03/28/08 10:00 AM ET
Blue Jays Opening Day outlook
With new faces on roster, team has fresh eyes on playoff berth
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
"This is probably the best group we've had top to bottom," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "I think if we stay healthy it's our best chance to get between [the Yankees and Red Sox] or ahead of those guys. We know how good they are, too, so it's not going to be an easy task."
The Blue Jays believe they have the personnel in place to make a run at a playoff berth -- an elusive goal that the team hasn't achieved since winning the World Series in 1993. During the offseason, Toronto added World Series winners in shortstop David Eckstein and third baseman Scott Rolen to help add more experience to the clubhouse.
Rolen is currently out with a broken finger on his right hand, but he and Eckstein help reshape an offense that struggled to get much going last season. Closer B.J. Ryan won't be available out of the gates, but he's due to rejoin Toronto's bullpen in the early stages of the season.
If Toronto's lineup can live up to its potential and the pitching staff can live up to the hype, the Blue Jays could be a legitimate contender for postseason play. Toronto is one of just nine clubs to post a winning record in each of the past two seasons, but the club is far from being satisfied.
The Blue Jays boast one of the deepest pitching staffs in the game and will rely on that strength to help shut down the powerful lineups throughout the AL. Beyond Toronto's arms, the club has a stellar defensive group and an offense that has the potential to be strong from top to bottom.
Projected starting lineup
|1. SS David Eckstein|
|2 LF Matt Stairs|
|3. RF Alex Rios|
|4. CF Vernon Wells|
|5. DH Frank Thomas|
|6. 1B Lyle Overbay|
|7. 2B Aaron Hill|
|8. 3B Marco Scutaro|
|9. C Gregg Zaun|
|1. RHP Roy Halladay|
|2. RHP A.J. Burnett|
|3. RHP Dustin McGowan|
|4. RHP Shaun Marcum|
|5. RHP Jesse Litsch|
|Closer: RHP Jeremy Accardo|
|Setup: LHP Scott Downs|
|Setup: RHP Brandon League|
|Middle: RHP Jason Frasor|
|Middle: LHP Brian Tallet|
|Middle: RHP Brian Wolfe|
|Long: RHP Randy Wells|
Starting pitching depth. When right-hander Casey Janssen was sidelined for the season after suffering a torn labrum in his right shoulder this spring, the Jays lost a valuable option for their rotation or bullpen. Now, if any of Toronto's five starters runs into health woes, the team may be forced to turn to some inexperienced Minor Leaguers for help.
You'll know they're rollin' if ...
... the relievers are enjoying the view from the bullpen. Toronto is relying on its impressive starting rotation to be the strength of its roster. The longer the Blue Jays' starters stay in the game, the better the chances are of maintaining one of the top bullpens and pitching staffs in baseball.
You'll know they're in trouble if ...
... the offensive woes from last season persist. The Blue Jays are counting on players like Vernon Wells (left shoulder), Lyle Overbay (right hand) and Rolen (left shoulder) to bounce back from injuries this season. If the players coming back from injury aren't able to perform at a top level again, Toronto's offense could sink the club's chances.
Following Toronto's season-opening series in New York, the Blue Jays head home to host the World Series champion Red Sox in a three-game set from April 4-6. Boston will be arriving in Toronto after already making stops in Oakland, Los Angeles and Japan. The Jays need to try to take advantage of what's sure to be a weary Red Sox team.
The Blue Jays won't catch much of a break during the Interleague slate, in which they take on a pair of National League division winners from a year ago. Toronto has series against the NL East champion Phillies (May 16-18), the NL Central champion Cubs (June 13-15), as well as series against the Brewers, Reds, Pirates and Braves.
The Bottom Line
The Blue Jays need to avoid the injury bug. Injuries are as much a part of baseball as anything else, but Toronto won't be successful if it sustains the high volume of health issues it encountered last season. The players who are coming off injuries need to return to form for the Jays to compete in their division.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.