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Let’s Play Ball! (and lower the pressure just a little bit) + AL East Predictions
April is finally upon us, and for Torontonians, April will be quite different this year. Some may reminisce of an April 21 years ago, when a man named Pat Gillick put together a baseball team with monstrous potential. Now it’s a 35 year old General Manager named Alex Anthopolous, who feeling the heat from star players like Jose Bautista, felt he needed to pull not one, not two, but three massive triggers this offseason.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or have been on some sort of quest to destroy a powerful ring, you know what the Toronto Blue Jays have done in what has been an offseason to remember. Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, Mark Buerhle, Josh Johnson, and Melkey Cabrera will all be donning the striking blue for the first time as the Blue Jays went from playoff hopefuls to World Series favourites.
Expectations are high. Very high. Like Bob Marley lighting up atop the CN Tower high. And it doesn’t necessarily help that this is Toronto, a city starved for playoff anything. A city who hasn’t seen their storied hockey franchise get to the final 16 since April 2004, and haven’t seen their Blue Jays play October baseball since Joe Carter hit a home run heard round the world in 1993. So what can we really expect from the boys of summer this year to give everyone – including the players themselves – some breathing room? Well conveniently enough I’ve written an answer below.
As fans, let’s relax a bit
Before all you bandwagon douchebags who just walked out of New Era sporting your new Blue Jays hats (even though before this year you thought Jose Bautista was only just an actor hired by Booster Juice) say World Series or bust, let’s relax a bit. That kind of pressure is cancerous and most of the team doesn’t even have any sort of playoff experience yet. As the St. Louis Cardinals showed us two years ago, anything can happen and anyone can win in the playoffs. It’s all about getting hot at the right time. I would love nothing more than to see the Blue Jays pop champagne in November, but if it doesn’t happen, we shouldn’t be calling for Anthopolous’ head in true Toronto-sports-fan fashion.
What to realistically expect
What should be expected, and what should be focused on at the moment, is winning the daunting AL East. Perennially this is baseball’s toughest division, however if there were a year for the Blue Jays to prepare for a run, there is none better than this year. Here are my AL East predictions and why:
1. Toronto Blue Jays: With all the offseason acquisitions, the centerpiece is still leader Jose Bautista. Over the years he’s become one of the most feared bats in baseball and has powered an offence, which is among the league’s elite. Pitching depth has arrived in a massive way, and it doesn’t seem like Toronto has a weak spot at the moment. As long as the team stays healthy, and maybe can add a solid bullpen arm in the near future, there is no reason for them not to be AL East champions. Note: I predict Josh Johnson will be the team’s ace by midseason.
2. Baltimore Orioles: They were a team that shocked everyone last year, making the playoffs and going 29-9 in one run games. Their offence is now healthier than it was last summer and as long as it remains that way, the Orioles will once again become a team everyone hates to play.
3. New York Yankees: I wanted to put them at the bottom, I really did, but every year when columnists say they’re too old, they shut them up and make the playoffs. However, although this Yankee team won’t be terrible, they will NOT make the playoffs. Grandparents Rivera and Jeter are having every problem staying healthy, and their rotation aside from Sabathia is hilariously dreadful. It’ll be hard for Cano and Teixeira to carry the entire team on their back.
4. Tampa Bay Rays: A team that has had perennial pitching excellence since 2008 has lost James Shields. David Price will be able to keep their staff ERA a respectable one, but with B.J. Upton heading to the desert, this team will be competitive, just not playoff ready.
5. Boston Red Sox: The Fenway faithful can only dream, as this team needs a miracle. The Red Sox are in transition, and even if Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz continue their spring excellence, that won’t be enough to get this team even close to October.
The long 162 game journey toward that AL East crown begins Tuesday April 2. Cleveland is up first and we have the reigning NL Cy Young Champion on our mound. Love this team, Toronto; let’s go Blue Jays!
by Joey B