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Blue Jays Rising in the AL East

Brett Lawrie

On Thursday in the Grapefruit League the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Boston Red Sox 3-2 in what could be called a meaningless spring training contest, however heads are beginning to turn at the Jays currently hold a 23-5 record. The game was started by Alfredo Aceves for the Sox, who looked solid over the course of six innings. The game was decided by nameless relievers and utility players for the most part, as a majority of games in spring training are. So while there’s certainly not much that can be taken from this one game, it is notable that things are changing in baseball including the rise of the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East.

When Major League Baseball announced the addition of a second wild card in each league this winter, one of the teams deemed most positively affected would be the Blue Jays. The team hasn’t reached the postseason since they won the World Series back in 1993. During that time they’ve generally been a solid team, winning as many as 88 games. The competitiveness of the East has blocked the franchise from accomplishing much of anything, as the Red Sox and New York Yankees have dominated the division because of their high team payrolls. However now the Blue Jays do have the opportunity to make an impact on the playoff race and they’re slowly putting together the roster to challenge what has been the norm over the last decade or so.

Powerful Lineup

This year the Blue Jays lineup will center around slugger Jose Bautista, arguably the best pure power hitter in the game. He burst onto the scene two years ago after years spent as a utility player and has hit 97 home runs in that time. Adam Lind also supports Bautista’s power, hitting 84 of his own long balls over the last three years. But this year it’s the younger players who could make the difference for the team offensively.

Impressive Phenom

22-year old Brett Lawrie might be the next Bautista, or at least the next big thing in baseball. He’s played very little in the majors, appearing in only 43 games last year. This year he starts the season as the Jays regular third baseman, and the sky could be the limit for a kid who has been deemed destined for greatness.

Rasmus Rebound?

The Jays quietly acquired young Cardinals outfielder Colby Rasmus at the deadline last year, and while he struggled mightily adjusting to the new environment north of the border, it’s reasonable to think the outfielder could bounce back this year. If he does, Rasmus could be a nice fit towards the top of the Jays lineup if he can lessen his high strikeout totals and get on base ahead of Bautista, Lind, and Lawrie.

Pitching Potential

The Blue Jays are improving their pitching staff as their farm system begins to develop. Ricky Romero leads the rotation after a stellar 2011 season during which he posted a 2.92 ERA over 225.0 innings. Since his first year back in 2009, Romero has lowered his ERA every year and added to his innings total. There’s little reason to think that trend won’t continue this year, which could place him amongst the elite aces in baseball. If he starts being more effective against the Yankees and Red Sox the Jays could start taking aim at a division crown someday soon.

The middle of the rotation includes Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil, each of whom are under 30 years old and have career ERA around 4.50, which might not attract much attention but are certainly good options in a stacked division. It should be interesting to see how 21-year old Henderson Alvarez performs after a successful spring. He throws a wicked slider or cutter pitch that will be hard for lineups to pick up at first, and his strong velocity is promising as he has shown pinpoint control in spring training in the low to mid 90s.

In the bullpen, the Jays had an interesting offseason, piecing together leftover players from other teams. They added White Sox reliever Sergio Santos to become their closer, as well as Rangers pitcher Darren Oliver and Reds closer Francisco Cordero. While the trio might not be as flashy as the bullpen of many teams, I believe Toronto has assembled a great combination of effective pitchers to support their rotation. That’s kind of what it seems like the Jays are, a bunch of pieces coming together at the right time and place, and true success might be right around the corner for the franchise.

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