Six Questions with Bluebird Banter's Tom Dakers

Tom Szczerbowski

Are you ready for another opponent Q&A? Here we go.

Thanks to Tom Dakers of Bluebird Banter fame for exchanging questions with me in advance of the Twins - Blue Jays series. First pitch is less than two hours away, so let's go to it.

Walk us through your situation in the middle infield. Now that Maicer Izturis is out for the season, will Toronto just go with Ryan Goins at second base? It's a complicated situation, with Jose Reyes out of commission as well.

The infield situation is pretty sad really, the good news is that Jose Reyes should be back by the weekend. Right now:

Ryan Goins was named our second baseman before the start of spring training, on the strength of a great month plus with the glove at the end of last season. The trouble was he didn't hit at all last year (.252/.264/.345) and, considering the way he went through camp and the way he's started the season (.107/.167/143), those numbers from last year seem like a 'best case scenario. Our infield defense was so bad that you could understand the team being thrilled with someone that could make all the plays (Fangraphs had him at a 33.2 UZR/150), but many of use weren't thrilled with the idea of punting one spot in the batting order and we were hoping the team would sign Stephen Drew, but no such luck.

Jonathan Diaz was the surprise call up when Reyes went down. Diaz is a good glove/bad middle infielder, who has been a lifer in the minor leagues. He's 29 and has had 3111 minor league at bats, with just 4 in the majors. He hit .230/.358/.297 in those 3111 at bats. He is tiny, listed at a very generous 5'9". 5'7"  is closer to the real number. He has given us some good at bats, and his strike zone is about the size of a postage stamp, but he's on the team for his defense. I'm not sure any team can punt two spots in the batting order.

Munenori Kawasaki was just called up to take Izturis' spot on the roster. He quickly became a fan favorite last year, not, so much, for his great play but more for his fun personality and his seeming ability to come through in the clutch. He was a breath of fresh in an awful season last year. It was nice to be reminded that baseball is entertainment. Of the three he is, by default, the best bat, and that is pretty sad.

Drew Hutchinson is the young gun in the Blue Jays' rotation. The Twins miss him this series, but tell us a bit about his ceiling - because some of those minor league numbers are pretty impressive.

Drew came up as an injury replacement in the rotation in April 2012, without a lot of fanfare, he was just 21 and really wasn't thought of as one of our top prospects. His first few starts weren't good, but then pitching coach Bruce Walton made a slight change to his delivery and added a couple of miles per hour to his fastball and he looked a good bit better. Unfortunately his elbow soon gave out and he joined the assembly of Blue Jays pitchers getting Tommy John surgery from Dr. Andrews. He got a few unspectacular minor league innings in at the end of last season.

He came into spring training looking to position himself as a possible call up when a starting pitcher went down with injury, but he had a great spring and the other possible 4th and 5th starters were terrible.
When he keeps his pitches down, he's almost unhittable, but he's had some command troubles in the early going, 8 walks in 14 innings. He really could have used a month in the minors to work out those issues, but we aren't really flush with major league ready starting pitchers, so he gets to work on this while drawing a major league salary.

It looks like the Jays are doing what the Twins are doing, which is running with an eight-man rotation and three-man bench. For Minnesota it's a case of starters not going consistently deep into games and, honestly, not a lot of talent to be had for the bench anyway since both starting corner outfielders are on the disabled list. What's the advantage for Toronto leveraging their roster with this personnel split?

Our GM, Alex Anthopoulos, seems to like the 8-man pen. I hate it. I tend to think the 8th man in your bullpen is never going to help you win but a 4th guy on the bench? Maybe someone that could pinch run or pinch hit? That could buy you a win or two.

In this case, he has a lot of relievers who are out of options and he fears losing one of them on waivers. Personally, I think we have two or three in the pen that, if someone was willing to make a waiver claim, we would be better off without.

Who are the guys non-Blue Jays fans should be aware of on offense that could be stepping up this season?

Well, Melky Cabrera looks like the early odds on favorite for comeback player of the year. Last year he looked so slow, like his was dragging a piano around with him all the time. On defense he had no range and on offense the only way he could get to first base was to hit one to the wall, and even then an outfielder with a good arm could make it a close play (maybe I exaggerate a little). He was finally put on the DL, in early August and later the news came out that he had an benign tumor wrapped around his spine. With it removed he looks like a whole different guy. He's stolen a couple of bases, he's legging out doubles and he's hitting the ball hard. He has a hit in every Jays game so far and is second on the team with four home runs.  

Adam Lind is off to a hot start. He had a strong rebound last season after three years of really not being very threatening at the plate. Has he finally found a way to sustain an offensive presence?

A good part of it is that he's finally found a manager who has the good sense to sit him on the bench against lefties. He's always been able to hit righties but southpaws have been always been a mystery to him. Sitting him against lefties seems like a no-brainer, but John Gibbons is his first manager to figure that out. Cito Gaston and John Farrell seemed to think that if he was given enough at bats, he'd learn to hit them, but there was never enough at bats for that.

He's also been a little more relaxed at the plate. It seems like he's figured out that he is a major leaguer and he's not worried that a bad game will get him sent to the minors.  He's also not really a pull hitter, he's best when he goes with the pitch but we've had a series of hitting coaches that like batters to pull everything. Lind is better off without that.

The Blue Jays will be better than the Twins again in 2014, but can they contend for the post-season?

Can they? Yeah, they can. There doesn't seem to be a team that is going to run away with the division. I thought the Rays were going to be the best team but they have been having Blue Jay-like injury troubles in their rotation.

The baseball gods seem to have had it in for us the last couple of years. They owe us. The key to our season is keeping guys healthy. Our front line talent is as good as anyone's in the division, but we aren't deep. A handful of injuries and we'll be back at the bottom of the division. Last year? Just about everyone hit the DL at some point in the season. This year, we can't have that. If we stay healthy we can contend.

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