Toronto Blue Jays: Playing with a Chip on Their Shoulder

Nick HealeyCorrespondent IApril 6, 2008

For the past 15 years frustrated Jays have been waiting patiently for a group of players to come along and repeat the glory years of ’92 and ’93 while the Yankees and the Red Sox dominate the AL East with their bats – and their payrolls. Although, if this past week is any indication of things to come, then there may be hope in Toronto after all.

Okay, realistically it’s too early to make any accurate predictions about any team, let alone the Blue Jays. The Tigers were widely considered to have one of the best teams in the league, but are 0-6 so far, while perennial losers, like the Royals and the Pirates actually own decent records and have looked pretty good.  Since predictions at this stage of the season are a dangerous game to play, without getting overly excited, lets take a look at how the Blue Jays’ season has unfolded so far.

While baseball fans everywhere were busy getting caught up in the drama of the last opening weekend at Yankee stadium, there was actually some pretty good baseball going on there.

The Blue Jays lost their opening series with the Yankees 3-2, nevertheless, the team looked good and had Melky Cabrera not been hell-bent on making Opening Day a win for the Yankees, the Jays could have easily stolen that one away from them. A late run by the Yankees put the game away, but the Blue Jays offense showed flashes of potential, although the timeliness wasn’t there since four times the Jays stranded runners in scoring position with two outs.

The second game at Yankee Stadium brought a 5-2 win for the Jays with AJ Burnett putting on a solid performance on the mound. Burnett tossed a five-hitter through six innings, while Jays fans everywhere let out a sigh of relief after watching Vernon Wells uncork his first home run of the year after a dismal showing last year.

The rubber match ended with the Yankees taking the series, but much like the first game there was optimism oozing from their performance. Dustin McGowan scattered four hits and four strikeouts across six solid innings of work, while the Jays showed some nice work in the field with three double plays. Again though, as in the first game too many times there were runners stranded with two outs.

Upon returning home to face the Red Sox though, there was a great deal of excitement surrounding the team. The home opener started off right with the team retiring future Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar’s #12 to the “Level of Excellence”, along with former President of the club, Paul Beeston. Plus, as they will on every Friday night at home, the Jays were looking good in their retro powder blue uniforms.

As for the game itself, fourth starter Shawn Marcum picked up where he left off last year, and cruised through seven innings of work while striking out eight. JD Drew’s three run blast was the only blemish on his otherwise stellar outing. The offense looked good too, with Canadian Matt Stairs crushing a ball over the wall in right to the excitement of the fans, while surprisingly the Jays continued to be aggressive on the base paths after Alex Rios and Marco Scutaro each stole their third bag of the year.

The next two games, the Jays seemed to have their way with the defending World Series champions by winning 10-2, and 7-4 on the shoulders of solid outings by youngster Jesse Litsch and staff ace Roy Halladay. David Eckstein also seemed to be finding his groove as the Jays' new leadoff man, after racking up some timely hits in the 10-2 victory, while Rios and second baseman Aaron Hill continued their torrid pace at the plate by maintaining .368 and .348 averages respectively. Frank Thomas also seems to shaking the “slow start” demons from his past by launching a crucial grand slam in the final game of the series.

Again, it is way too early to know just how good or bad the Blue Jays, or any team for that matter, are going to be. There are just six of the 162 games out of the way so far, and to this point, the Jays have lost a series to the Yankees and beaten up an exhausted Red Sox team who’ve been hoping around the globe non-stop for the past two weeks. What will be important though is how the Jays play against teams like Tampa Bay, who they traditionally seem to take a holiday against. If they display the same kind of killer instinct against the division's weaker teams that they did with the Red Sox though, there might be some success to be had. 

Regardless of past performances though, it seems as though this year's edition of the Blue Jays has been clicking nicely. Their offense has looked strong and their entire rotation turned in quality starts through the first tour of duty. Plus, with six-time gold glover Scott Rolen and all-star closer BJ Ryan itching to get back from the DL, an already strong Blue Jays team has some more reinforcements on the way.

The AL East may be one of the hardest divisions in all of sport, let alone baseball in general, but keep in mind that the Blue Jays and their fans are tired of being the team just better than the Orioles, but not as good as the “Sawks”. The Jays seem to be playing with a purpose this year, so while success to this point may not be that important, rest assured more is probably on the way.