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March 25, 2012

Toronto Blue Jays Season Preview

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As the weather warms up in Toronto, my thoughts turn to two things. One, is that the Leafs and Raptors are almost done another miserable season where they will both miss the playoffs by a considerable margin, and probably finish just high enough in the standings to NOT get the chance to draft a franchise player to turn these miserable teams around. My second thought is a little bit more pleasant. That the Toronto Blue Jays are about to embark on a brand new season in Major League Baseball’s hell, the American League East. All is not lost for the Jays. Many industry gurus and prognosticators have the Jays labeled as a “sleeper” pick to upset a lot of higher payroll teams and win the new Wild Card that is being introduced this season. For the first time in Major League baseball history, there will be TWO wild cards handed out in each league. The two wild cards will playoff in a one game do or die format where the winner will face the first place team in the league in the first round of the playoffs. That means that hypothetically, the Jays can finish third in their division and still qualify for the Wild Card. Its not a lock, but it could happen. Here are the things that need to occur for the Jays to have a shot.

Pitching
The Jays will need a strong season from at least 4 of their projected starters. Ricky Romero is blossoming into an ace, but he alone cannot carry the team on his back. Brandon Morrow will need to realize the abundance of potential that he has, and turn into the 1b ace that we all know he can be. He has electric stuff, but he can’t seem to put it together on a consistent basis. He’s a poor man’s version of A.J. Burnett. If he can bare down and stay focused, he could become the second ace of this staff, and be more of a Josh Beckett than an A.J. Burnett toiling at a career .500 mark. Henderson Alvarez will need to be rock solid. If he can be somewhat consistent over the course of the season and pitch about 30 games, he could easily win 15 games based on what he displayed in his limited starts last year. The kid has gas and could be a stud. Time will tell. The rest of the staff is an unknown. Brett Cecil was fantastic two years ago, and atrocious last year. If he can show some of what he did two years ago, he could win 15 games again and the Jays could coax 60 wins out of their top four starters if healthy. The remaining pitchers that could help out are Dustin McGowan, Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchinson, and Jesse Litsch. I don’t think any of them are amazing, but as a #5 starter, any of them could be respectable. This is where the Jays playoff aspirations will live or die. If they have a revolving door at the #5 spot, it’ll be a long season and probably another .500 finish. If they can get 10 – 12 wins from their #5 and have some respectable outings from the bullpen, the playoffs are not as far away as some would think.

Hitting
I was very sad that the Jays didn’t or wouldn’t put in an offer to Prince Fielder, but don’t worry Jays fans, all is not lost. This is where the Jays have a chance to blow away the opposition. They don’t have a big name lineup like those found in Boston, New York or L.A., but they are not far back. Jose Bautista is a perennial MVP candidate, and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down. A full season of Brett Lawrie could do wonders for the Jays. This kid is a potential MVP candidate. Scouts have labeled him as the next Wade Boggs. That is high praise indeed. The kid has 30 / 30 potential and brings a work ethic and swagger to the clubhouse that few have. If he stays healthy, the A.L. better watch out! The rest of the lineup is where the Jays will live or die. Yunel Escobar has the ability to hit .300 and set the table for the big bats. Adam Lind needs to rediscover his pop on a consistent basis and really keep it up for 162 games. He started on fire last year but fell off a cliff. His bat will be vital to protect Bautista. Kelly Johnson, J.P. Arencibia, Colby Rasmus, Eric Thames, and Edwin Encarnacion all have the ability to hit 20 home runs. If they can, then the Jays can bash with the heavyweights in the A.L. East. If they are inconsistent, it can and will be another long season.

The Jays clearly have a lot of upside. They are ripping up the pre season and getting timely hitting, quality starts, and shut down closing all across the roster. John Farrell has a lot of weapons at his disposal and needs to make key decisions along the way to ensure that winnable games aren’t blown. They Jays bullpen blew a ton of saves last year, and with the new Wild Card in place, that could be the difference between a 3rd place A.L. East finish and a Wild card birth, or another year of early tee times and absolutely no playoffs in Toronto. 1993 was a long time ago boys, make Toronto proud.

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