With the recent play of the Toronto Blue Jays vastly improving going into the last month of the season, Jays fans have something to be excited about come the 2012 MLB season. In a division dominated by the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, it is pretty hard to get excited about a team that hasn't made the postseason since winning the World Series two years in a row in 1992 and 1993.
For the first time in 18 years, the Jays are giving the faithful a reason to come to the ball park and a reason to believe they could potentially make the playoffs in 2012.
The Blue Jays may be 13 games behind the division-leading Boston Red Sox, but since the All-Star break they are 21-16 and have potential to play big-time spoilers in September. After a dismal first half of the year, the Jays are finally coming together to win some series.
Series with the Yankees and Red Sox could potentially decide which team is the division champion and which is the AL Wild Card winner—a big differential in playoff seeding. In playing the spoiler and possibly winning these series, Jays fans will gain a bunch of confidence behind their team. If the Jays can beat the Red Sox and Yankees during their most important games all season, it says a lot about what the team can do down the road.
The Jays' bats and defense are picking up and should allow them a strong finish to the 2011 campaign and give fans something to look forward to in 2012.
The Jays have gradually gone younger as opposed to the aging lineups of other teams around the league. They have an average age of 27, which puts them among the youngest teams in the league. Led by J.P. Arencibia, Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus, Eric Thames and Travis Snider, the Jays are reshaping their overall team mentality.
The clubhouse seems to be much more vibrant, and the players seem to be getting along much better than in previous seasons. Team mentality is key in having a winning franchise, and the energy being provided by the young guns on the team only aids it that much more.
In just John Farrell's first season as the Jays manager, he has coached them to a record above .500—now it may barely be above .500, but at least they don't have a losing record. It is very hard for a manager to come into an entirely new organization and turn everything around.
Farrell is a great manager. Jays fans should look forward to what he has to offer in his sophomore campaign. He is tremendously talented in developing young talent and helped the 2003 and 2004 Cleveland Indians to the accomplishment of being named "Organization of the Year." Not only does he provide great aid in developing players, he is also a very good coach for the Jays' pitching staff, which seems to have improved immensely and helped starter Ricky Romero earn his first ever All-Star nod.
Farrell is also a players' coach. He will joke around and keep it light in the clubhouse to help players feel more comfortable, but be stern and a good leader at the same time. With the franchise in the state it is, Farrell should help the Jays to a very bright future.
This may come as a surprise to many on the list as pitching is considered to be the weakest aspect of the Jays' game, but under the expertise of manager John Farrell, many Jays pitchers have taking large strides in 2011.
For the starters, Ricky Romero made his first All-Star appearance, has a 12-9 record and 2.78 ERA, good enough for fourth place among pitchers in the AL. As the fifth starter in the rotation, Jesse Litsch has completely turned around this season going 5-3 with 52 strikeouts in comparison to a dismal 2010 record of 1-5 with just 16 strikeouts. Farrell's influence can be seen right through the pitching staff.
Casey Janssen has become the clear-cut set-up man in the eighth for the manager to go to. In 42 innings pitched this season, he has a whopping 43 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.14. The Jays are still searching for a permanent closer, but there is an ongoing battle between Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco for the role.
In addition to the pitchers already up in the bigs, there are pitchers in the system who could also make the jump to the big leagues next year who have the potential to develop into strong pitchers.
If Farrell's expertise in pitching has made such major changes to the performance of many of the Jays' staff this season, it can only improve in 2012.
So far in the 2011 campaign, batting king Jose Bautista has continued to dominate pitchers around the league. He has hit fewer home runs, but has brought his average up considerably and is even more dominant than he was in 2010.
In 2010 Bautista posted up a whopping 54 home runs, but just a .260 average. In 2011 he has 37 home runs, a .314 average, gets on base just about half of the time he goes to bat and has already surpassed the amount of times he was walked in 2010 with 103 in 2011. Teams are afraid to pitch to him and that is one of the major contributors to the drop in home runs and RBIs in 2011.
Bautista has become more consistent and focused on helping his team out because getting on base is more important than hitting solo home runs.
With the improvements Bautista has made this season, there is no doubt that he will make even more improvements for 2012 to continually prove that 2010 was not a fluke. Bautista is the best player on the Jays and could immensely aid them in their efforts to return to the postseason.
Brett Lawrie is a stud. He fails to disappoint game in and game out. Sure, he has only played in 18 games, but it's hard not to get excited about a kid for Canada, batting .328 with four doubles, two triples and four home runs.
Not only is Lawrie a stud at the plate, but he also has a great all-around game. He has the defensive skills that could earn him some Gold Gloves throughout his career, and he also has speed to get down the base paths.
One last thing that Lawrie gives Jays fans everywhere a reason to be jacked up for 2012 is his passion. The passion that the kid shows is unparalleled. He gets super excited when anything happens and is already a leader in the clubhouse. The energy he brings translates into the fans and gives a great fan to player experience.
Lawrie is the future of the Blue Jays, and Jays fans everywhere should be just as jacked up on the hype surrounding him because he is the real deal.
Although it appears as though the Jays won't match the surprising, but Cito Gaston appreciation fueled 85-77 record they posted in 2010, the Jays 2011 season was a very developmental one. The Jays developed very well under first-year manager John Farrell, and some terrific changes were made.
Jays fans should look forward to some very exciting baseball come 2012, just as they have seen in the final months of the 2011 campaign. They should look forward to a better start and a stronger compete level against the big guns. No, the Jays aren't guaranteed a spot in the postseason in 2012, but there is always hope. And add a pitcher here or there, they aren't too far from contending.
It should be an interesting offseason, but regardless of that, there aren't many reasons Toronto Blue Jays fans shouldn't be counting down to opening day 2012.
If none of this gets them excited, this should: The Jays will be wearing all new uniforms in 2012 and are apparently more Canadian-oriented than ever. If that doesn't get fans going for the Jays in 2012, I don't know what does.