Thursday, April 5, 2012

Let's Play Ball!!

Well, another opening day is upon us - a day that is in my top 10 favourites of every year. The Blue Jays, fresh off an incredible spring training record of 24-7 (beating their old club record by 3 wins), have some incredible depth in their organization now. Will that translate into wins at the top level, in the majors? We'll find out come October; a 162-game grind can be punishing. There is an extra playoff spot available in each league this year, increasing the club's chances somewhat of reaching the post-season for the first time since their back-to-back World Series wins of 1992-93. In fact, this is the result of the very last swing the Blue Jays have taken to date in the post-season:

Ah, those were the days. The Leafs had put together a breathtaking 21-game playoff run, losing in Game 7 of the semi-finals to Wayne Gretzky, and were in the process of starting their next regular season with a 10-game winning streak. The Argonauts, though struggling in 1993, were in the middle of a decade that saw them win the Grey Cup 3 times. Toronto actually felt like a sports city for a change. It didn't last very long, but it was wonderful while it lasted.

Now it feels like the Jays might be on the verge of something fantastic. They have gone back to a logo which closely approximates their original graphic (see the picture at the top of the blog) and I approve wholeheartedly. They have some of the best young talent in the major leagues. Brett Lawrie will have a chance to show what he can do with 162 major league games and if he's even half as good as his numbers from last season and this spring he could be the best third baseman in baseball. There's nothing I can say about Jose Bautista - who is the best hitter in baseball right now bar none (that isn't conjecture; his numbers bear that out) - that hasn't already been said to death. The rest of the batting order is mainly filled with solid citizens at every position. I think the only real question mark for this team on the offensive side of things is Colby Rasmus, who doesn't look any different (read: better) to me than he did when he arrived here last year. I wonder how long his rope his; Travis Snider is waiting anxiously in the wings for another shot at the big leagues and Rajai Davis is a pretty interesting guy to have coming off the bench if Rasmus struggles.

The pitching staff is really the make-or-break part of this team. Another new closer - Sergio Santos - has appeared on the scene bringing some impressive heat but questions about his control abound. I think he's only been a pitcher for a couple of years (3?) so that is to be expected, but it's not something you can usually get away with in the 9th inning of a close game. Might make for some interesting, Mitch Williams-like situations this year. The rest of the 'pen looks pretty solid, but the starters - 3-5 at least - are going to be what puts this team in the post-season for the first time in nearly 20 years or relegates them to last in the East. Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow are a fantastic 1-2 punch but the rest of the pitchers who make up the Jays' starting staff today have, I think, 7 wins between them in the majors. I'm very excited about Henderson Alvarez and their is certainly huge upside to Kyle Drabek, but they still have to prove their worth over a full season. If the Jays are flying high at the trade deadline, look for "AA" (Alex Anthopolous) to pull the trigger on a veteran starter to get them over the hump, as in the David Cone acquisition in '92. Otherwise it will be another case of "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain" like the '48 Red Sox.

No matter what happens, though, it's going to be good to finally root for a team with some direction and promise in this city. I'm very excited for this season and the future of this team. And, because there's really no other way to end a piece on the Blue Jays' opening day, let me say: "OK, Blue Jays, Let's Play Ball!!"

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