The Blue Jays have let their bats do the talking, and they’ve spoken loud enough that three weeks into the season, Toronto is setting the pace in the AL East. Getting an early jump on the Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees is impressive enough, but consider that the Jays have done that without some arms they were heavily counting on – those of Jesse Litsch, Ricky Romero, Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan, Casey Janssen, and B.J. Ryan.
All of the aforementioned are on the DL. Marcum, who made 25 starts for Toronto last season, underwent Tommy John surgery last September so he’s out of the picture for 2009. McGowan is coming off right shoulder surgery so he too could experience a lost season. Janssen missed last season after having his right shoulder operated on in spring training. His rehab has experienced a setback, with soreness in the shoulder, and raised doubts over whether he’ll take the hill this year. Litsch (forearm), and Romero (right oblique muscle strain), could be back sometime in May.
Romero has really impressed me. He’s like a smaller version of Johan Santana. He likes to work inside, has a very good changeup, and he has a lot of Santana’s mannerisms on the mound. If he stays healthy, he’s going to be a good one.
Ryan isn’t a starter, but rather the team’s closer. He has struggled this season, and the Blue Jays are hoping that’s because he has been diagnosed with tightness in his left trapezius muscle. Until he returns, Scott Downs, who had been excellent in a setup role, will close. The Blue Jays have a very strong bullpen, and that’s going to help given how many starters are sidelined.
The rotation has ace Roy Halladay as the one sure thing. And he’s a huge plus. Halladay’s a workhorse, and he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. He is one of the five best pitchers in the game. He doesn’t give in to hitters, he pitches deep into games, always wants the ball, and is very aggressive in the strike zone. His cutter is one nasty pitch.
After Halladay, the Blue Jays will be going with the likes of David Purcey, Scott Richmond, Brian Tallet, and Brian Burres – at least until Litsch and Romero return.
If the Blue Jays can get some starting pitching back healthy, they have the offense to stay in the AL East race. Toronto’s early season has seen it lead the majors in runs, hits, and doubles. The Blue Jays are also among the league leaders in home runs.
This is Cito Gaston’s second stint as the Blue Jays manager. His first time around he won two world championships so bringing him back to the dugout is great for the organization. Gaston is the type of manager who is from the old school. He demands his players play the game the right way. And he doesn’t try and overmanage.
The Blue Jays weren’t very active in the offseason, but bringing in free agent Kevin Millar was a good move. He’s not only a good hitter in the clutch, he’s a clubhouse leader, who is tremendous for team chemistry. He plays the game the right way, the hard way, and that rubs off on his teammates. In the past, the Blue Jays had a pretty quiet clubhouse, and Millar should help change that in bringing out the personalities of his teammates.
Toronto’s two table-setters are leadoff man and shortstop Marco Scutaro, and second baseman Aaron Hill. They are the catalysts to get the offense going, and this team has plenty of offense to get going.
Behind Scutaro and Hill come the bats of Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, Adam Lind, Millar, Scott Rolen, Lyle Overbay, Rod Barajas, and Travis Snider.
While this season it’s been the rotation that’s been hit hard by injuries, last season it was the position players who had to deal with injuries that cost them much playing time. In particular, the Blue Jays were comprised in 2008 by Hill playing only 55 games, Wells 108, and Rolen 115.
Wells still hit 20 home runs, and had 78 runs batted in. Two years ago when he played in 160 games, Hill hit .291 with 17 home runs, and 78 runs batted in. And although Rolen is 34-years-old, he still represents what an outstanding third baseman should bring to the game. He plays tremendous defense, and he can hit for power. He still has plenty left, both in the field, and at the plate. He just has to stay healthy.
Lind and Snider are rising stars, and Barajas has done a good job behind the plate, a good job handling the pitching staff after Michael Barrett went on the DL in mid April with a torn muscle in his right shoulder.
When the season began the consensus on the Blue Jays was that they were little more than a fourth-place team in the AL East. They may turn out to be that, but they also might -- despite the litany of injuries to their rotation – lay enough of their lumber on opponents to prove themselves contenders in their division.
HBT: Robinson Cano homered twice while David Phelps had the longest outing of his career as the Yankees topped the Blue Jays 7-2 this afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
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