Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Blue Jays Report

It's the beginning of June and once again the Blue Jays find themselves residing in their customary spot, sandwiched in the middle of the AL East. On the surface, everything about 2008 seems the same for Toronto, it feels like it could easily be '07 or '06 or '05 or...well, you get the picture. A few guys are lost to injury, a losing streak or two threatens to ruin the season, but ultimately .500 and the comfortable confines of third place are never too far away.

It's a scenario Blue Jay fans have become accustomed to: being just good enough not to be bad, with no realistic post season aspirations.

Prior to the '08 season most people assumed the AL wild card would come from the Central, either Detroit or Cleveland depending on which of them claimed the division. The Red Sox looked like a good bet to repeat as victors in the East and the Yankees, as ancient as they were (and are), had proven they should never be counted out. The Jays were arguably next in line but their chances of reaching the playoffs were as thin as Christian Bale in 'The Machinist'.

We pretty much needed a perfect storm to create a situation where making the playoffs seemed possible, and it appears that storm may have arrived. Both the Tigers and Indians have failed to live up to expectations while Tampa Bay, Oakland and Minnesota are nice stories that aren't likely to have staying power. (I say that with a definite fear of the Rays, I'm just hoping they are a year away from really getting the most out of their ridiculously talented roster.) That leaves the Yanks, who are on the verge of a major roster overhaul and don't look capable of making another 2nd half push.

That's where this season begins to look a lot different than years past. As of right now, this moment, Toronto is the favorite to win the wild card. Those words haven't been said, legitimately, since the wild card was introduced in 1995.

The Jays boast the best pitching staff, top-to-bottom, in baseball. The rotation racks up quality start after quality start, almost always giving the team a chance to win. The bullpen features FOUR productive lefties and just went through a stretch of 22 consecutive scoreless innings. Not enough can be said about how well this team has pitched. The bats, on the other hand, have really let them down and (in combination with the Manager) are the reason this team isn't 10 or 12 games above .500.

The other difference is the crackdown on steroids which has really changed the way baseball is played, particularly in the AL. Pitching, defence, speed and intelligence have all taken on renewed importance and the general absence of home run power has quickly evened the playing field. Well, maybe it hasn't evened the playing field, but it's certainly narrowed the gap between good and great in all areas of the game.

That means that instead of the Jays having to get a whole lot better to get to the next level, the next level actually came back and met them halfway.

It all adds up to...wait for it...legitimate playoff aspirations!