Jays poised for 'breakthrough' season
By Mike Rutsey, QMI Agency
|Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia (left) and starter Ricky Romero are two big reasons why expectations are sky high for the club entering the 2012 Major League Baseball season. (REUTERS)
Brett Cecil’s collapse aside, the positive vibes flowed freely from inside the Jays clubhouse on Tuesday.
With their 13-8 victory over the Tigers, the Jays ended spring with a 24-7-1 record which mirrored their optimism.
Throughout the spring the Jays were the talk of the town as a host of national writers floated in and out of camp and wrote about how the Jays are a team on the rise and that third baseman Brett Lawrie should be the next great star.
It’s all led to a general sense of heightened expectations, both within the clubhouse, and outside it. It certainly doesn’t seem to bother manager John Farrell as he holds the same sentiment.
“I think those expectations naturally heighten as the talent and the core group grows, as guys in their early years in the big leagues begin to become more established and you get to have a greater understanding and expectation of what their individual performance can be,” Farrell said earlier in camp.
“And the changes that Alex has made, he’s improved the roster without a doubt. We’ve gone through a year of change is the best way to categorize last year. There’s no question what our overall vision has been. Steps needed to be taken along that way but our vision is always to win a World Series.
“I think we’ve made a huge step in one year to get closer towards that. We’ve got to have some things fall our way in order to contend this year and a large part will be the number of innings pitched by our rotation.
“But when you look at our everyday lineup, our bullpen, what the prospects are in our rotation to go along with Ricky’s (Romero) leadership and Brandon (Morrow) I think we will have a breakout year this year. So there are a lot of really good and tangible pieces in place to be a contending team.”
Just where is the biggest area of improvement?
“I think our overall outfield defence has vastly improved,” he said. “I think our defence overall has improved particularly with Brett at third and Colby (Rasmus) in centre and a year of production by those two guys at those two spots. A year of maturity and understanding by J.P. (Arencibia) behind the plate and (Eric) Thames in left.
“You take the fifth most productive team in the AL (runs scored) and you put some natural progression to it with some really good additions, yeah I think there’s the real possibility and likelihood that we step forward from there.”
Perhaps the biggest area of improvement can be found in the bullpen which was overhauled. They have added a power arm in closer Sergio Santos with former closer Francisco Cordero to take care of the eighth. They brought back Jason Frasor, retained Luis Perez, Carlos Villanueva and Casey Janssen and added veteran lefty Darren Oliver to be a late-inning situation specialist.
Problem areas include what kind of production Adam Lind will deliver at first, whether Rasmus will hit and how the back end of the rotation holds up.
The clubhouse, however, has a buoyancy about it that has been absent for years.
Romero suggested last week that the club intends to display an arrogant attitude and sport a kick-ass mentality.
All signs point upwards for the Jays and for a change the hopes of a breakthrough season don’t seem completely far-fetched.
Each year it seems there is always one team that ‘pops’ ahead of schedule.
Who knows, in 2012, that team could be the Jays.