It's been 19 years since the Toronto Blue Jays have been to the postseason. Some think that drought is almost about to end. Today they lift the lid on their 2012 season, as they visit the Cleveland Indians in the opener of a three-game set at Progressive Field.
Last season the on-field results were about the same as they have been in recent years for the Blue Jays, who 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.
But despite the fact that the Jays play in perhaps the most competitive division in baseball, there is a sense for the first time in years 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.
Left-hander Ricky Romero will be on the hill today, hoping to follow up a terrific 2011 season that saw him blossom into an All-Star. Romero recorded career highs in wins (15), strikeouts (178), innings (225) and complete games (four) last season, cementing his status as one of the elite starters in the American League.
"He's evolved in a couple of ways into that spot," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said of the No. 1 starter status. "One, through his own performance and consistency, with the work that he puts in between starts. He leads by example as much as talking to others."
Cleveland, meanwhile, was part of the best story in baseball through the first four months of last season. But the story didn't end well.
The Indians stormed out of the gate and into first place in the AL Central by opening with a 14-2 record at home and a 30-15 record through May 23.
It wasn't just that they were winning, it was the way they were winning. Mixed throughout the season were 36 comeback wins and 18 victories in the last at- bat. The Indians enjoyed 12 walk-off wins, including seven that came courtesy of walk-off home runs. That marked the most walk-off blasts in one season for the Indians since the team had nine such shots in the 1995 campaign.
Injuries, though, started to take their toll and the team struggled mightily in the second half, before ending the year 80-82, up 11 wins from 2010, but still a whopping 15 games back of American League Central Division champion Detroit.
The club used the disabled list 22 times and only had Hafner, Choo, Cabrera and Grady Sizemore -- Cleveland's four most established hitters -- in the same lineup for 17 games. In all, Tribe players lost 826 days due to time spent on the DL.
Injuries have already reared their ugly head this year, as Sizemore (of course), is out until June following back surgery, while closer Chris Perez might not be ready at the start of the season because of an oblique injury suffered early in spring training.
One player who avoided the injury bug gets the call today, as sinkerballer Justin Masterson makes his first-ever Opening Day start. Masterson enjoyed a breakout showing in 2011, as he went 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA in 34 appearances.
Toronto was 4-3 last season versus the Tribe.