Guide Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

We finish up the week by looking at one of the harder luck teams in baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays. Other than an absolutely atrocious 2004, when they lost 94 games, the Blue Jays haven’t won fewer than 78 games since 1997. In that time, they have won 86 or more games 4 different times, but have only finished as high as second once (in 2006, when they were 10 games behind the Yankees). In pretty much every other division in baseball, that string of success would have at least threatened the postseason once or twice. In the AL East, it turns you into an afterthought – “Oh, the Blue Jays? Yeah, they’re not too bad, are they? When was the last time they were in the postseason?”. Sadly, I think their luck has turned ever worse in the last year or so. The Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees can now all potentially win 90 games, and where does that leave the Jays? Another season as the AL East also-ran, and this time in 4th place. You can only wish them better.

As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team’s 2009 season. I’ve included quotes and other information from each of the them – Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy’s. I’ve also included some statistics about each magazines’ success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.

My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there’s room for some personal commentary. I think it’ll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don’t want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I’ll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I’ve never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the “combined” team preview for the…

Toronto Blue Jays
Last Year: 86 – 76, 4th Place, AL East

Predictions Since 1999
This Year Last Year Avg Pred. Avg Finish
Sporting News 4 3 2.875* 3.25*
Athlon 4 3 3.125** 3**
Lindy’s 4 3

* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2001, 2003 – 2004, 2006 – 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2003, 2006 – 2008

Team Notes

The 2008 Blue Jays won 86 games in the toughest division in baseball, but finished in only 4th place. It was a strong team that, despite being hurt by injuries and inconsistencies, was hurt most of all by something out of its control: it’s geography. Things are only going to get worst, too, with the emergence of the Rays in the East and the loss of some key players.

“For a few years now, the Blue Jays have been a team of optimism. Armed with stellar pitching, Toronto has long believed it was a break or two away from serious contention in the AL East. One year ago, scouts crowed that the Blue Jays’ pitching was the best in the league, with Dustin McGowan and Shawn Marcum having emereged to join co-aces Roy Halladay and AJ Burnett in the rotation.

But that was a year ago.

Now Burnett is gone, having opted out of his contract to sign with the division-rival Yankees. McGowan is out until at least May following labrum surgery and Marcum was shelved for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. And with a rotation that’s likely to hit spring training with three or four open spots, it’s hard to imagine how the 2009 Jays can crack the top three in the AL East. (TSN)”

When talking about the Jays’ strengths, the conversation can only start in one place: staff ace Roy Halladay. As talented and consistent as they come, the Jays are “the best team in the league every fifth day” with Halladay at the top of the rotation.

“File Roy Halladay under ‘hoss’. His 7.45 innings per start rank first in the majors since 2002, and his 34 complete games since 2003 surpass the totals for 20 major league teams. Halladay led the majors in both strikeout-to-walk ration and groundball-to-flyball ratio last year, so if his infielders are alert and surehanded, they’ll be rewarded. (Lindy’s)”

Indeed, the Jays’ infield is made up of fine defensive players in Lyle Overbay, Aaron Hill, Marco Scutaro, and Scott Rolen. However, it’s the Jays’ outfield that is the real strength- non-Roy Halladay division – of this team.

“Alex Rios and Vernon Wells are both locked up for the long term, and while Rios led the club in runs, hits, total bases and steals (career-high 32), [manager Cito] Gaston raised some eyebrows over the winter by suggesting that one of his goals was to make sure Rios ‘really knows how to hit.’ Wells, who appeared in only 108 games due to a hamstring strain, and Rios cover a great deal of ground and are above-average defenders. The Blue Jays would dearly like Adam Lind to finally cash in on his potential and develop enough offensive consistency to take over in left field, because he’s a left-handed hitter on a club that is shy in that commondity. Travis Snider, the organization’s top prospect, was not overmatched after joining the big league club. It will be interesting to see whether the team carries him as a designated hitter if he doesn’t earn a spot in the field. A trade could also open a spot for him. (Athlon)”

Spotlight Quote

Athlon reminds us why Roy Halladay is a “True Ace”:

“Roy Halladay has been a model of consistency during his time with the Blue Jays. Last year, Halladay once again led the AL with nine complete games, more than any other major league team except for the Milwaukee Brewers (12) and Cleveland Indians (10). Halladay had a three-game winning streak, a four-game winning streak and a five-game winning streak. He also lost three consecutive complete games, becoming the first pitcher to do so since Randy Johnson in 1999.”

Commentary

It’s hard to know what to say about the Blue Jays. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is a winning ballclub, even when you consider that they have to play 57 games against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. But they’re in the AL East, and that means that being a winning ballclub just isn’t enough. Sadly, if the Blue Jays finish in even third place this year, it would be a shock to the baseball world. My prediction would have the Jays winning a respectable 84 games but still finishing in 4th place. I can’t imagine having to root for a team like that, who just has no chance of playing in the postseason no matter how well they play. I feel for Blue Jays fans.

Larry Granillo

About Larry Granillo

Larry Granillo has been writing Wezen Ball since 2008 and has dealt with such touchy topics as Charlie Brown's baseball stats and Ferris Bueller's day off. In 2010, he got the bright idea to time every home run trot in baseball; he has been missing ever since.

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