Jose Bautista's return to Toronto with the Mets on Tuesday and Wednesday went pretty much as you would have expected. The Blue Jays did a fine job with a pregame video tribute, and the fans showered Mr. Bat Flip with standing ovations both nights as he came to the plate.
It all had a throwback sort of feel to it, odd in a way because Bautista just left Toronto last September and because the Blue Jays and Mets are two teams who were at the top of the game as recently as 2016 and have plummeted quickly to the bottom.
The Yankees, Red Sox and Astros sure look like they're built for the long haul with many years of contention, but baseball has just finished a shooting-star kind of approach that gave several clubs a quick run and now has them wondering where the good times went. Here's the rundown:
Blue Jays: They were in the ALCS in 2015 and 2016 after missing on the postseason every year from 1995-2014. They're going nowhere this year, with Josh Donaldson spending most of the year on the disabled list, Marcus Stroman at 1-6 and J.A. Happ likely getting traded at the deadline (to the Yankees?). Attendance in Rogers Centre will be down more than 800,000 from last season, roughly 10,000 a game.
All that's left is for the franchise to wait for all their young stars at Double-A New Hampshire to graduate. An Eastern League-high six players from the Fisher Cats, including mega prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, were voted to the league's all-star game.
Mets: The Amazins lost the World Series to Kansas City in 2015, lost the wild card game to the Giants in 2016 and have lost their way since. They went 70-92 last year and didn't bring Terry Collins back. They enter the weekend a complete disaster under first-year manager Mickey Callaway, who might not get a second year.
The Mets opened the season 11-1 and were 25-21 in late May. They went into the weekend 34-49 and just trying to hold off the tanking Marlins in the NL East. You can do the math. Injuries to the likes of Yoenis Cespedes and a disastrous bullpen have KO'd this season.
Orioles: The O's had made the postseason the last three even-numbered years, but they've been for the birds this year. It sure looks like Buck Showalter forgetting to use Zach Britton in the 2016 wild-card game loss in Toronto is the line in the sand for this franchise. The Orioles fell out of the playoff hunt last year by finishing the season 4-19 and that spiral has continued. They hit the weekend on pace for 117 losses.
Showalter and GM Dan Duquette could be gone. Manny Machado and Adam Jones are going to go in free agency, if not by the trade deadline. Chris Davis (.152 average, 103 strikeouts in 70 games) is no longer a major-league player. Alex Cobb was supposed to bolster the rotation and is 2-10, 6.53. Britton ruptured his Achilles in the offseason and that set a tone that hasn't changed.
Royals: They lost Game 7 of the World Series in 2014 to the Giants and beat the Mets to win it all in 2015 for the first time in 30 years. Then came seasons of 81-81 and 80-82. And now comes this: A 25-61 record entering the weekend (a 116-loss pace) and an 11-32 record at home.
Catcher Salvador Perez, one of the few remaining members of the Series teams, has taken the losing the worst. He missed 20 games with an MCL strain caused by a fall while carrying luggage the day before the opener and things only got worse. He's batting .214.
"If people see Salvy down, then they really think, 'Boy, we're really struggling here,' " manager Ned Yost said last week. "Because they know Salvy. They know he lights up a room when he walks in with a smile. Everybody knows him and his energy."
Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon also remain but Moustakas is certain to be dealt at the deadline, and Gordon isn't even hitting .250. Closer Kelvin Herrera was recently dealt to Washington. You wonder if they'll have to wait another 30 years to win again.
Pirates: After 20 years of not making the postseason, the Bucs got there three straight times from 2013-15, but only won a wild-card game in '13. They fell in that round in '14 (Giants) and '15 (Cubs) and are back in the abyss, heading for a third straight sub-.500 season with average attendance in PNC Park plummeting to under 18,000 per game and 27th in MLB. Not the same without Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole.
Rangers: They lost the World Series in 2010 and 2011, then lost the division series to the Blue Jays in both 2015 and 2016. The run is over. A 78-win season last year is being followed by a 90-loss pace this year. Joey Gallo has 21 home runs but how much is it worth with a .192 batting average and 103 strikeouts while teams heavily shift against him? Imagine where they would be without Adrian Beltre again hitting .300 or Bartolo Colon not making 15 starts at age 45. Cole Hamels is going to get traded.
Joey Bats in the house
Bautista told reporters in Toronto that he was enjoying his visit back in town even though it felt strange to be in the opposite dugout. The Mets arrived Sunday night and didn't play until Tuesday. It was Bautista's first trip as a visitor since he played with Tampa Bay in 2004. He had been with the Jays since 2008.
"Obviously a lot of emotions and memories. It's different, a little bit strange," he said. "But in this world and this sport, you've got to adjust and try to be comfortable in any setting."
Bautista said he understood the Blue Jays' decision to let him go after last season, when he batted just .203, and to not re-sign him for 2018.
“I’m not naive or selfish enough to believe that they should have done that," he said. "Numbers speak for themselves and it wasn’t my best year; that’s no secret. But I received an opportunity and here I am, looking to make the best of it. I’m not trying to dwell in the past and let any of that drive me now. I feel like I can find enough drive just in my desire to continue to play the game."
Bautista reached base four times in Tuesday's 8-6 Mets loss, on a single and three walks. He's been doing that a lot lately, to the point where there's some thought a contender might want to add him as an extra bat off the bench down the stretch. He entered the weekend batting .253 for the Mets but with an on-base percentage of .425 and an OPS of .887.
He said the standing ovation prior to his first at-bat was emotional and he was happily surprised when the Blue Jays played his old walk-up music, Usher's "OMG."
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) July 3, 2018
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) July 4, 2018
Lovullo, Molina hold their summit
Arizona manager Torey Lovullo made up with St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina last week when the Cardinals and Diamondbacks met in Arizona. It was the first meeting since the two nearly came to blows in April in St. Louis after Lovullo, the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer, used a profanity within earshot of Molina to an umpire while complaining about the veteran catcher's pitch-framing.
Lovullo approached Molina during batting practice and the two were seen chatting and then fist-bumping before heading off to their stations.
— Steve Gilbert (@SteveGilbertMLB) July 2, 2018
"He’s one of the greatest players ever, one of the greatest catchers ever, so for me to do something like that, I feel it was out of line," Lovullo said prior to the meeting. "And I want to make sure at least I tell him that right now and perhaps tell him that face to face.”
Afterward the game, Lovullo said he wanted to keep the conversation private but that it went "good."
“It's over. It's in the past," Molina agreed. “I have a bunch of respect for him and the organization, so everything is good.”
Gardy needs to pick up pace
Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner has been hit with repeated pace-of-play fines in the last month and the latest one, a $2,000 hit for taking too long to walk from the on-deck circle to the batter's box, drew his ire.
“My agent started taking care of it,” Gardner told Newsday. “I told them don’t talk to me about it. I’ve got more things to worry about than taking three seconds too long to get to the box. Somebody else can [throw pickoff throws to first base] 27 times in a game and waste 15 minutes of everybody’s time and I get fined thousands of dollars taking three seconds too long to get in the box.”
Padres banking on good Weathers
The Padres signed their top draft choice, Tennessee high school lefty Ryan Weathers, to a $5.23 million contract and sent him to their complex in Arizona to start his pro career after he decided against playing for Vanderbilt. He was drafted last month No. 7 overall.
The surname should be familiar. He is the son of longtime big-league pitcher David Weathers, most known around the game for his role in the bullpen of the '96 World Series champion Yankees, and around these parts for his key contribution to the rotation on the Bisons' 1997 championship that was their first of the modern era.
Ryan Weathers, 18, started hanging around ballparks in 2005 when his father was pitching in Cincinnati. David Weathers pitched 839 of his 964 big-league games after his stint in Buffalo, retiring at age 39 in 2009.