It is commonplace for Toronto sports fans to be overly optimistic about their franchises to begin a season. But with the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays, the excitement and anticipation may be warranted. Unlike the Raptors and Leafs, the Blue Jays have targeted their weaknesses during the off-season, seemingly fixing them up, and look prepared to compete as a major powerhouse in the talent-loaded AL East Division. The anticipation has even spilled into the conclusion of the Maple Leafs season, with fans chanting “Go Jays Go” during yet another loss for the team at the end of yet another overly disappointing season. With a young, talented roster and the newly instituted addition of one more playoff spot in the American League, the Jays have a legitimate opportunity to reach the post-season for the first time since being led by Joe Carter, Paul Molitor, Roberto Alomar and skipper Cito Gaston to name a few, on the way to winning the World Series in 1993. After several years experimenting with odd, misshapen logos and colour schemes, the franchise is looking to get back on track with a reversion to the logo used in the winning years of the early 1990s.
Players to Watch
Brandon Morrow: Coming into his third season as a Major League starting pitcher it is time for Morrow to take the next step towards being a dominant player in the American League. Ricky Romero is the “proven” ace of the Jays rotation, but Morrow must solidify the second starting role if the Jays have any chance to compete for a post-season spot. With his dominant fastball and command, look to his strikeout totals to blow competition away, competing with pitchers like Angels’ ace, Jared Weaver, for leadership in that category.
Brett Lawrie: The Blue Jays’ lineup is inexperienced but flooded with young talent. MLB top prospect, Brett Lawrie, will be counted on in his first full season with the Jays to provide not only his glove and bat, but also with his energy and as the Blue Jays’ manager, John Farrell, said, “At 22 years of age, he’s a leader in his own right.” During a 162 game season, there will be low-points, throughout which, Lawrie and the rest of the “Boys of Summer” must show maturity beyond their years to make sure the team can remain consistent from April until September. Jose Bautista may be the undisputed leader of the Jays offense, but Lawrie will undoubtedly be considered the spark plug.
The Entire Jays Bullpen: The 2011 Toronto Blue Jays missed the postseason by 13 games. The 2011 Toronto Blue Jays bullpen blew 25 saves last season. Understanding that there was an obvious problem the Jays overhauled their stock of pitchers and added several new arms to ensure that blown saves and quality innings pitched will not be the reason for missing the playoffs for a 19th consecutive season. Among the crop of new relief pitchers is set-up man and long reliever, Francisco Cordero, along with newly acquired and highly touted closer, Sergio Santos. Both Cordero and Santos had impressive 2011 seasons, combining for 67 saves and are immense improvements over former go-to guys, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco.
The American League East is always challenging, with the division being comprised of last year’s division winners, New York Yankees, as well as last years American League wildcard winners, the Tampa Bay Rays. Along with those two powerful clubs, a perennially successful, Boston Red Sox, and former glorious franchise, Baltimore Orioles, look to improve on disastrous 2011 campaigns. The American League has improved overall with two of baseball’s largest athletes, in stature and name, signing in the AL this past off-season. Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels and Prince Fielder of the Detroit Tigers have added depth to an already competitive league. The Yankees, Tigers and Angels are all likely the favourites to win their respective divisions. That being said, with consistent hitting throughout the lineup and timely pitching, the Blue Jays will battle with the Rays, Red Sox, Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins for the remaining two playoff spots in the American League.
2012 (projected) Opening Day Starting Lineup