In 2011, the Jays knocked in 186 homers, the fifth best in the Majors; and their 743 run total was the sixth most. The team’s batting average was .249 proves that they hit for power or don’t hit at all, and in the AL East that is just not going to cut it.
The last time the Jays played in October was in 1993 when they won it all. The drought has not given Toronto fans anything to cheer about, and the fan base has diminished because of it.
With the added Wild Card could 2012 prove to be the year the Blue Jays break their absence from the playoffs?
Let’s take a look….
Toronto batting line-up features slugger Jose Bautista who over the past two seasons has become one of the top hitters in baseball. In 2011, Bautista led the AL in home-runs (43), walks (132), slugging (.608) and was intentionally walked 24 times. There are four years left on 31-year old Bautista’s 5-year, $65 million contract, which is now considered a huge bargain since he has consistently preformed at an elite level for two seasons. Bautista is a monster at the plate and when hot is almost unstoppable with the bat.
GM Alex Anthopoulos revamped the bullpen in the off-season by acquiring right-handed closer Sergio Santos from the White Sox for top pitching prospect Nestor Molina. Marking his first season as a closer, the 28-year old former infielder threw 63 1/3 innings, posted a 3.55 ERA and made 30 saves in 36 opportunities in 2011. Santos has a wickedly deceiving slider that helped him strike out 92 batters and a K/9 rate of just above 13, which is unbelievable. Still, if any division can humble a pitcher it is the AL East so Santos will be tested. Overall, the Jays put themselves in a better place having Santos closing out games in 2012. AA also added a veteran reliever in Darren Oliver. In 2011, Oliver made 60 appearances and posted a 2.29 ERA coming out of the Rangers bullpen.
This team would be considered contenders if they didn’t play in the AL East but unfortunately for them the Jays still do and that is not going to change anytime soon. The Jays cannot beat up on just the Orioles in the AL East, and in 2011 they posted under .500 records against the top three Rays, Yankees and Red Sox. And that is just not going to cut it.
The back-end of the starting rotation is risky to say the least. Brett Cecil, Henderson Alvarez and Kyle Drabek will be the trio behind ace Ricky Romero (15-11 with a 2.92 ERA) and #2 Brandon Morrow (11-11, 4.72 ERA), who are the staffs 27-years old veterans. Cecil is an unreliable #3 as his velocity crashed and burned in the second-half of 2011. The 25-year old made 20 starts last season in which he posted a 4-11 record (seven losses in 2nd half)), with a 4.73 ERA and allowed 22 home-runs (16 in 2nd half). Alvarez is only 21-years old, and Drabek spent the majority of 2011 in Triple-A…enough said.
The plethora of young talent is still developing and this kind of inexperience usually makes it hard for a team, like the Jays, to be seen as relevant just yet. Anthopoulos could have added an impact player in the off-season that would make the Jays closer to being contenders, which would essentially mask the team’s immaturity but that never happened. Anthopoulos is an outspoken advocate of appraising talent and building from within instead of going on a free for all spending spree. AA is now entering his third season in Toronto and this is his best team yet, so the improvements are coming just very slowly. Adding a proven top starting pitcher or hitter (specifically a first baseman) seemed logical because with the newly added Wild Card it would give the Jays a fighting real chance now. And after speaking to Toronto fans the general consensus is they are frustrated.
PLAYER(s)/GAME-CHANGERS TO WATCH:
1) The emergence of 22-year old Brett Lawrie could be the difference maker for Toronto. Fans got a little taste of the Third baseman when he made his MLB debut last August 5 and he was impressive. In 150 at-bats, Lawrie posted a .293 batting average, hitting in eight doubles, nine homers, 25 RBIs, 16 walks and stole seven bags. What makes Lawrie even more appealing is that he is Canadian, and he is on track to becoming a bona fide homegrown star, which makes the Jays more attractive to the hockey crazed Toronto fans. Bottom line is if this kid is going to hit, he will hit with power, which only helps the Jays stay in the hunt. The Jays are being extra cautious with Lawrie who hurt his left-groin in a March 16th spring game and has still yet to return, so Jays fans should just hope this injury doesn’t resurface once the games start to count.
It’s incredibly difficult to measure where the Blue Jays might end up in September during Spring Training but my guess is it will be more of the same.
Without any proven additions to complement Bautista, making a prediction based on possibilities is senseless. You have to expect a learning curve because of the number of young players on the Jays, which presumably makes me predict a season full of high peaks and low valleys.
The AL East has been a nightmare for the Blue Jays because they have the talent to be possible contenders in any other division. Hey as the saying goes reality bites and unless there is some serious injuries to numerous star players on each of the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees the Jays are destined to miss the postseason for the 20th year in a row.
In my opinion the Blue Jays will get off to a hot start in 2012, but by not adding any significance in the off-season, they will once again remain insignificant, finishing fourth in the AL East, while playing .500 baseball.