The Jays are knocking at the door. Not only do they have a wealth of talented prospects, they have the pieces to contend for the AL East title in 2012.
With nationwide excitement brewing in Canada, the team has the potential to grab the country's collective attention. Bud Selig did them a favor by adding another wild card, but there are a few things that have to go the Jays' way for them to be amongst the big dogs come September.
Here's a look at what needs to happen for the Jays to make the post-season for the first time since 1993.
1,000 innings is the benchmark for an effective starting rotation. While the Jays' bullpen has been revamped, and John Farrell vows to manage it more responsibly, playoff spots are hinged on a team's starting pitching.
Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow have looked spectacular in spring training, but Morrow is still a question mark to pitch 200+ innings. Beyond those two, Henderson Alvarez will probably be capped below 200, and Kyle Drabek and Dustin McGowan will likely have short leashes as well.
A strong bullpen is a must, but the starters need to make it easier for the relievers by eating up a large chunk of innings. A trade for an workhorse pitcher may help to shore up this potential problem.
There is a rule that in order to be successful in baseball, your team must have three players who are amongst the "top five" in the league at their position.
While the rule is somewhat arbitrary and may frustrate sabermetricians, it reflects team's strengths and shows how they can improve relative to their competitors.
It is safe to say that Jose Bautista will be one of the most productive right fielders in the AL, and it's a given that he needs to remain as productive as he has been over the last two years.
However, beyond Bautista, the Jays need a couple of players to emerge as elite producers. There is the potential for Brett Lawrie to leap into the top five for third basemen, and Romero could take a step forward.
The bottom line is that two players—whether it's Lawrie, Morrow or even Colby Rasmus—need to have career years.
While the Jays have the talent to contend, the reality of the situation in the American League is that only five teams will make the playoffs.
The balance of power has clearly shifted with Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder making the switch from the NL Central to the Angels and Tigers respectively. There are seven teams that have legitimate playoff aspirations in the AL: New York, Boston, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Detroit, Los Angeles, & Texas.
Two of those teams will not make it. The good thing is the Jays don't have to worry about Detroit since they will win the AL Central easily.
The other teams, however, are probably better than the Jays on paper, which means two of them will need to underperform in order for Toronto to clinch a playoff berth. The Jays will likely end up with a win total in the 83-88 range so do the math.
It was clear after 2011 that the Blue Jays needed a consistent, reliable closer to wrap-up games for them and unsurprisingly, GM Alex Anthopoulos traded for Sergio Santos in December.
While Santos is something of an unknown asset—considering he made the switch from shortstop to reliever only two years ago—he was very consistent in both 2010 and 2011. In order to put a dent into the Jays' 25 blown saves from a year ago, Santos, and to a lesser extent Darren Oliver and Francisco Cordero, must be able to throw strikes and avoid late-game collapses.
There's nothing more frustrating to watch than a blown save, and if Santos can establish himself as a dependable finisher, it will go miles towards building the young Jays' confidence.
Going straight into the seats
The Jays have to do a few very small things that will go a long way towards qualifying for the playoffs. Every game is important and every at-bat can make a difference.
Firstly, as a team they need to do a better job of getting on base. The Jays ranked ninth in the American League in OBP in 2011, and that simply isn't good enough to be a playoff team. Players like J.P. Arencibia and Adam Lind have to be much more selective in 2012, as forcing opposing pitchers to challenge hitters is never a bad thing.
Secondly, the team needs to tighten up defensively. With the fourth-highest number of errors in 2011, the Jays' run prevention is in need of serious improvement. Hopefully, Edwin Encarnacion doesn't go anywhere near a glove this year.
Thirdly, the Jays need some fan support. With the team being so young and inexperienced, having a decent number of butts in the seats at Rogers Centre certainly can't hurt.
If all these things come together, it will be an exciting season for Jays fans.