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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
by Mike Thomas
Blue Jays Rising
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                          Thole and Dickey will be heading North

Right now, Vegas has the Blue Jays as the favorite to win the 2013 World Series. The Blue Jays haven't had this high of expectations in 20 years when they won back to back championships in 1992 and 1993. They haven't been terrible since their World Series days, but they've been average to mediocre since. Toronto has also been stuck in the American League East, a division which the Red Sox and Yankees have dominated since then. Those two teams have won 7 World Series since the Blue Jays last won one. However, the Red Sox finished in last place in 2012 after collapsing down the stretch the previous season. The Yankees won the division last year, but they have the oldest roster in the league. Almost all of the Yanks key players will be over 30 next year, some close to 40.

There is an opening at the top of the AL East with not as strong Yankee and Red Sox teams. It's still a tough division though. The Orioles made their first postseason in 15 years last season. The Rays have made 3 out of the last 5 postseasons, and should contend again next year. The Jays were probably the most excited team about the second wild card last year, but their pitching collapsed on them last year. Toronto used 12 different starters and 34 pitchers total last season. Their team ERA was 4.64, 11th in the American League.

The Jays made some big moves to upgrade their rotation. They added Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle in a monster trade with the Marlins. This week, they traded for 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets. Dickey will bring his knuckleball to Toronto, and was given a 2 year, $25 million extension.

Dickey, Buehrle, and Johnson have made 7 All Star teams between the trio. Johnson won the National League ERA crown in 2010, but missed much of 2011. Johnson did pitch 191.1 innings last year, but had a 3.81 ERA. Buehrle is one of the most dependable starters in the league, pitching over 200 innings and winning over 10 games for the last 12 seasons. Buehrle was part of the 2005 White Sox championship team and has won the last 4 Gold Gloves. Dickey had a career year last season, winning 20 games and leading the NL with 230 strikeouts.

To fill out the last two rotation spots, the Jays have Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, and Drew Hutchison to pick from. Romero was an All Star in 2011 and had a 2.92 ERA that season. Last year, Romero's ERA jumped nearly 3 runs to 5.77. The Jays hope that was an aberration. Morrow pitched a no-hitter last season, but was limited to 124.2 innings. Morrow could also move into the bullpen and could be a closer candidate if Casey Janssen falters. Drabek and Hutchison are young pitchers who pitched under 100 innings last season.

Toronto also added Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Josh Thole, Maicer Izturis, and Melky Cabrera this offseason. The Jays offense is led by right fielder Jose Bautista and  1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion. Encarnacion hit a career high 42 home runs in 2012, and had a career year last season. Encarnacion might be another late bloomer like Bautista, or he could be a fluke. It was his 8th season in the big leagues and he finally lived up to his vast potential. Bautista missed the last two months due to injury, and that's when the Jays crumbled.

After Bautista went down, the Jays young hitters fell off. J.P. Arencibia, Brett Lawrie, and Colby Rasmus all fell into slumps afterwards. Toronto will need those three hitters to have good seasons next year. They signed Cabrera, who was off to a career year last year before his PED suspension. He could take over at left field, although young speedster Anthony Gose will fight for playing time there. Cabrera could also DH, with Encarnacion moving to first base.

Toronto only won 73 games last year, there worst showing since 2004. They should be much improved for next season, but will it be enough to put them ahead in the division? It would be a major dissapointment if the Jays don't contend next year. I think with a much improved rotation and addition of a impact player like Reyes, they should be the favorite to win the AL East next year. But, there is some questions about this club. Their bullpen was shaky last year, and they'll need their younger players to step up offensively. The AL East is still a tough division as well. I don't know if I would say Toronto is a World Series favorite, but I think they should be a playoff team next year.



           

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