Each week Jays From the Couch takes in the beauty of the MLB landscape and tries to imagine how Blue Jays Fans might see things. This week: let’s talk about the MLB rules changes to be implemented in 2023-and the one that Blue Jays fans hope will not be a missed call. JFtC will also take a peek at potential rotations to be utilized during the Wild Card round to see how the Blue Jays trio might stack up.
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* FINALLY…the 2023 MLB season will see the introduction of a pitch timer, bigger bases and defensive shift restrictions, all of which should help improve the aspects of the game that many fans have been longing for. “Our guiding star in thinking about changes to the game has always been our fans,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said Friday at a press conference to announce the rule changes.
Hmmm….that rolls off the tongue nicely, but what is actually at the core of the joint initiative between MLB and the Players Association is more market-driven than altruistic. The hardcore baseball fan will never admit this, but like the dinosaur and coffee-flavored coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts traditional baseball thinking are on the road to extinction. Both entities have gone to great lengths to survey the wishes of the casual fan while taking the temperatures of fanatics to see to see if their baseball fever would break if wholesale changes were implemented.
The new rules, which Manfred noted have been tested in approximately 8,000 minor league games, should help quicken the pace of play, increase the action on the field and reduce injuries. Some speculate the return of the stolen base to in-game strategy and roster construction will be an exciting by-product of the larger base surface. Some feel the over-emphasis on the shift, especially against left-handed batters, will now take the emphasis on launch angles away and bat-to-ball skills will again be emphasized by player development staff.
The pitch timer might seem draconian to some, but results in the minors have shown not only a reduction in game times but also a sharp reduction in pitch clock and batter in the box violations after the first month of the season. The 3 point shot and the shot clock in basketball, the introduction of the shootout to determine the winner in the NHL and professional soccer and the introduction of safer helmets and equipment in the NFL. All of these rule changes were decried as evil and the ruination of each sport. After a brief period of adjustment, turns out highly skilled professional athletes can quickly adapt to change and flourish.
The most glaring rule change demanded by the majority of fans was not implemented -nor apparently considered-the robotic strike zone. MLB Network did produce a Triple A broadcast that featured all of the approved rules changes above, as well as the use of a robotic strike zone. Complete with a challenge system for pitchers, catchers and batters. In fairness, the MLBPA will not standby while their union brethren (MLB umpires) are faced with potential job loss and devaluation. So the legitimate concerns over existing bugs to the robotic strike zone were a convenient crutch to lean on when ducking the decision.
BUT… any random polling of Blue Jay fans would show a landslide level of support for the introduction of the robotic umpire. An opinion that I personally whole-heartedly agree with. I do temper that support with the fact that a significant portion of the Jays fan base is convinced inexplicable strike zone calls only happen to the Blue Jays. Inconsistent strike zone calls are an epidemic across professional baseball. Yes, umpires are human and like all humans will make mistakes. But there is fine line between human error and gross negligence-and too many umpires cross that line on a nightly basis.
Jayson Stark, Joel Sherman and Ken Rosenthal have stated for the record that they believe the robotic strike zone will be in place for the 2024 season. Taking a 3-D picture of a baseball and converting it into a decision based on a two dimensional conversion will not be perfect. But Blue Jays fans and baseball fans in the aggregate agree that incompetent strike zone zone calls must be eliminated so that single dimension will no longer determine the outcomes of games-especially playoff contests.
* I think we can agree that the Houston Astros will be the top seed in the American League and will have home field throughout the playoffs. For the sake of this exercise let us also crown the slumping 1964 Phillies, er- 1987 Blue Jays, er- New York Yankees as the AL East champs and the holder of the second first round bye. It is also probable that the Cleveland Guardians will find way to hang onto the AL Central, setting them up to host a 3 game series against the last Wild Card team, While we know what happens to those that ‘assume’, the widely accepted assumption is some combination of the Tampa Bay Rays, Seattle Mariners and our Toronto Blue Jays will secure Wild Card berths. Yes, you need to play them all and it isn’t over until this fat JFtC writer sings, but humor me.
Depending on how teams ultimately slot into the Wild Card Round Bracket, focus will turn to the 3 man pitching rotation each team will roll out for the potential 3 game series. Rather than channel our inner Nostradamus, let’s just list the probable rotations for each of the 4 Wild Card Round participants and see how the Blue Jays playoff trio might match up against each.
PROJECTED BLUE JAYS ROTATION;
The veteran Gausman has earned the ball for Game 1 playoff start. You can argue that Manoah has been Toronto’s best starter, but he may be more important taking the mound for Game 2 should Toronto drop the opener. Jose Berrios has been inconsistent, but he is a proven veteran and has the repertoire and makeup to pitch a deciding Game 3.
BLUE JAYS VS. GUARDIANS
If the Jays are are the 3rd Wild Card team, they will travel to Progressive Field for a Battle of the Lakes 3 game series. Odds are these are the 3 starters Jays lineup must figure out: Game 1- Shane Bieber Game 2- Triston McKenzie Game 3-Cal Quantrill.
Bieber is as tough as they come when his command is right and a match-up with Gausman will make for an epic opening game. The Young Guns Manoah and McKenzie will try to out-dazzle each other, but I just can’t see Number 6 allowing himself to get beat. Quantrill is the type of pitcher who might give the Blue Jays fits. But if there is a deciding Game 3, the Jays simply have more firepower than the Guardians. ADVANTAGE BLUE JAYS
BLUE JAYS VS. MARINERS
Imagine the two 1977 expansion mates facing off in a Wild Card series. The Mariners have not made playoffs in 20 years, but for Seattle fans it might seem like it is 1977. The Mariners have multiple options but their rotation might shape up this way: Game 1- Luis Castillo Game 2- Robbie Ray Game 3- Logan Gilbert
Gausman vs. Castillo might present the best opening round pitching matchup in either league. I’m not a betting man, but my mortgage would be placed on the mid season acquisition Castillo. That would place the burden squarely upon the shoulders of Manoah to outduel former teammate and reigning Cy Young award-winner Ray. Manoah will try to will himself to be the difference maker, but I fear Ray will match 0’s and it will become a bullpen game. Seattle might be a Cinderella team of destiny. If game is in Seattle, M’s sweep. Should a Game 3 be necessary, Gilbert simply is a better pitcher in 2022 than Berrios. ADVANTAGE MARINERS
BLUE JAYS VS. RAYS
The Trop has been a house of horrors for Toronto over the years. Though the opportunity to play in front of a crowd comprised of at least 50% Jays fans could exorcize those demons. With so many Rays pitchers still on the IL (including Shane McClanahan and Tyler Glasnow) who knows what a Tampa Bay rotation might look like. But I’m going to take an educated guess and say; Game 1-Shane McClanahan Game 2- Drew Rasmussen Game 3- Corey Kluber.
McClanahan could come off the IL rested and rejuvenated, which would spell trouble for the Jays. Gausman is awfully effective as well so will come down to Rays bullpen (since McClanahan will be on a pitch limit no doubt). This is an opponent Manoah will shine against. Rasmussen has been a revelation since coming over from Milwaukee. I like the Jays’ chances with Manoah on the mound. So it comes down to Berrios and Kluber-plus every available arm both teams have. Game 3 might last 4+ hours with all the pitching changes, but in the end ADVANTAGE RAYS
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Jersey born, Pittsburgh resident, baseball lifer. Staff Writer jaysfromthecouch.com. Host THE ON FEK CIRCLE on JFtC YouTube Channel. Regular guest on Jays From the couch Radio Podcast. Established WPPJ Rock-a-thon benefit, which has been broadcast annually since 1981 and has raised for than $500,000 for the Early Learning Institute of Pittsburgh. IBWAA member.