP and 3.19 SIERA; Axford is at 3.68, 3.35 and 3.07.
Axford's strikeout and walk rates have both spiked in 2012, a case of having too much stuff some nights, not enough command (he hasn't been painting the black). His 60.3 strand rate is a monumental fluke, and a .329 BABIP is 28 points higher than his career mark. A bloated line-drive rate of 27.4 percent is playing with fire, sure, but there's nothing here that can't be fixed. Velocity hasn't been an issue over the balance of the year; he's actually pushed the fastball up to 96.3 mph this season.
Axford had two clean save conversions before Tuesday, and his final meltdown in Kansas City last week was mostly a story about sloppy defense. I'm not in the Milwaukee dugout and they don't consult me on closing decisions, but I'd be very surprised if Axford received anything past a temporary rest from the ninth inning - and that's if they even bother to go that far. Forget panicking on Milwaukee stopper, this looks like a good time to trade for him. A little sympathy for The Axman.
One last takeaway as the Blue Jays and Brewers settle in for getaway day. These are two fun-loving, cocky teams. We saw a lot of drama and emotion in Tuesday's game. I bet something goes down Wednesday afternoon, as egos clash and testosterone mixes. Get this matinee on your watch list.
• It normally takes planetary movement before Jim Leyland switches his bullpen order, but a dinged-up Jose Valverde might force the Tigers to shuffle things up. Valverde suffered a right-wrist injury while warming up Tuesday (this is why you follow us on Twitter), and his post-game comments were a mix of calmness and caution (I can't say much more past that; my Spanglish is a little rusty).
Detroit sent Valverde for an MRI after the game; results haven't been released yet. Lefty Phil Coke received the emergency handshake Tuesday — and might be in the mix for some matchup saves — but if you need to speculate on a legitimate fill-in closer, Joaquin Benoit is the man to grab.
• Pedro Alvarez has given us plenty of stops and starts through his brief career, so we need to be careful as we examine his recent binge. There have been false positives here before. In any event, Alvarez had a weekend of batting practice in Cleveland (four homers), and he followed that up with a 2-for-3 showing against Minnesota on Tuesday (single and double, not to mention a walk against control-master Scott Diamond). Alvarez hasn't struck out in any of his past three games, the first time he's managed a streak that long in 2012. Contact is always appreciated.
The Pirates deal with Francisco Liriano on Wednesday, then run into six straight right-handed opponents — that's good news for the Pittsburgh cornerman. The short-leash rules apply to Alvarez, who's ready to add in 85 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
• Dustin Pedroia left Boston's victory over Miami, shaking his right hand and making everyone worry about his troublesome right thumb. Bobby Valentine offered a curious spin on the situation after the game, saying that Pedroia was "more fearful than injured" but also couching that comment as "third-hand" information. Sure, Wrap Master, why would you ever have the inside scoop from one of your star players?
I'm probably more bearish on Pedroia than just about anyone right now — it's the fear of the thumb injury talking. Pedroia has a miserable .170/.237/.226 slash this month, and he has just one steal attempt (unsuccessful) over his past 33 games. Tread very carefully here.
Let's also offer a kind word about the Boston bullpen: since May 1, the Red Sox have the lowest relief ERA in baseball. Closer Alfredo Aceves has been at the front of that push, steadying the ship and quietly putting together an excellent season. Everyone saw him get shattered against the Yankees on April 21; since then, Aceves is 15-for-16 on saves and has a tidy 2.84 ERA, with five strikeouts for every walk. This team has plenty of problems, but the bullpen is fine. And with Andrew Bailey on the mend, there's no need for the front office to trade for anyone else's closer.
• A cushy matchup against the Mariners didn't do much for Daniel Hudson; the Arizona righty was rattled to the tune of 10 hits, seven runs and two homers over four innings. He walked two, struck out six. The ERA jumped to 6.60, the WHIP to 1.53.
Hudson's K/BB numbers are still respectable and he hasn't been missing any velocity in 2012; my guess is he simply needs to command his fastball better. His heater is a negative pitch for him thus far in 2012, and he's also falling behind batters far too often. A pitcher's best friend, more often than not, is a first-pitch strike. Let's see what Hudson offers at Atlanta next week before we do anything rash.
Seattle lefty Charlie Furbush got the victory in the desert, working two clean innings and striking out four. His brief experiment as an AL starter last year was a mess, but he's reinvented himself nicely in a relief role. A 2.30 ERA is fine, but look at the other stats here: 0.62 WHIP, five walks, 35 strikeouts, .129 BAA. He's getting hitters out from both sides of the plate, too.
If you're in a league where quality relief innings matter (and it's not all about the save), Furbush can certainly help you. He's been fine on the road and especially useful at home, where Safeco will hide some mistakes. The Fast and the Furriest (okay, it's just a 91.6 mph fastball) awaits your contract in 98 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
Speed Round: I have no long-term faith in Coco Crisp staying healthy, but he does have a 10-for-21 run going with five steals over the last week (three Tuesday). Nice player when he's on the field, but Coco, beware. Cereal Crisp is owned in just 25 percent of Yahoo! leagues. … The Scott Diamond story probably died for me when he walked Alvarez in Tuesday's first inning. A messy start in Pittsburgh knocks you from Circle of Trust status, especially when it's your second misstep in a row. … Ryan Cook now has a 0.59 ERA, better than a strikeout per inning, and four saves in eight days. If he's still out there in your league, you're not trying. … Mike Morse is finally starting to come around, hitting a 5-for-17 patch and homering Tuesday. … Matt Capps (shoulder) didn't need an MRI, so it looks like he'll be back in the saddle soon, for better or for worse. … Aroldis Chapman took it on the chin, allowing a game-deciding two-run homer to Asdrubal Cabrera. Champan has been scored upon in four of his last six appearances. Getting behind in the count can get anyone beat. … Alex Avila (hamstring) is on a rehab hitch and should return to the Tigers on Thursday. … Jim Tracy is going to try a four-man rotation with the starters working limited innings, just so we have more fodder to make fun of him. Poor Colorado fans. … Cody Ross homered Tuesday, reminding us how he crushes left-handed pitching. You don't want him against righties, though. … Carlos Marmol retired three of four men and picked up his fourth save, though he still needed 23 pitches to get through the inning. Never change, big guy. … It's a short schedule Thursday and the streaming options look weak; take the day off. Tumbling Dice against Miami? None for me, thanks. … Apparently Joel Peralta was cheating and the Nationals didn't like it very much. And then the Rays sneered back after the game, claiming the Nats broke an unwritten rule by using "inside information" on Pine Tar Peralta. Here's another Wednesday matchup that has explosion written all over it, so clear your schedule appropriately (as a bonus, that Strasburg fellow is pitching). … Still want more fantasy goodness? Brandon Funston is here with some thoughts on the mound and (below) some thoughts on brand-name stocks.