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Fielding a Winner: the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012

Jose Bautista (photo courtesy of the Toronto Blue Jays)

Ah, spring! The time of year when Torontonians find any excuse to dust off their patio furniture and their hopes for our beloved Major League Baseball team. At Where we’ve been dutifully doing the latter for the past few years—sure, the Toronto Blue Jays may be in the midst of a rebuilding process, but sometimes it seems as though the squad is just one more top player and a bit of luck short of squeaking into the playoffs.

Stop us if this sounds familiar: the Jays finished the 2011 season with a .500 record of 81 wins and 81 losses. A respectable tally, but good enough only for fourth place in the stacked American League East Division. Rumours abounded, however, that General Manager Alex Anthopoulos was looking to make an off-season splash by landing a choice free agent like Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder or Japanese import Yu Darvish. Somewhat unsurprisingly, those stars sought the bigger bucks elsewhere, leaving the Jays to seek value in mid-level players and count on continued improvement from their core lineup.

Super sophomore Brett Lawrie (photo courtesy of the Toronto Blue Jays)

But you know what? This could be the season that strategy starts to pay off. Slugger Jose Bautista is sure to be at the centre of any 2012 success story. Arguably the most feared hitter in the majors, he crushed a league-leading 43 home runs last season (after knocking out 54 in 2010), despite being pitched around almost every time he stepped up to the plate. The Jays have actually been an offensive powerhouse for the past few years, though aside from “Joey Bats” they’ve lacked consistency. Catcher
J.P. Arencibia, first baseman Adam Lind and centre fielder Colby Rasmus can all hit for power; now they just need to reach base with regularity.
No doubt fans also hope that the team’s Canadian star, Brett Lawrie, can follow up his explosive rookie campaign with an equally successful sophomore season.

Of course, in baseball, batting is only half the story. The Jays’ bullpen was a significant weakness in 2011—they led the American League in blown saves—but this year boasts a shored-up staff including veteran southpaw Darren Oliver (formerly of the Texas Rangers) and closer Sergio Santos, who last year notched 92 strikeouts in 63 innings with the Chicago White Sox. They’ll have less of a load to shoulder if staff leader Ricky Romero maintains his winning ways and the hurlers behind him, including Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek and Dustin McGowan, reach that proverbial next level.

It all adds up to an oft-told story for this city’s birds of play. The tantalizing pieces seem to be in place; the question is whether they’ll finally click together to form a contender. Toronto baseball fans will have fun finding out the answer.

Staff ace Ricky Romero (photo courtesy of the Toronto Blue Jays)

HOT TOPICS
These crucial questions may determine the Jays’ success this season.

Will Colby Rasmus Bounce Back?
In 2010 as a St. Louis Cardinal the mercurial centre fielder showed promise with 23 home runs and 66 RBI. Traded mid-season, he managed only 3 and 13 in 35 games with the Jays. Increased production will go a long way to cementing his place on this young team.

Can offensive consistency by found?
If Moneyball taught us anything, it’s that successful teams are stacked with players who just get on base. This year, Jays batters like Rasmus and Adam Lind need to do a better job of drawing walks and hitting plain old singles and doubles. Then Bautista can bring them home.

Who’s behind Ricky?
Starting pitcher Ricky Romero emerged as the team’s true staff ace in 2011. Hard-throwing Brandon Morrow will be counted on to show improvement in the number-two slot. After that it’s a mug’s game. Henderson Alvarez? Brett Cecil? Kyle Drabek? Each has potential, but all are largely unproven.

—Craig Moy

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