The Toronto Blue Jays have advanced to the ALCS in each of the last two seasons. Through almost two weeks of 2017, however, they have the worst record in baseball at 1-7.
“The bottom line is, they’re just not hitting,” MLB Network analyst Kevin Millar said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “Their big boys are not hitting yet. Obviously Josh Donaldson has a calf injury, but (Jose) Bautista and Russell Martin – and you can go down the list to (Troy) Tulowitzki – (are struggling).”
Tulowitzki is hitting .172, Bautista is hitting .138, and Martin is hitting .048.
“You have to understand it is early,” Millar said. “It’s a week-and-a-half into it, but baseball is such a weird sport because everything gets magnified at the early (part) of the season – and that’s normal. If you throw up a 2-for-20, (it looks) really bad on that scoreboard. But throughout the course of a season, you go 2-for-20 probably four times. So when you start out struggling offensively, it’s not fun because that scoreboard says .122 and .114 and .138, but I will say this: 162 games are ridiculous and it’s long. You tell me you can’t see the Blue Jays throwing up a 14-6 (stretch) here pretty soon because that offense gets hot and then they just hit the ball to the fence everywhere? They don’t scare me because of their starting pitching. Last year, I think they led the American League in ERA, so that’s why they don’t scare me. That offense is pretty darn good.”
Other players across baseball are also struggling. Millar isn’t concerned about any one player, but he knows from experience that big-league talent doesn’t last forever.
“As a player going through it, you are young in your heart, but there is that transformation,” the 45-year-old said. “We keep talking about when the Angels signed (Albert) Pujols, for instance, (that he’s) going to be signed until he’s 42. He was growing older as you watched him, but he was one of the greatest right-handed hitters our game has ever seen, and he’s still doing his thing.”
Indeed, he is. But Pujols, 37, has also battled plantar fasciitis, is slower, and at some point, will regress to the point where he looks nothing like the player that won three MVP awards.
“As a player, to look in the mirror and know that I have to cheat on fast balls now, now that makes me susceptible to curve balls and breaking stuff,” Millar said. “You know it’s coming. That’s what happens. You think you can hit. You think that everything’s fine, but you have to start cheating a tick on the (95- or 96-mile-per-hour fast ball) instead of staying back and being able to hit that. And what happens now? Here comes the wrinkle. Here comes the off-speed pitch.
“So I don’t know if there’s one player that you can (identify),” Millar continued, “but there is that age where you lose your bat speed. I’m sorry. It’s like golf. It’s a younger generation. You’ve got the (23-, 24-year-olds) hitting the ball 360 yards. Fred Couples is still doing his thing, but his club-head speed is not the same. That’s the way it gets to be as a hitter.”
Speaking of the Angels (6-3), they’re atop the AL West – at least for now. Millar would like to see the Angels make the playoffs simply because of Mike Trout.
“I don’t want to see this man play his career in Anaheim (and not make the playoffs),” Millar said. “We’re getting cheated as fans not seeing him in the postseason. This is the greatest player in baseball. I love this kid. He plays the game the right way. He’s just what you want as a franchise player. But the Angels, remarkable start – because on paper, it’s going to be a long season (because of that starting rotation). It’s just the way it is. To win in this league, you have to pitch. That’s why the Rays did it with (Joe) Maddon for four to five years. They won 90+ games and you couldn’t name an offensive player besides Evan Longoria. But they had David Price, they had James Shields, they had Scott Kazmir – they just kept pitching and pitching. So the Angels on paper are going to have a long year. I will say this, though. They are better. They are better than people think.”
The Cincinnati Reds might be as well. At 7-2, they have the best record in baseball – and Amir Garrett is a big reason why. The 24-year-old is 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA and nine strikeouts through two starts.
Having power pitchers is important for all franchises, including those that play in hitter-friendly ball parks – such as Cincinnati or, say, Colorado. It seems elementary, but not all organizations grasp that.
“It’s crazy because everybody’s got different strategies,” Millar said. “You would be surprised at the scouting failures that go on in organizations. There’s some scouts that aren’t good, and there’s some organizations that are great. You look at the New England Patriots. They went out and had an offseason that it looks like they lost the Super Bowl. Some organizations know how to win.”