BWDIK: Axford, Encarnacion, Kershaw, Litsch, Mays, McCovey

By: Kevin Glew

Canadian Baseball Network

My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:

·         I hope Toronto Blue Jays fans savored their opportunity to watch Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Clayton Kershaw make his first career start at Rogers Centre yesterday, even if he wasn’t at his most dominant. When all is said and done, Kershaw will be considered the greatest left-handed pitcher of his generation.

To illustrate how overpowering Kershaw has been, David Price and Kershaw both became full-time major league starters in 2009. Since that year, Price has an accumulated WAR (Wins Above Replacement – an all-encompassing statistic that measures the numbers of wins a player, taking into account all aspects of their game, adds to their team above a triple-A replacement) of 28.4. In that same period, Kershaw’s WAR is 47.4. In other words, advanced statistics indicate that Kershaw has been worth almost 20 more wins to his team than Price since 2009.

·         He’s gone from being “E5” to being just plain excellent. And while this is likely Edwin Encarnacion’s last season with the Toronto Blue Jays, the quiet slugger has done more than enough to earn himself a spot on the club’s Level of Excellence and perhaps a plaque in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Encarnacion’s three-run home run on Thursday gives him 202 as a Blue Jay, tying him with George Bell for fifth place on the team’s all-time list. What makes this even more impressive is Encarnacion reached that homer mark in 3,156 at-bats, while it took Bell 4,528 at-bats. 

·         Fun Canadian Baseball Fact: Willie Mays, who turned 85 on Friday, loved to hit at Jarry Park. He batted .403 and had a .549 on-base percentage in 21 games in Montreal’s first major league park. Those were his highest batting average and on-base percentage at any major league stadium.

·         And speaking of Hall of Famers named Willie, Willie McCovey belted his 521st and final major league home run at Olympic Stadium off of Montreal Expos right-hander Scott Sanderson in the top of the fourth inning on May 3, 1980. That home run would tie McCovey with Ted Williams on the all-time home run list. Frank Thomas would also club 521 home runs. This trio of Hall of Famers is now tied for 19th on the all-time list.

·         Two former Blue Jays right-handers are serving as pitching instructors in the independent Atlantic League this season: Marty Janzen is mentoring hurlers for the Long Island Ducks, while Jesse Litsch is sharing his wisdom with Bridgeport Bluefish pitchers.

·         Eighteen years ago today, second baseman Mark Grudzielanek recorded five hits for the Montreal Expos in the club’s 7-5 loss to the Colorado Rockies at Olympic Stadium. All five hits were singles. It was the third five-hit game of Grudzielanek’s tenure with the Expos. His first two came in a two-week span (April 28, May 12) in the 1996 season.

·         New Westminster, B.C., native and ex-big league hurler Aaron Myette will serve as the pitching coach for Canada’s national women’s team at the Women’s Baseball World Cup in Gijang City, Korea scheduled for September 3 to 11.

Selected 43rd overall by the Chicago White Sox in the 1997 MLB amateur draft, Myette pitched parts of six seasons in the big leagues for the Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds. He also suited up for the national squad at the 1995 World Junior Baseball Championships, the 2004 Olympic Games and the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

·         Port Dover, Ont., native John Axford is off to a strong start this season. The 6-foot-5 right-hander has posted a 1.29 ERA in 12 relief appearances for the Oakland A’s. He has now made 415 appearances in parts of eight big league seasons. This is the 10th-most pitching appearances by a Canadian, and barring injury, Axford is likely to pass Canadian Baseball Hall of Famers Reggie Cleveland (428 appearances) and Claude Raymond (449 appearances) and move into eighth place by the end of the season.

·         One of the best former Blue Jays for interacting with his fans on Twitter is Jesse Barfield. You can follow him at @JesseBarfield29. The affable ex-outfielder shares an inspirational thought each day. On Saturday, he shared this gem, “Don't get bitter, get better. I was in a slump in 1990 and some doubted me. Never doubt yourself! End result I finished 9th In AL in Homers.”

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Kevin Glew

Regaled with stories about Mickey Mantle by his father, Ralph, when he was growing up, Kevin Glew developed a keen interest in baseball at a young age in Dorchester, Ont. playing against teams from Vienna, Straffordville, St. Thomas, Stratford, Harrietsville, Belmont, London and Sarnia. His interest blossomed into a full-blown fascination after enduring a bone-chilling wind on the bench seats down the right-field line at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto on Oct. 5, 1985 to witness the Blue Jays secure their first division title. Though Dale Murphy was his favourite player, the teenage Glew played more like a poor man's Spike Owen - another of his childhood heroes whom he later had the opportunity to interview. When he realized he had no shot at a big league career, Glew focussed his efforts on becoming a sportswriter. During his tenure in the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa from 1992 to 1996, he watched the Triple-A Ottawa Lynx in their glory years and vividly recalls a young Matt Stairs suiting up for the Lynx.With few jobs in sports journalism available upon graduation, Glew entered the financial services industry. But after eight years of writing about RRSPs, Glew decided it was time to write about RBIs again. Since leaving his position in the financial sector, he has had freelance articles published in Baseball Digest, Baseball America and the London Free Press. He has also contributed to CBC Sports, SLAM! Sports, Rogers Sportsnet and MLB.com. In June 2010, he started a Canadian baseball history blog called Cooperstowners in Canada. You can read his blog here. Glew is also a member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada. He is available for paid writing gigs and can be reached at kevin.glew@sympatico.ca