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Thursday, February 24, 2011

MLB Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

Well, we've climbed up the ranks to the team drafted 24th overall in the highly contested team preview draft: The Toronto Blue Jays, last bastion of Canadian expansion left over from the War of 1812. Though they may reside in Ontario, these Quebecois mean business. Last year, they finished 85-77 in the highly contested AL East, 4th place and 10 games behind the Yankees. Even with a successful season, our friendly neighbors to the north only placed 26th out of 30 in attendance average. Yes, ahead of the A's.

Unfortunately, the Canucks seem to like this ice game called "Frozen Sticks" or "Puck Slide" or "Ice Canes" or something. All the attention on this game lessens what's going on in the SkyDome or Rogers Centre or however you spell it. It's too bad, because this team was pretty exciting. They hit the most home runs in baseball last year. About 15% more than the next highest total. But then there was the problem, even with all those dingers, they finished ninth in runs, 25th in average, 26th in on base percentage, 28th in stolen bases, and with the 16th most strikeouts. So, some mashing, but not a lot of small ball.

Unfortunately, the pitching was not quite as good without Doc Halladay around. They finished with a 4.22 team ERA, 23rd in the majors. But, after that, the team stats are not too terrible. Four Blue Jays starters had over 10 wins last year.

However, our story takes a drastic turn here. The story of the 2011 Blue Jays is of upheaval. Gone are every day starters Fred Lewis, Lyle Overbay, John Buck, and face of the franchise Vernon Wells along with their 79 home runs. Gone are Shaun Marcum's 13 wins and Kevin Gregg's 37 saves. Gone is the sagely Cito Gaston, in is some guy who still thinks he's a Red Sawk. This is a Blue Jays team that is ready to re-brand themselves, and with a nucleus, a sprinkling of youth, and a few sweet journeymen, the Blue Jays could wind up with another winning season.

They still have some pop in their bats. The outfield is all new with the speedy Rajai Davis (50 SB, .284), first year full-time player Travis Snider (14 HR in 82 games) and Juan Rivera (.252, 15, 52), and they will need to pull some weight in order to make up for the departure of Wells. On the infield, Jose Bautista will have to move back to third base a season after led the majors in home runs with 54, 12 more than second place Pujols. Yunel Escobar had a rough 2010, but is looking to return to his old form. Aaron Hill resides in the elite of slugging second basemen, but he is also looking for a bounceback season after 10 fewer homers and 40 fewer RBIs from an MVP worthy 2009. Adam Lind is the new starting first basemen, and has the same story, ('09 35 HR, 114 RBI; '10 23 HR, 72 RBI). Rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia made enough of a splash last year in 11 games to allow the Jays to let John Buck go, but the kid may indeed be another Buster Posey.

On the pitching side, Ricky Romero (14-9, 3.73) and Brett Cecil (15-7, 4.22) burst on the scene next year and are ready for repeat performances. Brenden Morrow (10-7, 4.49) was one out away from a perfecto and finished with a great year. Probable starters 4 and 5, Jesse Litsch and Kyle Drabek, have 1 win between them over the last two seasons. Drabek was good enough to part with Halladay for, so, here's hoping.

And after that wonderful introduction, your 2011 Toronto Blue Jays

C J.P. Arencibia
1B Adam Lind
2B Aaron Hill
SS Yunel Escobar
3B Jose Bautista
LF Juan Rivera
CF Rajai Davis
RF Travis Snider
DH Edwin Encarnacion
SP Ricky Romero
SP Brett Cecil
SP Brenden Morrow
SP Kyle Drabek
SP Jesse Litsch
CL Frank Francisco

Best Case Scenario:
As implied above, it's kind of all or nothing for the Jays. Bautista picks up right where he left off and drives the potent Jays lineup right alongside the Yankees and Red Sawks over the month of April. Hill and Lind rebound nicely from last season, not returning to 2009, but enough to recover. Arencibia improves enough behind the plate and the pitching staff does enough to place the Jays 5 games behind the division leading Sawks at the break. The Jays trade for Derek Lowe at the deadline to solidify the rotation, and they battle the rest of the way for a Wild Card win.

Worst Case Scenario:
It crumbles like a house of cards made of paper mache under a waterfall. Bautista can't repeat. Hill and Lind regress further. Arencibia can't handle the young pitching staff who also fades away. Snider and Rivera both go down hurt. The bullpen can't find an anchor after Francisco develops control problems. After the first month they are 7-20. At the break, Bautista and Escobar are traded for more young talent. Attendance drops to Florida Marlin levels. At a snap decision, Bud Selig rises from the grave to buy yet another franchise, and moves them to Omaha for 2011. The US foray into Canada ends abruptly, with no more of a trace than Conan O'Brien, who, yes Canada, the US owns now. Eat it.

1 comment:

  1. You forgot the Blue Jays' greatest strength: their second baseman hails from... VISALIA.