Wednesday, July 22, 2009

SPORTS: A Letter to Clarence

Clarence Gaston is a creature of habit. To some, that means having faith in his players. To others, it shows a shocking lack of creativity. Me, I tend to lean towards the second point of view.

When the Toronto Blue Jays put Gaston in charge last summer, he was a breathe of fresh air, bringing along a hitting strategy that was proven successful in the past, replacing the dumb as dirt organizational point of view to wait for walks and three-run homers. (Put in place by you know who). Without the 'though shall not swing' strictures in place, the team's offense turned from moribund to bountiful. That bounty lasted through until a month and a half into this season.

Finally, teams got the idea Toronto batters weren't taking incessantly any more. Different pitching strategies resulted in less Toronto success at bat. More losses than wins. And now Roy Halladay knows playoff dreams are nothing up pipedreams in T.O. Exit strategies have been planned.

Now, some managers would figure a few things out. He's tired Marco Scutaro out by playing him in EVERY SINGLE GAME (until just recently). Scutaro could have really used about one day off in eight to ten. And certainly, Scutaro's astounding control at the bat and Hill's brilliant performance as a second-place hitter, have re-enforced Gaston's commitment to not changing something that's working.

But in the greater picture, it ain't working Clarence. For whatever reason, Alex Rios has been average and Wells has ranged from above-average on the road to the WORST HOME BATTER IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL! Lyle Overbay has hidden a below-average season behind one hot ten days when he was Player of the Week in the league. Gaston has bowed to the obvious by kicking Rios and Wells down the batting order. But all that's done is create the hole elsewhere. MORE creativity is needed if there is the slightest chance to kick the offence into higher gear.

So, here's my idea (not original, Jeff Blair's mentioned it at least once).

Make Alex Rios the lead-off batter.

Yeah, we know he's a homer-hitter on the best of days, which we haven't seen this year. He's also the club's main speed threat. Scutaro has been serving as the perfect second-hitter since that home run explosion in the first month. He takes pitches, gets walks and is hitting .280. Please define a more perfect guy to move Rios or give him time to steal. Hill's been a three-spot hitter all year long. It would have been nice to have more runners on base for his home runs. Adam Lind's been hitting for average and power, which more or less describes a clean-up hitter and Scott Rolen's not hitting the long ball, but as the final piece of the middle of the batting order, he's just about perfect. Vernon Wells has got to start hitting at home, but if he does, he could easily switch with Rolen when he gets hot (and he's been hot on the road). Then that leaves Lyle Overbay and Kevin Millar to share first base and the seventh spot in the order. Rod Barajas seems to be doing alright in the eighth slot, leaving the final place in the batting order to the left fielder/DH, whichever retread Gaston trots out there these days.

All of this presumes Rios gets enthusiastic and starts concentrating by becoming the spotlight player who leads off games. Baseball is all about the Three C's, Capability, Confidence and Concentration. Rios has never lacked for the first one, mostly never lacked the second and is so rarely concentrating that he's the most baffling player on the club. No Rios on a tear, no chance the Blue Jays make a belated run at relevance. I say it's time to stop doing the accepted, no more reading whatever book Gaston's been coaching out of for 30 years. Make Rios the lead-off guy. Maybe it works and Gaston looks like a genius. Maybe it fails and Toronto continues treading water.

Or worse.

Back to you Clarence.

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