Life ain't easy in the AL East

Jays veteran reliever Casey Janssen is confident his club will turn heads this season, and...

Jays veteran reliever Casey Janssen is confident his club will turn heads this season, and hopefully grab a wildcard playoff berth. (REUTERS)

, Last Updated: 9:03 PM ET

Former Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi would sometimes boast about how his Blue Jays were able to keep their heads above water against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.  

Like in 2006 when the Jays were 20-17 (for a .541 winning percentage) against the Red Sox and Yanks, failing to mention that the Jays also had losing records against the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Oakland A’s and Texas Rangers that same season, while being at sea level (9-9) against National League teams. The result was 87 wins.

The Jays were 21-33 against the Yanks, Red Sox and Rays in 2011.

Glub, glub.

Life isn’t easy in the American League East we’ve been told once or twice. 

Can the Jays overtake well-run Tampa and claim one of two AL wildcard playoff spots available this year?

The challenge begins Thursday afternoon when the Jays, buoyed by the bright promise of spring and a best-in-the-game 24-7 (.774 winning percentage) Grapefruit League record, battle right-hander Justin Masterson and the Cleveland Indians in their 2012 season opener. 

“Let’s face it, these other guys aren’t going anywhere,” Jays starter Ricky Romero said Wednesday afternoon at Progressive Field. “We have to beat them at their own game. Past years we’d pitch them away, we have to attack their hitters.

“It all starts with pitching. If our starters can get the ball to our improved bullpen... Brandon Morrow had a good spring, he’s better than a year ago. Henderson Alvarez was been lights out in Florida. I’ve seen a big improvement in Kyle Drabek.”

How will the Jays fare better in the high-revenue division as the revenue-sharing is about to come to an end under the new Basic Agreement?

“We have to eliminate the prestige, shock value or WOW factor for young guys going into Yankee Stadium or Fenway,” Casey Janssen said. “Some guys are facing their childhoods heroes.

“Any other thought than ‘I’m getting these guys out,’ can’t be there. You can’t think of how many home runs Alex Rodriguez has hit or how many times Derek Jeter has been to all-star games. Respect the other team, but you can’t be intimidated.”

Janssen made his Yankee Stadium debut on July 17, 2007, he opened the bottom of the 10th by hitting Rodriguez with a 1-1 pitch and throwing a wild pitch. After retiring Hideki Matsui and walking Jorge Posada intentionally, he allowed a game-winning, walk-off single to Robinson Cano.

Janssen was one of the young guys once. Who helped Janssen get over his WOW factor?

“Basically I guess I did it myself,” Janssen said. “I tired of throwing 3-1 pitches, backing up third, I made up my mind this isn’t going to happen again.”

Janssen didn’t have to back up third too often. In his next five outings in the Bronx he threw five scoreless innings, allowing two hits.

“We have to bring in better players — and that’s happening — we have to model ourselves after the better teams,” Janssen said. “We need the same ‘fight’ they have late in games. We have veterans now which make us a better bullpen.”

Aside from winning more games, how do the Jays overtake the large-revenue Yanks and Red Sox, as well as the small-revenue Rays? 

“We’ve improved off last year,” said Jason Frasor. “Over the years we didn’t have strong records against the Yankees and the Red Sox because they were better than we were.

“This year we have Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus and Eric Thames for a full year. We have J.P. Arencibia in his second full year. John Farrell is managing his second season.”

Besides Frasor, Darren Oliver, Francisco Cordero and closer Sergio Santos have been added. 

Cordero is in his 14th season and every season has been spent in the Central and West Division with the Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds. Only the 2010 Reds made post-season play with Cordero getting the final three outs enabling manager Dusty Baker’s team to advance.

Excluding 2010, Cordero’s teams averaged almost 22 games off the pace.  

“Everyone knows how tough this division is,” Cordero said, “how this is the toughest division in baseball.”

The Jays wade into the deep end of the pool with their home opener at the Rogers Centre against Boston on Monday. 

Then they play only three of the next 16 games against teams with winning records. Outside of a visit from Tampa Bay to Toronto the Jays play Baltimore Orioles (twice), the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners.

“Most years we play the Seattle Mariners five times, maybe six,” said Lind. “This is a tough division. Seattle comes in and plays Boston, the Yankees and Tampa Bay five times ... and we’re playing them 18 times each.

“We have to do better against Tampa. Every series it seems as if (lefty) David Price is pitching.”  

Lind likes this team better due to the fact the Jays bullpen has been rebuilt and “we’ve had another year to grow as a team. We’re into our second year under John Farrell’s philosophy and a second year removed from Cito Gaston’s. With Cito we could be up 7-0 and their guy had only thrown 50 pitches.”

JAYS VS AL EAST 

How the Jays have fared in the American League East vs. the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox plus the Tampa Bay Rays when they became contenders in 2008.

Year W-L Pct.

2002 15-23 .395

2003 18-20 .474

2004 12-26 .316

2005 17-19 .472

2006 20-17 .541

2007 17-19 .472

2008 25-29 .463

2009 17-33 .350

2010 24-30 .480

2011 21-33 .389 

 


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