April 4, 2012
Blue Jays lookin' good
By PETER WORTHINGTON, QMI Agency
Due to popular demand from exactly no one, I am persuaded, once again, to make some observations about the Toronto Blue Jays as they begin another season of great hopes and possibly greater expectations.
I do not write as an expert, but as an ordinary fan who catches most games on TV and goes to games only when someone invites me or provides a ticket, or when my grandson is in town from Washington and we go to games at which he talks about the Yankees.
Every year, we fans hope for the best.
Last year at this time, with a new manager and Doc Halladay gone to Philadelphia, I was more optimistic than facts warranted (as is usual with us fans) and felt with luck the Jays could win 90 games. They fell nine games short, largely because they had 25 blown saves.
Judging from season-training reports -- mostly Ken Fidlin, Bob Elliott and Mike Rutsey -- the Jays have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs. If they are in contention, say, in mid-July, I think they'll have a running shot at the post-season, and will skip trying out young players and maybe acquire contenders prior to the trading deadline.
And if the Jays do make the playoffs, no matter who they are matched against, I'd not bet against them. I think (hope) they are one of those teams that are comprised of players who thrive on adversity and achieve more than their individual talents warrant.
What's "different" about the Jays this year (or seems different) is that they have more players capable of inspiring their teammates -- of raising their playing level a notch.
Last year, Jose Bautista was a question mark. Was his previous home-run year a fluke, or was he the real thing? Some baseball people even felt he should be traded as his value was at a peak.
Last season, Bautista not only won the home run crown again, but was a team leader of poise, conviction, determination. He wants to win, and makes others want to win.
Player for player in the field, the 2012 Jays seem the equal of any team, or better.
I was cheerfully surprised last year that Adam Lind seemed comfortable at first base. He seems a really nice, modest guy, but I've never viewed him as a reliable hitter. I was always surprised when he delivered. It never surprises me when Bautista or Yunel Escobar hit. It's expected.
A difference this year is that J.P. Arencibia, as catcher, seems poised for a break-out year. He also seems a team leader, able to inspire others.
Brett Lawrie, at third base, also seems to have this quality.
With three gung-ho players, there's no telling how far the Jays can go.
I'm hopeful that second base works out, but am uncertain. I was one who had faith in Aaron Hill at second, and was sorry to see him go to Arizona, along with John McDonald, who I've always felt was the most valuable Blue Jay in that he could play any infield position better than most. Also, he managed to get key hits at unexpected times. I wouldn't have traded him -- but what do I know?
Last year I thought John Farrell looked like a big league manager (not all of them do). This year he behaves like a big league manager, and radiates a confidence that he had no reason to feel last year. This year's Jays are his team.
About the only question mark is pitching -- but it's always a question mark unless you are Halladay or Roger Clemens. From my fan's point of view, Ricky Romero is reassuring, as is Brandon Morrow. About Henderson Alvarez, Kyle Drabek and others, I dunno. I read the spring training articles and see the usual "ifs and buts" about their potential.
Of course, I see familiar names in the bullpen. My God, Jason Frasor is still around! As is Casey Janssen. At least Frank Francisco is gone as closer, which saves a lot of us fans from heart attacks. Experience and disappointments over the years makes me skeptical and/or cynical about Blue Jays pitchers.
Apart from the fielding of players, about which I have no criticism, what's reassuring about the 2012 Blue Jays is their president, Paul Beeston, who is one of the good guys in life and baseball (despite his skepticism about my late Jack Russell, Felix, possibly singing the national anthem at a game), and Alex Anthopoulos, who right now is one of the best, most insightful general managers in all of baseball.
That has to be encouraging for us fans.
Oh yes. A final point: I'm superstitious about winning games that don't matter.
I wish the Jays hadn't won so handily in spring training -- save 10 wins in a row for the regular season.
Anyway, the real thing begins today. Onward to the World Series!