The 2011 Toronto Blue Jays already have a different feel to them.
The Jays will be in an unfamiliar position when the 2011 season begins: Playoff hopefuls.
How many times has a Jays fan been able to say that since 1993? Not many. This year’s club is focused more on manufacturing runs instead of relying on the long ball.
Does that work in the power-laden American League East? It worked for the Tampa Bay Rays.
The difference between this years and last: A level playing field. Sort of.
While you may scoff at that comment, realistically, the AL East will be won by the Boston Red Sox. I am very confident when I say that. Their recent acquisitions of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler are definite eye-openers.
Aside from the superstar signings, the Wheeler transaction could pay off huge in those late-inning games. Wheeler does not make headlines and is not the flashiest guy coming out of the pen, but you can count on him for 70-plus appearances, approximately 65 innings a year and a WHIP around 1.00.
The Jays, despite trading Shaun Marcum, still have a legitimate rotation led by Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil and Brandon Morrow. This also includes possible back-end rotation guys like Jesse Litsch, Marc Rzepczynski, Scott Richmond, David Purcey, and probably the mostly likely candidate as their No. 4 starter, Kyle Drabek.
Drabek, the Eastern League pitcher of the year, was dominant in his 27 starts for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Drabek went 14-9 with a 2.94 ERA in 162 innings, and compiled 132 strikeouts while giving up 68 base on balls. By the way, include a no-hitter into that mix!
That rotation can compete with the Red Sox and definitely with the Yankees, who appear to be in rough shape after losing out on the Cliff Lee sweepstakes.
If the Bronx Bombers cannot convince Andy Pettitte to return to their rotation of CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett, they will not and cannot compete. Heck, Sabathia can’t pitch 50 games.
With pitching taken care of, that leaves the Jay bats.
If 2010 home run leader Jose Bautista can sustain some remnants of his 50 home run season, that is a bona fide bonus. The X-factor lies with two of the Jays most talented and criticized players from this past season.
Aaron Hill and Adam Lind will all but have to rebound from disastrous campaigns and become the hitters everyone expected when both lit up the scoreboard to the likes of 30 home runs and 100-plus RBI in 2009.
If Travis Snider and Vernon Wells put up any numbers close to what is expected, Toronto will surely leave the Yankees in the rear-view mirror, leaving three teams to challenge it for the AL Wild Card.
In my estimation, the Wild Card battle sits between four teams: the Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers and our feathered friends from the north.
The Minnesota Twins are again against the eight-ball after losing a huge part of the bullpen in Jesse Crain. And success depends on the recovery of Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan.
While we all love the Twins and the underdog story, the American League Central will most likely come down to the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox.
The Sox have retooled and added Adam Dunn to their lineup, and Jake Peavy seems to be on the rebound.
The Tigers decided to play the free agent game this off-season and have done quite well. They now have a devastating 1-2 punch in Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit, and the recent addition of Victor Martinez adds some additional experience to a very young lineup.
Chemistry is the deciding factor when it comes to determining this year's lottery winner.
Every interview, every advertisement, every commercial stresses the team factor.
In a sport where we can get caught up in personal achievements, the 2011 Toronto Blue Jays have apparently found a formula that includes more team and less me. Couple that with a focus on small ball and fundamentals, and that gives this team a serious edge against some fierce and improving competition.
Devon is the founder of The GM’s Perspective