My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- If the Toronto Blue Jays advance to the post-season, the first Christmas card they should send out this December should be to Pittsburgh Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. Searage helped turn around the careers of three ex-Pirates who are now key members of the Blue Jays pitching staff: J.A. Happ, Francisco Liriano and Jason Grilli.
- Speaking of Happ, thanks to his major league-best 16th win on Wednesday, he’s now the favourite to win the American League Cy Young Award according ESPN’s Cy Young Award predictor. Established by respected scribes Bill James and Rob Neyer, this tool employs a formula that takes into account several pitching statistics that typically influence the baseball writers (based on past results) who vote for the Cy Young Award recipient. Happ has a slight lead over Baltimore closer Zach Britton and O’s starter Chris Tillman.
- Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Stieb will make a rare appearance at Rogers Centre today as the club celebrates its greatest pitchers. The first 20,000 fans entering the stadium prior to today’s game will receive a triple bobblehead that features Stieb, Roy Halladay and Pat Hentgen. On Tuesday, an excellent article about Stieb by John Lott was published on Vice Sports. Lott caught up with Stieb at a promotional appearance the ex-hurler was making at the Blue Jays’ Class-A Short Season Vancouver Canadians game on July 21. In the article, Lott shares that Stieb is now a building contractor in Reno, Nevada and has developed a passion for playing heavy metal music on his guitar.
- Though Etobicoke, Ont., native Joey Votto and Victoria, B.C., native Michael Saunders have to be considered the frontrunners for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Tip O’Neill Award, handed out annually to the top Canadian player, left-hander James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) should also garner some support. The Seattle Mariners southpaw has allowed two or fewer runs and thrown seven or more innings in four of his last six starts to lower his ERA to 3.53. Last Sunday, he struck out Angels superstar Mike Trout four times, before a line drive from shortstop Andrelton Simmons hit him in his throwing elbow with one out in the ninth inning and he was forced to leave the game. He missed his scheduled start this week, but reports indicate he could pitch again as early as Tuesday or Wednesday.
- Baseball is a thankless game when you’re the 26th Just ask North Battleford, Sask., native Andrew Albers, who was called up by the Twins to serve in that capacity for their doubleheader on Thursday. After the Twins used four relievers in their 15-7 loss in the first game, their Game 2 starter, Tommy Milone, coughed up five runs in three innings before being replaced by Albers. In his first major league action since a relief appearance with the Blue Jays on May 1, 2015, Albers hurled six innings in relief and allowed three earned runs. For his efforts, he was designated for assignment by the Twins on Friday. The Canadian lefty will likely end up back with the Twins’ triple-A Rochester Red Wings, where he had a 9-6 record and a 3.51 ERA in 19 starts prior to the call-up.
- Speaking of the Twins, they’re still looking for a new general manager after they fired Terry Ryan on July 18. If I’m team president Dave St. Peter, three candidates that would be at the top of my list are Alex Anthopoulos (Montreal, Que.), Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Doug Melvin (Chatham, Ont.) and Tony LaCava (current Blue Jays assistant GM).
- An emotional Prince Fielder confirmed on Wednesday that a neck injury has forced him to quit playing baseball. The 32-year-old slugger made the announcement at a press conference with his two sons at his side. Fielder leaves the game with 319 career home runs – the same number his father, Cecil, a former Blue Jay, clubbed. It’s interesting to note that the younger Fielder socked his first major league home run off Canadian Jesse Crain (Toronto, Ont.) on June 25, 2005 and he also homered four times off of Gibsons, B.C., native Ryan Dempster (his second-most off any pitcher). He also belted his 300th career home run at Rogers Centre off of Blue Jays lefty Mark Buehrle on June 26, 2015.
- If the Miami Marlins make the playoffs this season, a key reason will be ex-Jay Dustin McGowan who has revived his career as a middle reliever in Southern Florida. The resilient right-hander has allowed just 34 hits and struck 47 in 50-1/3 innings while posting a 3.22 ERA for the Marlins in 2016.
- This week’s trivia question: If J.A. Happ wins the American League Cy Young Award this season, he’ll become the first Blue Jays left-hander to win the award. David Price, who made 11 starts for the Blue Jays in 2015, finished second in the voting, but two other Jays left-handers have also finished in the top five in American League Cy Young voting. Who are they? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1997 Bowman R.A. Dickey rookie card and a 2007 Bowman Michael Saunders rookie card.