Calling the American League East home typically means if you don't play for the Yankees, Red Sox or Rays, you will probably not have a chance to make it to the postseason. This has been a fact of life for many years for the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays. However, this may be the year that changes.
Many in Toronto believe that this is the year the Jays can make the playoffs, in spite of what the rest of the division looks like. Let's take a look to see if John Farrell's squad can become the biggest story in baseball this year.
Ricky Romero is coming off the best season in his young career. He is entering his prime, looking to capitalize on a dominant spring and put his name in the middle of the American League Cy Young conversation. To get there, he will need to win more than 15 games, which will happen. In order to make the playoffs though, the Jays will need a capable second man in the rotation to follow up Romero's many strong outings.
Enter Brandon Morrow, who is coming off a nice 2011 campaign. The strikeout machine averaged over 10 punch outs per nine innings, and this spring worked on a curve and change up to go along with the slider and fastball he primarily used a year ago. The result was a 0.52 ERA in the spring, and sky high expectations from the fanbase that he can be counted on as much as Romero to deliver victories.
Jose Bautista led the Jays last year in almost every measurable offensive statistic. That is not a good thing. For the team to be more consistent, they should have other hitters contributing on a regular basis.
Adam Lind has struggled with injuries in recent years, but will contribute. There are also younger players on the verge of contributing big time. Edwin Encarnacion is hitting well this spring, tied for the spring home run lead with four while hitting well over .300. He should improve on the 17 homers he hit last year to give Bautista better protection in the batting order. If all goes well, these three could each hit around 30 home runs and knock in better than 80 runs apiece.
You remember the numbers last year, Blue Jays fans. Tied for last in the American League with 25 blown saves, next to last with just 50 holds, 26th in the Majors with just 33 saves. Any chance the team will have to succeed this year, the pen will have to improve on these numbers.
GM Alex Anthopolous addressed the area of need with a few high profile acquisitions. Francisco Cordero, Sergio Santos, Jason Frasor and Darren Oliver will provide some much needed experience and depth, which should enable this team to close out more games. This will also be huge because after Romero and Morrow, the rest of the rotation may be a question mark. The upgraded bullpen will most likely have to keep the team in the game after some non-quality starts.
Brett Lawrie, Yunel Escobar, J.P. Arencibia, and Omar Vizquel. These four names will play a huge role in this team's success. Lawrie is the next great player, and his numbers last year suggest he could be worthy of the hype. He led the team with a .538 average in spring training, and will be counted on to help this offense get to the next level, as will Escobar. He hit .290 last year, and if he stays healthy, could score a ton of runs given the lineup behind him.
Arencibia needs to cut down on strikeouts, but his power numbers are real. He hit 23 last year, and could easily hit 30 or more, giving the Jays a truly feared lineup. Vizquel will provide infield depth and leadership coming off the bench, or as a replacement if Escobar misses extended periods of time.
Last year, the Jays somehow finished 81-81 in arguably the toughest division in baseball. That record was impressive, given the horrific bullpen numbers and below average team hitting. This year brings expectations however, and sometimes they can make or break a manager. Farrell should be up to the challenge, having been on the Boston Red Sox bench through some pretty big games over the years. It should be a fun year in Toronto.