Jays have a gambling chance for second place

PETER WORTHINGTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

As a baseball fan (I hate the word!), hope springs eternal for the Toronto Blue Jays--as it does on opening day every year.

This year, however, is a bit different -- and not just because it's April Fool's Day.

First of all, let's clarify the "fan" aspect.

I guess I qualify as one, though I prefer to simply acknowledge that I'm interested in baseball, but don't pretend to be an expert.

My knowledge comes from watching games--mostly on TV; from living a long time and can even remember Johnny Vander Meer pitching back-to-back no hitters; and from playing 20 years at second base for the Telegram- Sun softball teams.

Not much, but it's best I can do.

Last year, the Jays did better than anyone predicted at the start of the season.

They ended winning 85 games and finishing fourth. This year, some who know more than I do, predict 76 wins.

A building year.

Me, I'm hoping for 90 wins.

I think the Yankees are coming to the end of the line for a while (age catching up), and the Jays have a gambling chance for second place.

Unlikely, maybe, but possible.

Their unexpectedly good season last year hinged on a startling April where they led the league for a while.

To do well this year, April and May have to be strong.

On the positive side they seem deep in good pitchers. Good, but not great. And some who are erratic.

Last year Aaron Hill and Adam Lind were a bit disappointing, but I have great faith in Hill.

Not so much in Lind, whom I have difficulty seeing as a first baseman. Seems like a good team guy, but I don't see him as the hitter that Cito Gaston did, and others still do.

Hope I'm wrong.

Hill is as fine a second baseman as there is, and the same with Yunel Escobar at shortstop.

The outfield looks solid.

As a fan (that word again!), I expect Travis Snider to reach his potential.

I don't know about Rajai Davis in centre but reports are enthusiastic.

I'm a huge fan of Jose Bautista -- and not for his home runs, but his magnificent arm and athleticism.

I suspect the fate of this year's Jays may hinge on J.P. Arencibia as catcher.

Apart from his first game as a Blue Jay last year (two homers, a double and a single)--he hasn't shown much except potential. He really looks like a ballplayer and an awful lot is riding on him.

I didn't think much of Jose Molina early last year, but as the season went on he became more important.

I adore his quick throw from a crouch to first base, and the way he seems to nurse pitchers. And I can't recall a ballplayer who runs the bases as slowly as he does.

I was never a fan of J.P. Riccardi when he was here. Eloquent in interviews, but a walk is never as good as a single, I don't believe in going deep in the count, and I prefer clever base running to depending on big hits.

The most exciting Blue Jays team since winning the World Series in 1993, was manager Tim Johnson's 1998 team where four Jays stole 126 bases (Jose Canseco, Shawn Green, Shannon Stewart and Jose Cruz).

Maybe the new manager, John Farrell, is more aggressive than Cito was, and I think general manager Alex Anthopoulos is both aggressive and daring.

The combination bodes well for an exciting team.

I gather the players like one another, but what is badly needed is a team leader -- a Mookie Wilson or Paul Molitor, who can motivate others by his example.

We'll find out if there is one --and if there is, 90 wins may be more that just a hope, but a possibility.

But they'd better have a winning April!

peter.worthington@sunmedia.ca


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