Blue Jays face Kikuchi conundrum –

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Yusei Kikuchi has a great arm. He is a southpaw who can throw his fastball at 95 mph. But he walks too many hitters.

There are 166 pitchers in Major League Baseball who have thrown more than 1,000 pitches this season. Kikuchi has the sixth highest pitch per inning (18.58) among this group. He’s a nibbler, trying to miss bats instead of attacking batters. This leads to too many deep counts and, ultimately, too many batting and base-on-ball counts.

Kikuchi’s career numbers resemble those of Robbie Ray before Ray’s big season with the Jays won him the 2021 AL Cy Young Award. Ray was always a guy with a big arm who didn’t throw enough shots . Every team wanted it and believed they could fix it.

Clubs felt the same way about Kikuchi. It was Toronto pitching coach Pete Walker’s success with Ray that led the Jays to sign Kikuchi. The Jays saw similar things and solvable issues, believing it was worth giving the left-hander a three-year contract. But changes and improvements have come slowly for Kikuchi this season. He’s not Ray – not yet.

The Jays recently moved Kikuchi to the bullpen. I’ve seen a move like that help starting pitchers who aren’t throwing enough strikes. They move to the bullpen, and that triggers the aggression. Beginners who become relievers feel their fastballs increase in speed, so they attack the strike zone with their newfound confidence.

This hasn’t happened with Kikuchi yet. In his first two outings as a reliever, he threw a total of 45 pitches but only 20 strikes. At this point, it can only be used when the team is up or down by more than five points. He needs that margin of error.

The Jays will have to consider sending Kikuchi to the minors for repairs if he doesn’t make adjustments in his next outings. It’s a last resort, but that moment is approaching soon. The Jays don’t want to humiliate him, but maybe he needs a wake-up call. It doesn’t work its way, so it’s time for a change. Time will tell us.

Hobbled Yankees trying to right the ship

The Blue Jays won three of four games against the Yankees in the Bronx last weekend. The Yankees managed to win Sunday’s game, which gave them some momentum heading into the week to face the New York Mets in interleague play.

The Yankees then swept the two-game series against their Crosstown rivals. Now they’re set to take on a few sub-.500 teams in the Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Angels. The Yankees are just 14-20 since the All-Star break, including their four-game winning streak.

They haven’t run out of hot water yet. The Yankees struggled offensively and their bullpen was a mess. They’ve had some great performances in their recent wins, but are significantly understaffed with all their injuries. The Yankees currently have seven relievers on the IL. Slugger Giancarlo Stanton returned from injury Thursday, while Matt Carpenter is likely out for the season with a broken foot.

The Yankees still have a seven-and-a-half-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays and an eight-game lead over Toronto in the AL East race. It will be difficult to catch them.

The playoff race heats up

The race for American League jokers promises to be intriguing over time.

Tampa Bay is currently the No. 4 seed (top wild card team), one game ahead of the Jays and two games ahead of the Seattle Mariners. The Baltimore Orioles are two and a half games behind the Seattle Mariners, but are still in contention. I don’t believe the Orioles will be able to maintain this pace and will start to fade.

It will come down to the Rays, Jays and Mariners vying for position and battling for the top wild card spot. This team will host the second wildcard team in a three-game series. The real question is whether the clubs would rather be the second or third wild-card team. The second wild-card team will face the best wild-card team on the road, while the third team will face the winner of the division with the worst record, which will be the team from AL Central.

As it stands, that means a road clash against the Rays as the second wildcard team or a trip to Cleveland to face the Guardians as the third wildcard team. I would much rather play Guardians if I had the choice.

It’s pretty much the same situation in the National League. The Dodgers and Mets will be the first two division winners, while the Cardinals are currently the leader in NL Central. The wildcard teams, in order, are the Braves, Phillies and Padres. I would do everything possible to avoid having to play the Braves on the road to Atlanta in the wild-card series. Again, being the third wild-card team is much more favorable than being the second, as the second team would draw the Cardinals in the first round.

It will be interesting to see how the teams handle the games over the past week, trying to put themselves in the most favorable position when considering matchups and momentum.

Spit out seeds

– I don’t know if he’ll make it, but I’m encouraging Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols to hit seven more homers to hit the 700 homer mark. He is currently only three behind Alex Rodriguez (696) who is fourth on the all-time list. The challenge Pujols faces is that he usually only starts against left-handed pitchers. It is unclear whether he will have enough chances to hit seven more. He said it was his last season, but there’s a part of me that’s hoping he’ll hit 699 and decide to come back next season – not only to get No. 700, but also to top 714 of BabeRuth.

–Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt makes it clear he’s the NL MVP. He leads the league in batting average and RBI and is second in home runs (two behind Kyle Schwarber). He led the Cardinals to the top of the NL Central where they extended their lead to six games over the Milwaukee Brewers. It also has a legitimate chance of winning the first Triple Crown in the Netherlands since 1937. In the analytics world, they use different categories for the Triple Crown. They use On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, and Offensive WAR. Goldschmidt leads the NL in all of those categories. In any case, he is having a remarkable season.

– The New York Mets have held off the Atlanta Braves so far this season. The Braves got off to a slow start but have the best record in baseball since June 1. They are only two games away from the Mets and their footsteps are loud. Last year, the Mets led the division for more than 100 days until the Braves passed them in early August and never looked back. The Mets are hoping for a different outcome this year. The next three-plus weeks will go a long way in determining whether the Mets will win the division. Thursday was the start of a 23-game streak in which they play 20 games against teams under .500. This is where they need to build their margin of error for the last three weeks of the season. The Mets host the Braves the last weekend of the season and hope to have at least a four-game lead by then.

– Two rookies did something that had never been done before on Wednesday. Pirates 6-foot-7 shortstop Oneil Cruz singled off the wall at 122.4 mph. It was the hardest hit ball on record in the tracking era. Mariners pitcher George Kirby started a game throwing 24 straight strikes. It’s a reminder that we’re in one of the most remarkable times in baseball history. There are so many young players who are having an immediate impact on the game in record-breaking ways. I suspect we’ll be hearing about these two young players for years to come.

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