Thank goodness for staff ace Roy Halladay, or the Toronto Blue Jays would be having a long 2009 campaign.
After the departure of their second staff ace A.J. Burnett to their AL East rival New York Yankees, more pressure and expectations are mounting on the shoulders of the Jays' solo ace Roy Halladay. As well, the bullpen looks to rebound from a lackluster 2008 campaign.
The 6'6", 225-lb. Halladay has voiced frustrations in the past over the inconsistency of the Jays, who had the power and the potential to go far but never delivered. Now in his 11th season in Toronto and his 10th as a starter, Halladay is expected to be the main man on the mound in 2009.
His 20-11 record in 2008 was his second 20+ win season in his career (went 22-7 in 2003). But his frustrations of the Jays' lack of coming through has left many wondering when Halladay will be on his way out of Toronto for good.
The 31-year-old pitcher, who has two seasons left on his contract, has battled through injuries and inconsistency of his own, but hopefully 2009 can be another successful 20-win season that the Jays expect out of their ace.
Under Halladay, the Jays' pitching rotation has some bright spots, especially in the two and three spots in Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum.
The 6'3" McGowan found his way into the Jays' rotation in 2007 with a 12-10 record and followed it up with a 6-7 record before going down with a shoulder injury and the subsequent surgery.
At 27, McGowan is young and up-and-coming and a potential 15-20 win pitcher in the Jays rotation
In the third spot, Shaun Marcum, 28, also made his way into a starting spot in 2007 with a 12-6 record. Marcum managed to finish the 2008 campaign with a 9-7 record but also went down most of the season with injury.
Hopefully, Marcum should be ready for training camp come spring 2010 after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his throwing shoulder at the end of 2008.
Last season, the fourth and fifth spots were shared between David Purcey, Jesse Litsch, and Scott Richmond. All three of these pitchers will be vying for those two spots, along with Casey Janssen.
Purcey, 27, got his first taste of the major leagues last season, going 3-6 in 12 starts. His 5.54 ERA was not what the Jays were looking for, but with the situation in which Purcey was thrown into with injuries to Marcum and McGowan, Purcey had his bright spots as a potential starter.
Litsch, 23, was placed into the starting rotation in 2007, going 7-9, and followed it up with an up-and-down season in 2008, going 13-9 with a 3.58 ERA. The Jays' hopes for the young Litsch are that he can be a strong fourth pitcher in the rotation and that he can maintain some better consistency throughout the MLB season.
Richmond, 30, got his first taste of the major leagues as well in 2008, starting five games with a record of 1-3 and a 4.00 ERA. Richmond was also thrown into the melee of starting pitchers that was the 2008 Jays rotation. The British Columbia native looks to gain a spot through training camp and the World Baseball Classic, where he will pitch for Canada.
Janssen, 27, has had an up-and-down relationship with the Jays; he became a starter in 2006, going 6-10, and then was relegated to the bullpen in 2007 and missed the 2008 season due to surgery. Janssen is looking to rebound and possibly steal the fifth spot on the rotation
In the bullpen, the Jays' strengths are their closers in B.J. Ryan and Jeremy Accardo.
Ryan, 33, is coming into his fourth season in Toronto, where he has had success at times and blown saves in other opportunities. In three seasons, Ryan has accumulated 73 saves in 83 opportunities. Though he was injured for the majority of the 2007 season, Ryan rebounded with 32 saves in 36 save opportunities in 2008.
Accardo, 27, rose to the challenge of filling Ryan's shoes in 2007 when he notched 30 saves in 35 save opportunities. Since coming over from the San Francisco Giants in 2006, Accardo has cemented himself, with the return of Ryan, as the Blue Jays' main setup man. Accardo has 34 saves in 47 save opportunities in three seasons in Toronto.
The Jays' depth in their relief pitchers touted them to be one of the better bullpens in the MLB. But the lack of consistency on some pitchers' parts, such as Brandon League and Jason Frasor, has left the Jays scratching their heads wondering what it will take.
With a bullpen consisting of 6'7" Brian Tallet (1-2, 2.88 ERA), Frasor (1-2, 4.18 ERA), Scott Downs (0-3, 1.78 ERA), Shawn Camp (3-1, 4.12 ERA), and up-and-comer Jesse Carlson (7-2, 2.25 ERA), the Jays have a solid core that can fill the innings in between the starter and Accardo.
Others who are trying to cement spots in the bullpen include League (1-2, 2.18 ERA), Brian Wolfe (0-2, 2.45 ERA), and Dirk Hayhurst (0-2, 9.72 ERA).
Outlook for 2009
If the bullpen can hold down the fort late in the game before the Accardo-Ryan one-two punch comes in to close the game, the Jays stand a chance of winning games. With their offense hoping to kick it into high gear for the majority of the season, the bullpen has the responsibility to hold games in check.
As for the rotation, there aren't many weaknesses there. Of course, the Jays' top five starters will not, by any means, be among the MLB's best, but there is potential there with McGowan, Marcum, and Litsch to form a core of pitchers that could help the Jays compete in an already stacked AL East division.
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