Picking the Jays (in the A.L. East)
Call me crazy but I am picking the Toronto Blue Jays to win the A.L. East this year. Seriously! I know what you might be thinking? And I’m not one of those people who pick his favorite/hometown team to win it every year. If I recall, I had the Jays finishing dead last behind Baltimore last season. If anything, I should be repeating that prediction based on Baltimore’s improvement and Baseball Prospectus slotting the Jays dead last in their preview. I disagree, and say that last year was just a sign of better things to come from the Jays.
Here is Why?
Nobody in the Jays rotation stands out at you, but believe me, they are all solid arms. I see Kyle Drabek proving to be the prospect everyone thought he’d be, working deep into games late in the season and winning ROY. When Brandon Morrow comes back from the DL he is going to tally up big strikeout numbers and win big games. Ricky Romero also has that ‘big game’ mentality. The Jays can expect another solid season out of him. These three are the pitchers that the Jays will rely on, also getting decent contributions from the back-end guys like Brett Cecil, Jesse Litsch, Jo-Jo Reyes and possibly Zach Stewart later in the year. The bullpen looks formidible with three former closers (Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel, Frank Francisco). This could be, but won’t a concern in my opinion.
The key factor in the Jays winning this season is that the pitching gets better!! I can easily see this occuring under new manager, and pitching specialist, John Farrell. We all saw how the offense caught fire last year, and this year the pitching steps up to compliment it.
Also notable, is the Jays have adding some effective speed to get on base with Rajai Davis, a full season out of Travis Snider @Lunchboxhero45 maintaining a high .OBP and Yunel Escobar having a bounceback year at the plate while helping the pitchers in spades defensively. Along with that, the Jays look better defensively in the outfield with Corey Patterson being a late-inning defensive replacement.
Then, throwing more to the fire is Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion, Aaron Hill and J.P. Arencibia all having productive years at the plate. Encarnacion and Arencibia emerge as a legitimate homerun threats this season, while Aaron Hill gets his batting average in the .320’s
All this is a formula for success. The Jays put together a full year and take a commanding lead on the A.L. East early. We sweep the Yankees in a home series in mid-September, giving the Jays what they need to lock up the A.L. East crown.
Importantly, I buy a t-shirt to commemorate the event. Yay!!!!!!!! ha ha.
Rest of the A.L. East
If you haven’t noticed this offseason, the A.L. East has changed drastically. The Red Sox, Rays, Orioles and even the Yankees have rearranged their clubs in ways that might alter the landscape of this division. On paper, you could say that the Red Sox and Orioles improved the most over the offseason, but every year we see good teams on paper disintegrate. The Red Sox are definitely familiar with that. So, that is what I am predicting for 2011.
The Orioles revamped their offense but are relying on too many unprovens in their rotation, and everybody can see it. Their weakness is glaring. The acquistion of guys like Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy shows that they are going to be a team that can flash the lumber, although without a solid nucleus behind them. Similar to the Jays last year, their offensive numbers will be significant, but their record will not be enough for the wild card. They’ll have a better season though, I’ll give them that as a fact.
The Red Sox got some premiere players (Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford), an improved bullpen (Bobby Jenks) and a promising rotation (a thinner, healthier John Lackey). They seem like the sexy pick to win the World Series right now, so they have that working against them. Expectations will be high and they will fail to meet them this season. Watch Papelbon gets yanked as closer, Scutaro and Saltamacchia not cut it defensively and their acquisitions take time to get aclimated to the change of scenery. Jose Bautista ends up owning the Green Monster in Fenway. So much so, they contemplate taking it down the following year. Okay, I’ve started to dream a bit.
Yankees *Wild Card Pick*
You could say the same old things about the Yankees. Tired responses like they have an aging roster, and they will fold under the pressure of playing in New York. But I won’t say them again, as I’ve been burned by these statements in the past. I have the Yankees winning the Wild Card for the second year in a row. Their back end rotation won’t have to be amazing to guide them through the year. If they aren’t good, I like the depth they have in the minors with guys like David Phelps, Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman for the 2011 season. The Yanks bullpen also got a lot stronger with Rafeal Soriano. It is going to scare clubs to get into late innings with that team. They’ll take the Wild Card, but the Jays will be a handful for them all year.
Hard to see the Rays finishing the season low in the standings after winning the division last year, isn’t it? They will have a good club, no doubt. However, I know how important it is to have a good bullpen in the A.L. East, and they don’t have one for 2011. They still have a good season, but blow too many late leads on the road to the Yankees, Jays and Red Sox. Bautista walk-offs bombs will be their demise.
Baseball Does Not Revolve Around the A.L. East (I forgot)
There are actually other divisions, with some other good teams. Believe it or not?
Tigers win this division on the backs of Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera. Both these players have a long history of wraking the baseball. Prospect Jacob Turner makes an impact in the rotation as a mid-season call-up and the rotation survives as the offense is a juggernaut in 2011. The only PED Miguel Cabrera needs is scotch.
The Angels show MLB that defense in the outfield is as important as any aspect in the game. Balls are gobbled up all year by Bourjos, Hunter and Wells, and
the best rotation in the West quells the Rangers bats all year. The Angels win their matchups with the A’s starters on a consistant basis. They are a fast, well managed and better team at producing offense. The Angels are my ‘ultimate dark horse’ this year.
Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, need I say anymore names? The Phillies rotation will get them loads of wins and Ryan Howard will wrake once again in 2011. Hard to pick against them, I dare anybody to do it. They are the class of this division.
Marlins *Wild Card Pick*
You’d think that the Braves would be the logical team to pick here. Many predict them to improve upon last season. They also scooped up Uggla from the Marlins. However, the N.L. East, apart from the Phillies, has been a very competitive division and the fish look on the verge of making some noise. The Marlins come into 2011 with a more experienced pitching staff, adding Vasquez and looking for prime years from Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson. The lineup features a very good young outfield on the brink of providing Hanley Ramirez with some needed protection. Marlins suprise everyone this season except me.
The Reds were so impressive last season that I’m riding them to the World Series this year. With a taste of the playoffs last year, I see a hungry team looking for more. No doubt, the Cardinals and Brewers will give them enough competition this year. But I believe that will only help fuel this team. They showed a tremendous consistancy as a team last year, and a great will and desire to win every game. The central is slowing becoming a very tough division, and Joey Votto is looking like a “big red machine” at the top of it. I see Cueto and Volquez solidifying themselves as frontline starters and Aroldis Chapman starting mid-season to boost the Reds even further.
It’s the Giants. Dominant pitching characterized this team last year, and the scary thing is that they are all young players that are getting better. They might have a shaky beginning this year, but the Giants will end it in first. Their pitching is that much better than any other team in their division. Big years from Madison Bumgartner and Buster Posey make them even better in 2011.
Angels vs. Reds
Winner: Angels in 7 games
Don’t anybody call me unoriginal! Dan Haren and Jared Weaver provide a great playoff stretch for the Angels and they win it just as the Giants won it last year; with pitching and defense (not including Scott Kazmir in that equation).
Taking the bull and putting him in his place! Or bulling the man and taking him with horns of fury?! Or taking horns and throwing bulls all over the place. However that expression goes? Alex Anthopolous is doing it with the Blue Jays right now.
Presented with the monumental tasks of dealing Vernon Wells‘ long and expensive contract, acquiring some team speed, revamping the Blue Jays minor-league prospects and solidifing a team manger, Anthopolous has taken the challenge head-on.
Alex Anthopolous (or the Silent Assassin as many call him) dealt Wells to the Angels in return for Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli (who was later traded to the Texas Rangers for former closer Frank Francisco). In process he has freed up the Jays from a large financial obligation that was not paying off. Rivera and Francisco are decent players that will help the Jays in the 2011, and some will argue that Rivera could provide similar offensive production, even if we see him in a plattoon role. The Jays will undoubtably be able to a lot of things financially in the near future, so many Jay fan are excited at those possibilties even if they did come at the expense of losing a good player.
The Need for Speed
I did a prior post on this subject and I believe that it cannot be overstated. The Jays are going to be a more athletic team. The recent acquisitions of Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, Brett Lawrie, Yunel Escobar (to lesser extent) and Corey Patterson has given the Jays a new dimension defensively and on the basepaths. AA said that he was going to pursue more athletic players to give the team another threat. He was true to his word. I believe that this is an element of the game that the Jays have lacked in the past. In my opinion speed isn’t vital to the success of a club, but it is important.
A New Coach
A Jays team without both Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells will seem unusual coming into the 2011 season. Things will be different, but hopefully they will get better with changes on the managing front. AA brought in a well-respected pitching coach from the Boston Red Sox, John Farrell. A core of very good young pitchers consisting of Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow will have Farrell’s hands full. Not to mention the young pitchers that are liking coming up in the near future Kyle Drabek and Zach Stewart. Farrell will likely be able to provide some valuable mentoring for these players along the way.
The task of winning in what is usually the toughest (or among the toughest) divisions in baseball every year, is extremely challenging. Blue Jay fans have experienced it. Right now, I see AA developing a well-thoughtout strategy to make the Jays successful. Notably, the Jays are improving their minor-league system and player development, they are focusing on the draft, improving scouting and they acquiring players with high-ceiling and loads of athletic ability. Or in other words:
AA has branded a Blue Jay bull with the Blue Jay logo, and he is going to eat a succulent medium-well cooked New York (Yankee) strip steak with it!
Make sense? ha ha. So, the Blue Jay bull is a Yankee?
Writing about Earl Weaver‘s coaching strategy made me reflect on a man that is now an afterthought in Toronto, Cito Gaston. Cito’s time with Jays has recently ended, in a managing capacity at least, ushering in the former Red Sox pitching coach, John Farrell,
as the Blue Jays 2011 manager. In my opinion, it was time for a change
as the Jays have been fruitlessly looking for managing talent ever
since Cito was replaced in 1997. They found a well respected man in John Farrell, and he seems up to the challenge.
Cito began in professional baseball playing 11 years (1967-1978) with the Braves, Pirates and Padres.
His playing career peaked when he was 26 years old and hit
.318/29HRs/.364OBP and was selected to the 1970 All Star team. When
you look over his playing stats, you
will see that Gaston was never able to produce like he did in that
year, and for a hitter labelled ‘strike-out prone,’ that quickly landed
Gaston in a part-time role off the bench.
In 1982, same that year I was born coincidently, Cito started as the Blue Jays hitting coach under former Jays managers Bobby Cox, and then Jimmy Williams. It would begin a long, ‘off-and-on‘
relationship (that may still be going on in some capacity). This
wasn’t the last time he’d be the hitting coach. Cito would return to
the position from 1999-2001, two years after he was let go as manager,
then he’d return again to manage from 2008-2010.
broke into managing, the year was 1982. It was the tail-end of Weaver
and the Orioles’ reign over the A.L. East. Weaver’s “save every
precious out,” and “wait for the 3-run-homerun” strategy was still
dominant in the American League, that had only adopted the DH (designated hitter)
in 1973. Gaston was obviously influenced by this coaching strategy in
those early years. Although Gaston was not nearly as involved of a
manager as Weaver, rarely substituting hitters in the game and hardly
ever arguing with the umpire, Cito’s ‘basic coaching strategy,’ in the
game, was definitely influenced by the Weaverian era.
Cito took over as manager in the 1989 season and he would lead the Jays to
four ALCS appearances (1989, 1991, 1992, 1993) and two World Series in 1992 and 1993.
I was only 10-11 years old, but I will look back on those days as the
fondest memories of my life. Cito was new to the managing gig when
team exploded with talent in those years. The tremendous organizational praise starting with Team President Paul Beeston and General Manager Pat Gillick
(both considered among at what they do)
reached Cito with open arms as well, and deservedly so. The people of
Ontario and all over the nation of Blue Jay fans were sitting on a
high, and tasting sweet victory. Something that the Toronto Maple
Leafs had not enjoyed since the 60s, so it was long overdue. Cito was
able to deliver with a great collection of talent, and a top payroll at
the time. What he did for the team cannot be understated, but he had
all pieces in place to make it easier for him.
worked well was the fact that Gaston was the proto-typical ‘players
coach,’ which fit the Blue Jay teams of the early 90s. He was always
laid back, he’d rarely adjust the lineup and hardly ever substitute
guys, even in situations that called for it. His message was always
that he had to establish that trust in his players. “For every
ten times that a substitution worked, he’d show you ten times that it
didn’t,” he’d always say. Cito maintained to be a student of hitting.
He’d always let his hitters swing freely, but would preach that they ‘have a plan‘ established for every at-bat. ‘Have a plan’
became his ‘mantra’ in his comeback to Jays after an 11-year absence.
Cito would have one last ‘hurrah’ with the Jays from 2008-2010 after
leaving a failed and broken team in 1997. The Jays seemed revitalized
upon Cito’s return, still falling short of the playoffs, but able to gather a few respectable MLB season records.
was not all daisies, however, for Gaston with the Blue Jays. His
incredibly laid back attitude, and sometimes inconcievable decisions
left members of the team, the fans and media baffled on many
occasions. He accused respected members of the media of racism in
1997, and he also had the power to force media to face suspension for
questioning his on field tactics. Gaston was criticized by the media
and even his for having a lack communication. There was an apparent
‘mutiny’ reported in the Jays 2008 clubhouse, as players felt like they
were not being communicated with about their role on the team. The
glorious years of 1992 and 1993 would turn into a bitter, cold
and desolate place around Cito. Even though Cito had incredible early
success with the team, many baseball purists in the area could not
respect his coaching style.
If you are a ‘great student’
of the game, and like to strategize, crunch numbers and play matchups?
Gaston would be very tough to watch for you. He seemed to manage by
instinct, and at times, not manage at all. He would always maintain
that it is not what the fans, or the media can see that makes a good
coach. His strength was with the players. And it is hard to disagree
with that, especially considering the Jays offensive output the last
couple years, when nobody thought that they would do anything near to
what they did.
Cito will forever be a key figure in Blue
Jay history. In fact, he might never go away. ha ha. His body of
work with the team is most impressive, as not many managers can boost
two World Series rings. With any long marriage you have to accept, and
live with the other person’s faults. For all his faults, nothing can
replace the years that he contributed to in the early 90s.
It was a flawed marriage, but I’d challenge you to prove one that isn’t?
Even though I would have, I wouldn’t have had the Jays managed any differently. Cito this design is for you.