Coming off the heels of the Jays big 16-2 drubbing (and forgetting the extra-innings heartbreaker), I was left pondering this question:
Just how close are the Toronto Blue Jays to contending in the loaded AL East?
Is 2011 a pipedream? 2012 more realistic? Are we wrong to discount any serious wildcard run this season?
Let's dispatch the 2010 question first - a full 10 back with 40 games left to play leaves no room for error. None. That said, we're all fans here, so what the hell. Let's just call it a dream. Not an impossible dream (but close), but a dream nonetheless. So what of 2011?
Is it as easy as saying with the continued maturation of the pitching staff, a return to norms for Lind and Hill, and the development of young talent such as Snider and Arencibia....the Jays are instantly a part of the equation? Much as I'd love to blindly say "fuck and yes, that's all it will take", consider the following:
...the impending loss of John Buck. Look (to borrow a phrase from HTV), we're all excited about JP Arencibia and what he can do given a full season of starter at-bats, but John Buck has been providing all-star calibre play behind (or more importantly, at) the plate for the Jays. It's not wrong to be excited about JPA - not by any stretch - but it would be foolish to think that, in 2011, he'll provide more value to the team than the veteran already in place.
I don't think it's wrong to cash in on the career year of John Buck and collect the comp picks - it's all part of The Plan - but for next season, at least, it will likely be a half-step backwards.
...changes afoot in the bullpen. It's been a luxury Jays fans have come to take for granted - the team always seems to string together a pen that provides above average performance, and hasn't been a major concern for a number of seasons. But remove two of the constants in those bullpens - Scott Downs and Jason Frasor - and what do we have? Instead of looking to fill one, maybe two spots in the spring as has become custom, who are the locks for next season under the "everybody out" scenario? Shawn Camp? David Purcey? Casey Janssen? OK, those are nice pieces, but none provide "the hammer" and there are still spots to fill. I have confidence the team will again roll out a surprisingly strong group, but it's hard to ignore the fact that many a season has been derailed by a bad 'pen.
...holes on the corners. I'm not prepared to have the "one more year of Lyle" conversation - largely because I don't know which side of the fence I'm prepared to lean on - but let's assume his Toronto tenure is over. Who fits? Is it as easy as plugging in Adam Lind? Because if that's the answer, there has to be a backup plan in place juuuust in case he turns out to be a complete butcher around the bag. Just sayin'. And what of 3B? It's doubtful that AA is looking at E5 as one of his "core guys", and no serious contender is going to run Johnny Mac out at the position more than a few times a month.
...coaching staff turnover. With Cito, you know what you're going to get. Focusing on the good (let's play nice today), it's a team that will mash the shit out of baseballs, on-base percentage be damned. One thing about this club - they're rarely out of games with this power. Will the philosophy change under the new regime? Will there be a season of transformational flux from a new philosophy? And will the new dude purge the existing staff, bringing in his own Gary Denbo (nightmares) and sweeping MLB-unknown Bruce Walton under the rug while helping Butterfield pack his bags for Baltimore?
Not going to lie to you, friends, these thoughts are already beginning to cause me anxiety. And yes, I realize this isn't normal. It's probably best that I just sit back and enjoy the remaining 40 games on the schedule.
(At least the 20 or so I'll get to watch, anyway. )
Is it wrong that I'm enjoying the flavor that Jesse Carlson is bringing to an otherwise vanilla Blue Jays bullpen? Fist pumps, baby.
Apart from JPA, are there any September callups worth getting excited about? Maybe Brad Emaus? A surprise New Hampshire stick like Thames, Loewen, or Mastroianni? A Hechavarria sighting? Seems unlikely, but....Drabek?
If you don't keep up with John Lott, you should. He's carved out quite a niche keeping dibs on the Jays' minor league system, and his features in the Post are always worth a read.
Hey, y'know that killer August schedule facing AL East rivals that many thought would be the Jays undoing, causing the season to close on a sour note? 7-4 as of this writing vs the division, with series yet to come against the Yankees and Rays. No matter the outcome, Armageddon it was not.