Jose Bautista knows how to stir the pot. He doesn’t do it often, but when he does, people listen.
On Sunday, Bautista took a cryptic but not-so-cautionary approach when speaking to media, hinting at certain “circumstances” the Blue Jays were facing in games one and two.
From the outside looking in (translation: from American markets), Bautista’s comments are quickly seen as whining. This is something that the Blue Jays, rightly or wrongly, have gained a reputation for over the past two seasons. Like many World Series contenders year in and year out, the Blue Jays are easy to love but also easy to root against. Often times that’s the truest sign of a good team.
Scoffing at Bautista’s comments as whining or boiled-over frustration, however, might be an oversimplification. It’s also something born out of an unquenched desire for off-field narrative, especially with the hangover of the ‘Odor vs. Bautista’ fluff still fresh.
Bautista is an intelligent, calculated individual. In spring training when he spoke to media about his upcoming free agency, perceived value, and negotiations, that wasn’t an accident. Bautista was not bombarded at his locker or surprised on a sidewalk while picking up dinner, he held court with an agenda. In hindsight those early demands have not worked out, but like it or not, the way Bautista goes about his career if usually smart business.
Some have wondered if Bautista was referring to the late-afternoon start time in Cleveland that brings along with it a blazing sun and a significant advantage for pitchers. Did Josh Tomlin adjust to a curveball-heavy approach knowing this, which was perceived as an unfair “circumstance” by the Blue Jays star? Given that both teams played on the same field, this is unlikely. More importantly, it’s rather baseless.
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Balls and strikes seem to be the likeliest gripe, then, especially given the Blue Jays’ displeasure with the home plate umpiring in games one and two. In such close games, this became even more pronounced.
He might have a point, too. Mark Simon of ESPN reports that, according to calculations run by a TruMedia system which measures calls based on location and pitch count, Cleveland’s arms had a notable benefit in the first two games of the series.
“Indians pitchers have gotten 7.4 more called strikes than the average pitcher would have gotten on the same set of pitches. By the same computations, Blue Jays pitchers have gotten 1.8 fewer strikes than the average pitcher.”
Simon adds that, in game one, Bautista struck out on a curveball that is called a strike just 1.4 percent of the time. Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez likely deserves some credit here, though, as he is one of baseball’s best when it comes to framing pitches and stealing strikes.
For as long as the Toronto Blue Jays are Canada’s only team, there will always be an “us vs. them” mentality operating from both sides at some small level. Of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams, one stands out as being “different” at a quick glance of a map, and sure, when combined with the incessant and cringe-worthy chants of “U-S-A!” in every other ballpark, this Bautista narrative could easily follow that same “us vs. them” line. But it shouldn’t.
Unless Cleveland has a Man in White of their own, this is a quick-hit story that will quickly be replaced with either Toronto’s triumphant return or a 3-0 deficit.
Does Bautista have a point? Probably. Is that point as controversial as people would like it to be? Probably not. Later tonight, both teams will take the field at the Rogers Centre under the same circumstances with the same umpiring crew. Besides, Bautista did say that both teams are dealing with this.