SIMMONS SAYS: Bullpen is holding back Blue Jays from truly contending (2023)

Author of the article:

Steve Simmons

Publishing date:

Jul 31, 2022July 31, 202210 minute read Join the conversation

SIMMONS SAYS: Bullpen is holding back Blue Jays from truly contending (1)

When the Blue Jays won their first World Series they did so with an everyday lineup that is really no better than the lineup manager John Schneider puts out most days.

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The difference between the 1992 Blue Jays and the current edition: Pitching.

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(Video) Blue Jays vs Red Sox (9-29-1990)

The real difference: The bullpen.

In the World Series against the Braves, the Jays’ deep bullpen, which included starting pitchers Jimmy Key, Todd Stottlemyre and David Wells, dominated Atlanta, throwing 19.1 innings in the six games. They allowed just one earned run in that time.

In total, the Jays bullpen pitched 37 playoff innings between the World Series and American League Championship Series against Oakland and had a combined earned run average of 1.45. More important than even that, only one relief appearance in those 12 post-season games could be considered a failure of any kind.

Tom Henke closed for the Jays back then and Duane Ward was the setup man in ’92 and they’ve never had anything close to that since. Back then, the Jays had Mike Timlin, Mark Eichhorn and the starters turned relievers in Key, Stottlemyre, and Wells for a deep seven-man bullpen.

I can make the case now that the current Blue Jays roster is stronger in six of nine starting positions than the championship Jays were and even argue that a rotation of Kevin Gausman, Alek Manoah and Jose Berrios is not all that far removed from Jack Morris, David Cone and Juan Guzman.

This is not a championship bullpen though. But this has the looks of a championship lineup. And at this time in history, when starters don’t go nine innings the way Morris went nine innings by accident, and bullpen depth is more required now than ever before, the Jays don’t have it.

They have two days to acquire it.

THIS AND THAT

The Detroit Tigers have the worst-hitting team in Major League Baseball. They also have one of the best bullpens. The Blue Jays have one of the best hitting teams in baseball. Wouldn’t some kind of swap make sense between the Jays and the Tigers … Aaron Judge has 42 home runs in 102 Yankees games as of Saturday afternoon. The magical number 60, without doubts, without performance-enhancing drugs, seems more than possible in this MVP season … Is Shohei Ohtani on the block? No. Here’s what happens at this time of year. Everybody in baseball calls everybody and asks about the availability of virtually every player. Just because someone is asking about Ohtani doesn’t mean the Los Angeles Angels are looking to trade the once-in-a-lifetime player … Matt Chapman is the latest Blue Jay to get red-hot at the plate. We’ve seen it this season with Lourdes Gurriel Jr., with Teoscar Hernandez and we’ve watched the incredible consistency of Alejandro Kirk. What happens, I wonder, if Vladdy Guerrero Jr. or Bo Bichette get super hot. We really haven’t that yet this season … The Jays couldn’t have timed the firing of Charlie Montoyo and the hiring of Schneider any better. Schneider’s first game was against a shorthanded Phillies team. His first series was against part of the Kansas City Royals. He came back after the all-star game against a falling Red Sox team, part of the St. Louis Cardinals, and now the rather hitless Detroit Tigers. The 9-3 start is nice. August gets a little more challenging with series in Tampa, Minnesota and Baltimore … The Orioles were 25-35 after 60 games. The past 40 games, they’re 26-14 and they open up August playing Cincinnati, Texas and Pittsburgh before home to the Blue Jays on August 8.

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HEAR AND THERE

Some of the best work Ross Atkins has done as general manager has come from what he was selling, not necessarily buying with the Blue Jays. He got Hernandez, Robbie Ray and Santiago Espinal in deadline deals that cost him little in exchange. He’s not known throughout baseball as a big dealer, but if you add in the trade for Chapman and the buying deal for Berrios, that’s an impressive work list for any GM short term. Atkins said the price for pitching is too high as the trade deadline approaches. Other GMs disagree. They say it’s business as usual at deadline time. The Yankees got Andrew Benintendi without giving up a prospect of consequence … Albert Pujols on Tuesday and Wednesday. Miggy Cabrera on the weekend in Toronto. What a week to love baseball and its history … The only baseball players to have more home runs than Pujols: Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Alex Rodriguez — and two of them have asterisks beside their totals … Pujols had 686 home runs heading into Saturday night. Cabrera is next among active players at 506. After that, it’s Nelson Cruz at 457. Believe this: No one will be getting close to Albert for a very long time, if ever … If the drawings are anywhere close to what Rogers Centre will look like after the renovations, count me in. They look spectacular … Nice to see Rogers paying $300 million to renovate at about the same time they’ll be paying Guerrero Jr. more than that to play first base … Chapman had an OPS of .571 in May, .851 in June, and an unstainable but impressive 1.068 in July. His strikeouts are way down from the 202 he had a year ago. He’ll probably finish with 160 strikeouts, or somewhere in that range … A thought many had when Manoah got drilled by a line drive on the elbow Friday night: There goes the season. That’s how valuable he has become to the Jays. They need him, fresh, healthy, to be big all season long.

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SCENE AND HEARD

The Maple Leafs are paying $48 million this season — more than any team in hockey — for the top five players on their roster and to date they have little to show for it. In other words, they’re paying 58% of their salary cap room for 23% of their lineup. Is that new math or old analytics? … The two-time champion and two-time finalist Tampa Bay Lightning are closest to the Leafs paying $44 million for a Top 5 that includes Conn Smythe Trophy winners in Andrei Vasilevskiy and Victor Hedman. And there are few teams better run than Doug Armstrong’s St. Louis Blues, who have won a Stanley Cup, and only pay $34.5 million for their top five players … In the Brendan Shanahan era, Tampa Bay has played 155 playoff games. The Leafs have played 39. If you add it up, that’s about an additional $100 million or so in playoff revenue for the club that the Lightning has taken and the Leafs have not … The Florida Panthers confuse me. Yes, they traded for Matthew Tkachuk. Hard not to like that. But they’ve lost Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, Mason Marchment, Claude Giroux, Ben Chiarot and quite likely smiling Joe Thornton from their playoff roster. Don’t know how that makes them better … Here’s a solution for any team chasing Nazem Kadri and doesn’t wind up with the free-agent centre. Call Chicago and make a deal for Jonathan Toews. He doesn’t want to be part of a rebuild. And if you get the Hawks to pick up half his salary, which is doable, you’re only paying $5 million for a decent second-line centre. I’d do that kind of deal. Second half of last season, Toews semi-returned to form. He had 24 points after barely showing up on the scoresheet in the first half. I could see Colorado or Calgary making a play for Toews if neither can get Kadri. He knows how to win … For some reason, the Seattle Kraken have not announced that the rather smooth Ed Olczyk will be part of their broadcast team for the coming season. Expect the announcement any day now.

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AND ANOTHER THING

As each week passes, the challenges get more intense for the Canadian quarterback, Nathan Rourke. But he’s not just holding up. He leads the CFL in passing yardage, touchdown passes thrown, and with a passing completion rate at a ridiculously high 79.3%. This remarkable story is becoming more reality than fiction after six games and five wins for the B.C. Lions … The Raptors haven’t traded for Kevin Durant this summer, but they have signed the actor, Juancho Hernangómez, the dominant basketball prospect from the movie Hustle. There are no plans, I’m told, to add Adam Sandler to their scouting or coaching staff … Belated happy 55th to Nick Nurse, whose golf tournament goes Wednesday at Wooden Sticks. Among those expected to take part: Julius Erving and Kyle Lowry … I don’t watch a lot of golf, other than majors. I can’t imagine what would make me interested in watching a LIV event … If you’re following the Vince McMahon story and all that has been going around the publicly traded company that is WWE, this is the great television show, Succession, only in real life terms. With McMahon playing the Brian Cox character of Logan Roy … Succession is on my short list of favourite TV shows of all time. Somewhere trapped on a list with The Wire, The Sopranos, Boston Legal, M*A*S*H, Ray Donovan, All In the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, Seinfeld, Jeopardy!, SCTV and Hill Street Blues … And sorry, couldn’t find a place for Gilligan’s Island … Is it just me or do NFL training camps seem to go on forever? … Remember when the Commonwealth Games really mattered? They used to be a big television event to watch … I didn’t understand the attraction of a Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight the first time around. Now they’re talking about doing it again. Why would anybody go for this? It’s not like either of them needs the money … The first person I would add to the new board of directors of Hockey Canada, assuming there is a new board: Sheldon Kennedy … My favourite Pope: Edwin …Happy birthday to Mark Cuban (64), Evgeni Malkin (36), Dale Hunter (62), Ellis Valentine (68), Bud Selig (88), Danny Markov (46), Dylan Larkin (26), Gabe Kapler (47), DeMarcus Ware (40), Arnold Schwarzenegger (75), Daley Thompson (64), Chris Mullin (59) and Paul Anka (81) … And hey, whatever became of Matt Frattin?

CENTRES OF ATTENTION

For no particular reason, I started to compile a list of the best centres I’ve ever seen play in the National Hockey League and then got carried away. Very quickly, I came to realize just how stacked the position has been over the years.

Making a Top 5, that was easy — in whatever order you want them, you pretty much have to have Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Jean Beliveau, Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby.

After that it gets complicated and personal, going segment by segment: I started listing the centres in groups of five and then changing them every minute or two.

Group 2 has five very different players, Phil Esposito, Stan Mikita, Mark Messier, Joe Sakic and Bryan Trottier. All of them Stanley Cup champions and Hart Trophy winners.

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Group 3: Steve Yzerman, Gil Perreault, Marcel Dionne, Bobby Clarke and Peter Forsberg.

Group 4: Eric Lindros, Ron Francis, Pat LaFontaine, Dale Hawerchuk and Peter Stastny.

Group 5: Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Dave Keon, Jonathan Toews and Doug Gilmour.

Group 6: Jean Ratelle, Sergei Fedorov, Darryl Sittler, Mats Sundin and Mike Modano.

That’s not including youngsters such as Auston Matthews and Leon Draisaitl, who may one day approach this kind of status and Stanley Cup champion Nathan MacKinnon. And not including Norm Ullman, Patrice Bergeron, Alex Delvecchio, Henri Richard, Denis Savard or Jacques Lemaire. All of them superb in their own way.

You can’t list 30 great running backs from NFL history or 30 great centres from the NBA and still have quality. They don’t have that many.

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This was almost 40, and still missing Hall of Famers such as Adam Oates, Bernie Federko, Henrik Sedin, and future Hall of Famer Joe Thornton.

NO EASY ANSWER FOR HOCKEY CANADA

Hockey Canada needs new leadership. Hockey Canada needs a new board of directors. Sport Canada, at the same time, needs to be totally reinvented.

From the outside, the easy part is pushing people out in the midst of this slate of current scandals being investigated. The hard part: Finding the right people to take control of these sporting giants that have lost their way.

I asked several people the same question the past few days: If you could handpick a new CEO for Hockey Canada, who would you choose? These are people in the know. These are people who hire and fire all the time.

No one had an instant answer.

(Video) FULL / Toronto Blue Jays 30 Years Championship Celebration Ceremony Part 1

That makes whatever happens next with Hockey Canada all the more confounding. There cannot be a fine line or even a division between morality and victory in Canadian sport. Both need to be adhered to and respected: You can’t have one and not the other.

Hockey Canada’s greatest successes have come at the international level, both financially and with championships. Its greatest weakness has been looking the other way and paying its way out of trouble rather than facing the difficulty of dealing with it.

Most years, there are some 600,000 boys and girls registered to play hockey in Canada. It’s a giant industry. Most of those play at the recreational level. Most of those have little to do with Hockey Canada and don’t care much about Hockey Canada, other than maybe knowing that a small portion of their registration fees are going to the large corporation which has millions in the bank.

The scandals though, of 2018, of 2003, of Graham James, of David Frost, of coaches, never identified, of sexual impropriety, hazing, bullying, or millions in payouts have almost exclusively come at the junior-aged level. This is a problem.

Whoever takes over Hockey Canada must have a complete understanding of what’s gone on, what’s gone wrong, and how to fix the culture from within, so much of it in the teenage years, that is tearing the sport apart.

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