Sunday, March 2, 2008
30 Teams in 30 Days: Toronto Blue Jays
A look back: After finally breaking the string of finishing third or worse every year since 1995 the year before, the Blue Jays slid a little, and the Red Sox and Yankees took advantage to re-assert their superiority. Toronto’s problems stemmed from an inability to hit, specifically from star Vernon Wells, who struggled badly after signing a new deal. An injury in April left B.J. Ryan out for the year, forcing the Jays to discover other pitching options. That allowed them to enter 2008 with an established rotation. Could this be the year Toronto returns to the playoffs?
Positives on the field: Toronto added defense in the offseason, importing David Eckstein and Scott Rolen from St. Louis to play shortstop and third base respectively. Alex Rios had a great season, Frank Thomas showed he still has some life left and Aaron Hill had a breakout first half. With established players Wells and Lyle Overbay in place, the Jays’ offense has a lot of talent.
On the pitching side, Roy Halladay again anchors the staff—if he can stay healthy. Freak injuries have happened to Halladay almost every season. The other spots could be big strengths if the pitchers live up to their promise. Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan solidified themselves in the rotation with breakout year, and A.J. Burnett looked to have recovered last season. If Ryan comes back strong, Jeremy Accardo, Casey Janssen, Scott Downs and Brandon League can make life difficult in the final three innings for Jays opponents.
Negatives on the field: There are too many variables for the Jays. Only Halladay is established as a true star in the rotation. Burnett has never been consistent in Canada, and Marcum and McGowan have just one season in the rotation. The fifth starter is up for grabs, with Jesse Litsch or Janssen the favorite to move into the spot. Neither has more than half a season as a starter. A Janssen move to the rotation depends heavily on whether League is ready for the setup role that he has been prepared for over the last few years. Too many things can go wrong even if the Jays stay healthy.
At the plate, Wells and Overbay must rebound from sub-par years, Rolen is not the offensive player Troy Glaus was and the Jays’ young players must show that they can consistently produce at a high level. The offense was the problem last year, never a good thing in the AL East.
Outlook: Toronto could win 90-95 games, but there is too much that can go wrong to put a lot of faith in the Jays. Still, the Jays should challenge the Yankees for second place in the division behind the Red Sox. If Toronto can resurrect its mastery of Boston (prior to last year, the Jays had dominated the Red Sox head-to-head), this becomes more likely. But Toronto will have its hands full in the wild card race with New York, Cleveland and the runner-up in the AL West (Seattle or Los Angeheim). The Jays have the least experience of those teams, which is likely to cost them.
Projected finish: 3rd in AL East. Season opener is March 31 at Yankee Stadium against New York. Jays home opener is April 4 at Rogers Centre against Boston.
Spring base: Knology Park in Dunedin, Fla. The team plays the majority of its games in the Tampa Bay area, and does venture to Central Florida and the Gulf Coast.
Fan of the team?: Check out Bluebird Banter, Toronto's fan blog.
Come back tomorrow: The road trip goes to the Bronx and the proudest franchise in baseball, the New York Yankees.
My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Carolina Rain.