Blue Jays Series Preview: Ian Hunter

I swear I wasn’t stalking Zoo With Roy while he answered questions for Ian Hunter of the blog Blue Jay Hunter. Turns out ZWR and I were targeting the same prey as I wanted to get Ian’s thoughts on the series as well. You can check out ZWR’s thoughts at BJH by clicking here and Ian’s other (read: inferior) thoughts by clicking here. Is this confusing? Are we going to end up on Jerry Springer? Anyway, here’s my Q&A with Ian:

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1. The Phillies get three extra home games at the expense of the Blue Jays. Where do you stand on this — fair or unfair?

As much as I would have loved to see Roy Halladay back in Toronto tonight, I completely understand why the series was moved to Philadelphia. The G20 Summit is turning the city of Toronto into a near lock-down state, so can you imagine trying to get to the ballpark through that kind of security? It’s funny because technically the Phillies have the edge in this series even though they’re the “visitors”, but it will be American League rules.

2. What turned the Jays into a home run hitting team? Was there an organizational change in hitting philosophy?

There was a changing of the guard at the end of the season and the previous hitting coach Gene Tenace was let go making way for Dwayne Murphy. Along with manager Cito Gaston, they seem to be preaching the “grip it and rip it” philosophy, which probably has to do in large part to the surplus of home runs the Blue Jays are hitting.

It seems like the Jays have been very aggressive early in the count, which has paid dividends for them early in the season. Now it appears that opposing pitchers have caught on to this philosophy and have adapted to throw off-speed pitches early in the count rather than fastballs.

3. Aaron Hill and Adam Lind were two of the Jays’ most reliable hitters last year, but have seemingly been the only two absent from the hit parades. Are you worried about those two, or do you think they will come around eventually?

I think the consensus is both guys will eventually turn things around. The causes for their power outages are a bit baffling, however Aaron Hill has been looking much better in the month of June, but his batting average is still below the Mendoza Line. There is a bit of concern with Adam Lind, since last season he was killing over the entire ballpark.

4. With a rotation led by Ricky Romero and Shaun Marcum, it seems like the Jays have gotten over the loss of Roy Halladay quickly. As a fan, what is it like now without Halladay’s pitching every fifth day?

Prior to Halladay’s departure, every game he would start was like a blockbuster event for me. I always made sure I was watching the game because you never knew if you would be witnessing history. It’s weird to not have him around, but surprisingly the starting pitchers have fared pretty well without Roy Halladay, so that definitely helps cushion the blow of losing a Cy Young award winner like that.

5. Kevin Gregg has struggled as of late, with an 8.10 ERA in his last seven appearances. Do you see the Jays trading for relief help by the July 31 trading deadline?

Actually, I would be surprised if the opposite happens: if the Blue Jays trade away relief pitchers. I think the Blue Jays picked up Kevin Gregg in hopes he would build some value and the Jays could trade him at the deadline. Although he’s second in the AL in saves with 18, but it comes along with that bloated 4.20 ERA you mentioned.

6. Fred Lewis was a sly early-season pick-up by the Jays, currently sitting with an .801 OPS. He will go into arbitration for the first time after the season. Does he figure into the Jays’ long-term plans?

That’s a tough one to say: Fred Lewis has very quickly become a staple in the Blue Jays lineup and has settled into the lead off role very nicely. I believe he’s under 3 years of major league service time, so Fred Lewis definitely fits into the short to mid-term plans for the Blue Jays.

7. Brandon Morrow has pitched very well out of the starting rotation as of late. Is he simply a stopgap destined for the bullpen, or is this going to be a permanent spot for him?

He’ll definitely stay in the starting rotation. One thing the Blue Jays promised Morrow once he arrived in Toronto was a spot as a starter. You can tell he felt the ill effects from bouncing between the bullpen in the rotation in Seattle, and now Morrow has started to put forth solid outings as the Blue Jays #3 starter.

8. It seems that now more than ever before, complaints about division and schedule inequality have risen due to the Jays being in fourth place despite being four games above .500. As a Jays fan, would you prefer changes made to balance the divisions and the schedules?

I don’t expect any division realignments to happen anytime soon, however the Blue Jays would certainly benefit from a balanced schedule. They face the Red Sox and the Yankees each 18 times this season, and the sheer amount of those inter-divisional games go a long way to determining who makes the playoffs.

BONUS: How do you see this Jays-Phillies series unfolding? The match-ups are: Halladay-Litsch, Hamels-Marcum, and Moyer/Cecil.

Overall, it should be a very well-pitched series all around. The Phillies will have to tangle with two of the Blue Jays three best starters in Marcum and Cecil, but they are fortunate to miss Ricky Romero. Obviously, the big ticket will be tonight with Halladay pitching against the Jays, and I hope he doesn’t make his former teammates look too silly.

Keep your eyes on the Marcum/Hamels matchup on Saturday, as I suspect that one to be a great pitcher’s duel considering Hamels performed fairly well against the Jays in Interleague play last season. If history serves itself, we’re probably due for a slugfest on Sunday between Moyer and Cecil to make up for all the lack of offense we might see (or not see) on Friday and Saturday).

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Many thanks to Ian for sharing some insight on our neighbors to the north as this wacky series unfolds. It will be odd seeing the ‘home’ team wearing road grays.