Another season removed from the post Vernon Wells era, and the Mike Napoli error, the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays look to make a name for themselves in the AL East that isn’t preceded by “fourth place” or “perennial basement dwellers”
2011 was a solid step in that direction, finishing 81-81 on the season. But can John Farrel continue to mold this formerly one-dimensional team into a fundamentals-first speed machine that will give pitchers fits? Or will this be yet another Blue Jay team that prays to the altar of the long ball?
While the bats of the Blue Jays have been traditionally mighty, there has been a changing of the guard ever since John Farrell put on his Jays uniform. It could be argued that he’s the most important body in a Jays uniform in 2012.
His background as a pitching coach has turned this swing-first-ask-questions-later team into a group of smart hitters and base runners. In 2011, the Blue Jays finished with over 100 stolen bases for the first time in a decade. This is part of a philosophy of disrupting pitchers by making them throw more and giving them more to think about on the hill.
This strategy has some serious upside for this club in 2012 and beyond, but it relies heavily on the lineup being more disciplined, consistent and productive at the plate.
With a one-two punch like Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, it’s not unforeseeable for this rotation to turn out better than people are expecting. The success of this rotation is going to depend on whether or not pitchers can stay sharp for five or six innings a game on a regular basis.
While Romero and Morrow are excellent pieces for this rotation, it’s only Romero that has the make-up to go the distance. Romero has pitched over 200 innings in both of his full seasons in the majors, whereas Morrow has yet to record a 200-inning season.
Working against Morrow is his bread and butter (10.2 Ks per nine innings in 2011), but if he can reduce his walk totals, there could be some room to be a threat to go seven innings more often.
The true strength of the Toronto Blue Jays over the past five years has been their ability to produce a deep, versatile and effective bullpen. The one struggle that seems to eclipse the strength of this bullpen is the starters' lack of quality starts and the inevitable overuse of any and all arms available in the bullpen.
With Sergio Santos shutting the door (13.1 K per 9 and 30 saves in 2011 with the White Sox) and Fransisco Cordero setting him up (1.02 WHIP last year, his lowest since 2002), there are serious reasons to respect, fear and bank on this bullpen. It all comes down to how the starters in before them perform.
There are some real reasons to be excited about this team, but most of them aren’t looking like they’re quite ready to gel yet. Combine the youth up and down this roster with the fact that the Jays dwell in the AL East, and there isn’t much sense in seeing the Jays get past fourth place in this division.
Finish: 83- 79 (fourth place)