Sunday, March 3, 2013
Playing Nice With Others, Part II
Last year, Bryan O'Connor at the Replacement Level Baseball Blog asked me and three other bloggers who follow AL East teams to submit a little preview of the season as part of a collaborative effort to get a handle on the division as a whole. We're doing it again, so I hope you don't mind if I use this space to take a short break from Tao's commendable 37 Jays in 37-ish Days series to take a look from 30,000 feet instead. Zip over to Bryan's blog for the whole thing in the days ahead. In the meantime, here's what I came up with for the Jays in 2013.
What is your team’s ceiling? What has to go right for your team to win the AL East?
It's an odd feeling for Blue Jays fans to consider the ceiling of their chosen team and realize that for the first time in, oh, 15 years, that ceiling is a season of 90 to 95 wins and an American League East title. It's an odd feeling because for the last decade and a half, the best fans could do was hope for a bunch of things to break just right, and if they did, then maybe -- MAYBE -- the team could sniff the post-season.
You have to live north of the border to have a real sense of just how different things feel about the 2013 Blue Jays. Sportscasts and talk radio shows throughout the fall and winter are usually dominated by hockey, whether it's the NHL or lower-level junior competition. Baseball is the afterthought. I don't need to recap all the acquisitions and departures for you, but not only did Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos completely revamp the major league roster this off-season; he did it in a way that made a largely dormant fan base sit up and take notice. People are paying attention to the Blue Jays again in Canada.
Sure, during the 20-year dry spell we've endured, Jays fans have seen big names come to town before -- Roger Clemens, AJ Burnett, Frank Thomas -- but it never felt like it was part of a real plan to solidify the major league roster in a way that was intended to do anything more than just get some more butts in seats for a while. This off-season has appeared to be more of the culmination of a plan, such as it is, than previous efforts that seemed a lot more like flying by the seat of our pants.
Yet for all the talk about how Anthopoulos made his move for 2013 sensing weakness in New York, Boston, Tampa and Baltimore, he's been the first to tell anyone who ascribes that motive to him that they're off base. The East will be an enormously tough division in which to put up a 90 win season.
To do it, the Jays have to stay healthy. This seems obvious to the point of cliché , but Jays fans are pretty neurotic when it comes to injury after watching 60% of the starting rotation go down in a five day period last summer, watching a rogue's gallery of relievers parade through the bullpen and losing the likes of Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie for extended periods. But health won't be enough. They can't afford for many players on the roster to take steps backward. A team that gets the best of R.A Dickey, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, and Melky Cabrera, just to name a few, will be competitive. A repeat power performance from Edwin Encarnacion and another MVP-caliber season from Jose Bautista would help immensely too. But none of those things are certain. They have to play the games, they tell me, and you don't get any pennants for winning the off-season.
What’s the floor for your team this season? What has to go wrong for them to miss the playoffs?
Perhaps it's 20 years of having cautious pessimism drilled into me when it comes to them, but despite the hype, there actually doesn't seem like that much at all that has to go wrong for the Jays to miss the playoffs and hit a floor of another 4th place finish. Some of that relates to the quality of the division, but some of it relates to lingering questions about the team.
There's a flamethrowing bullpen -- made up of a lot of guys who've only been successful for extremely short periods, if at all.
There's precocious talent in Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie -- talent that hasn't burst onto the scene the way many would have hoped in their respective tenures of fewer than two full seasons in Toronto.
There's a bit of pop in the DH and catcher positions with Adam Lind and J.P. Arencibia -- but serious concerns about their ability to get on base.
There's a core of upper-tier talent on the roster -- a core that's barely played together, to say nothing of the fact that many members of that core haven't played in the American League at all.
Negative outcomes in more than a couple of those little dichotomies could make all the pre-season love for the Blue Jays turn sour in a big hurry.
How do you see the division playing out? Is there one team you’re particularly afraid of?
This might be the first time in a long time that I've actually been afraid of the Yankees, Red Sox or Rays, because I'm far more accustomed to being resigned to their superiority and anticipating tough games and a losing record against them. Now I'm scared of all of them (maybe even the Orioles) because I feel like they can very easily take a sledgehammer to my hopes and dreams of post-season baseball whenever they meet for a series.
But spring is when we're supposed to be optimistic, so I'll make my prediction of a first place finish for the Blue Jays in 2013, with 93 wins. I'll pick the Yankees second, the Rays third, Red Sox fourth and Orioles fifth. Fortune favours the bold.