It's been 19 years since the Toronto Blue Jays have been to the postseason. Some think that drought is almost about to end.
Last season the on-field results were about the same as they have been in recent years, as the Blue Jays once again finished 81-81 and a distant fourth place in the competitive American League East.
Even with the added wild card team, it's probably going take 90 wins to reach the postseason. Eleven times in the last 14 years, Toronto has won at least 80 games but no more than 88. That likely won't change again this season.
But for the first time in years, there is a sense that success might be just around the corner with young position players like Yunel Escobar, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus ready to complement the American League's top slugger last year, Jose Bautista, in the lineup.
Speaking of Bautista, he quieted his critics who claimed his 2010 breakout season was just a fluke, as he put forth a better offensive campaign overall and solidified his spot as one of the game's best hitters.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2012 edition of the Toronto Blue Jays, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2011 FINISH (81-81) - Fourth Place (AL East)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Sergio Santos (RHP), Francisco Cordero (RHP), Omar Vizquel (SS), Darren Oliver (LHP)
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Shawn Camp (RHP), Frank Francisco (RHP), Jose Molina (C), Jon Rauch (RHP)
PROJECTED LINEUP: Yunel Escobar (SS); Kelly Johnson (2B); Jose Bautista (RF); Adam Lind (1B); Edwin Encarnacion (DH); Colby Rasmus (CF); Brett Lawrie (3B); Eric Thames (LF); J.P. Arencibia (C)
PROJECTED ROTATION: Ricky Romero (LHP); Brandon Morrow (RHP); Brett Cecil (LHP); Henderson Alvarez (RHP); Dustin McGowan (RHP)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Sergio Santos (RHP)
MANAGER: John Farrell
IS THIS THE YEAR JOSE BAUTISTA WINS AN MVP?
Jose Bautista's 2010 season was no fluke. The power-hitting right fielder followed up that spectacular breakout season by hitting 43 home runs with 103 RBI, while raising his average over 40 points to go above .300 for the first time in his career (.302). He also led the league with 132 walks, a .608 slugging percentage and 1.056 OPS, while establishing himself as one of the game's premiere hitters.
Bautista is the first player since Mark McGwire (1996-99) to lead the majors in homers for consecutive seasons, and his walks were the most since Barry Bonds also drew 132 in 2007.
And even though the Blue Jays finished fourth in what very well may have been the best division in all of baseball, Bautista still finished third in AL MVP voting.
But you tell me, who is more important to their team than Bautista?
MVP voting last season was a bit skewed with the tremendous season put forth by Detroit Tigers righty Justin Verlander. Injuries in the second half caused Bautista to hit just .257, but had it been a normal year, he likely would have garnered more attention, despite the poor second half.
Unfortunately, unless things change dramatically the Blue Jays are likely headed for another fourth-place finish, meaning no matter what kind of numbers Bautista puts up, he probably won't win a MVP award.
WILL BRANDON MORROW EMERGE AS A DEPENDABLE NO. 2?
On the heels of a 17-strikeout game in August of 2010 Brandon Morrow entered the 2011 campaign with huge expectations, but a right forearm injury forced him to start the year on the disabled list and he never appeared to find much comfort on the mound.
The 27-year-old again finished the season strong, leading some to believe that maybe this is the year that Morrow puts it all together. Down the stretch he changed is philosophy on the mound. Morrow amped up his intensity from the start, throwing with max effort on almost every pitch and it paid off, as he surrendered just two earned runs over his final 21 innings.
There are few pitchers in the American League who have as much potential as Morrow, but he needs to put it together on a consistent basis. You also forget that he still only has two seasons as a starter under his belt.
Having Morrow emerge would take a load of pressure off left-handed ace Ricky Romero, who was an All-Star last season, going 15-11 with a 2.92 ERA.
IS COLBY RASMUS GOING TO BE A STAR?
It wasn't supposed to be this hard for Colby Rasmus.
A prep school standout in Alabama, Rasmus was a five-tool player who hit .484 his senior season and smacked 24 home runs, eclipsing Bo Jackson's total for second most all-time in the state by a high school player.
The St. Louis Cardinals then made him their top pick in the 2005 draft and Rasmus quickly made his way through the organization, becoming one of the top prospects in all of baseball. However, he quickly fell out of favor with manager Tony LaRussa as well as some of his teammates and was dealt to Toronto last season as the centerpiece of an 11-player deal.
The trade was a new lease on life for Rasmus, a chance to start over. However, it was more of the same for the Georgia native. Perhaps his confidence was more shot than he thought, or maybe he was just trying too hard, but Rasmus was a huge disappointment after the trade, hitting a mere .173 with three home runs and 13 RBI in 35 games before a wrist injury cut his season short.
Rasmus, though, is ready to move on. He's ready for another chance.
Rasmus has stated that his confidence is back, but on the field his game could be helped by a slight adjustment to his batting stance - a lower left kick, rather then the high kick he employed last season that led to timing problems.
X-FACTOR: BRETT LAWRIE: A big reason why there is some optimism north of the border centers on the emergence last season of J.P. Arencibia and Henderson Alvarez, as well as the acquisition of Rasmus. But if the Jays truly are going to take the next step former first round pick Brett Lawrie might be at the center of it. Acquired prior to last season from Milwaukee, Lawrie dominated at Triple-A Las Vegas before being recalled by the Jays in August. Lawrie appeared in 43 games for the Jays last season and hit .293 with nine home runs and 25 RBI. It may have only been 171 at-bats, but most think it won't be long before he's hitting around Bautista in the lineup.
Warranted or not, there are some high expectations for the Toronto Blue Jays this season. But even with the added wild card team, the biggest obstacle the Blue Jays have is cracking a very tough division. On paper they once again seem like the fourth best team behind any combination of the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays. But, that is why you don't play games on paper. Thanks to general manager Alex Anthopolous this franchise is not far off from being a real noisemaker in the American League. Depending on how a few of the scenarios we looked at play out, that could be much sooner than anticipated.