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12/27/10 10:00 AM EST

Bautista, pitching lead Jays to successful year

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays entered the 2010 campaign in Phase One of a long-term rebuilding plan. First-year general manager Alex Anthopoulos had just traded away franchise player Roy Halladay during the offseason, and many critics predicted Toronto would finish in the basement of the American League East.

The Blue Jays clearly didn't pay much attention to those expectations, though. Toronto played above .500 baseball for almost the entire season and finished with an impressive 85-77 record. Toronto would again finish well back in the AL East, but a young core thrilled the fan base and provided plenty of hope for the future.

Along the way, the Blue Jays bid farewell to longtime manager Cito Gaston and watched Jose Bautista secure his place in the record books with a 54 home run season. Anthopoulos laid the groundwork by rebuilding the farm system and acquiring Major League talent that will remain under club control as the team continues its quest to get back into the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

On the mound, it was young starters Brandon Morrow (10-7, 4.49 ERA), Ricky Romero (14-9, 3.73), Shaun Marcum (13-8, 3.64) and Brett Cecil (15-7, 4.22) who led the way. The four hurlers actually helped the Blue Jays improve their team ERA in 2010 even though Halladay was no longer in the fold.

On offense, it was Bautista's historic season that swept the nation. With Bautista leading the way, Toronto finished first in the Majors with 257 home runs, which tied the 1996 Orioles for third-most all-time, and were 46 more than second-place Boston.

There were lots of storylines to remember from the 2010 season. Here's the list of our Top 5:

Year in Review
Looking back at 2010
MLB Year in Review
Game prospering
Final standings
Statistical leaders

5. J.P. Arencibia and Kyle Drabek make their Major League debuts as the next generation of ballplayers arrives in Toronto.

Arencibia took the baseball world by storm when he made his debut on Aug. 7 against the Rays. The 24-year-old homered on the first pitch he saw from Tampa Bay starter James Shields. Before the day was over, Arencibia would add another home run and finished the game 4-for-5 with a double and three RBIs. He became just the fifth player in Major League history to hit two home runs in his first game, and the 107th to record a home run in his first at-bat.

The 23-year-old Drabek made his long-anticipated debut the following month. The prized asset the Blue Jays received from the Phillies for Halladay made three starts, going 0-3 but posting a respectable 4.76 ERA with 12 strikeouts over 17 innings. The two players have the potential to become fixtures on the Blue Jays' roster for a long time.

4. The Anthopoulos era began, as the 33-year-old general manager embarks on his quest to build the Blue Jays into a contending team.

Anthopoulos enjoyed an unblemished record during his rookie season, as almost all of his major moves resulted in huge dividends. Morrow established himself as a future No. 1 starter, John Buck (.281, 20 home runs, 66 RBIs) enjoyed an All-Star campaign and Anthopoulos traded Alex Gonzalez to the Braves for promising shortstop Yunel Escobar (.275, four home runs, 16 RBIs in 60 games with Toronto).

The Blue Jays GM also focused on a long-term plan to rebuild his club's Minor League system. He heavily invested in scouting and rebuilt the organization's ties with Latin America. Anthopoulos infused the farm system with players such as with Adeiny Hechavarria, Anthony Gose, Deck McGuire and Brett Lawrie, all of whom now rank in the organization's list of Top 10 prospects. It was a remarkable turnaround for a system that seemed bare just 12 months ago.

3. Gaston officially retires after a total of 12 years as skipper of the Blue Jays.

Gaston retired from his on-field duties after the Blue Jays closed out the 2010 campaign with a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Twins on Oct. 3. The 66-year-old will always be remembered for leading the Blue Jays to back-to-back World Series titles in 1992-93 and becoming the first African American manager to accomplish such a feat.

Toronto paid tribute to the man who owns the franchise record for most wins (913) during his final home game on Sept. 29. Dozens of former players participated in an on-field ceremony that also included a video tribute from Gaston's good friends Hank Aaron and Bobby Cox. The moment even brought tears from the usually stoic Gaston.

2. Young starting staff begins life without Halladay.

Toronto's starting staff was supposed to take a major step back in 2010, but somebody forgot to tell that to the pitchers. Marcum, Romero, Morrow and Cecil kept the Blue Jays in games all season and were the main force behind the club's surprising success.

Morrow received most of the attention after going 7-3 with a 3.46 ERA and 119 strikeouts over his final 17 appearances. On Aug. 8, the 26-year-old came within one out of a no-hitter while recording 17 strikeouts against the Rays in arguably the most dominating performance ever by a Blue Jays pitcher.

Not to be lost in the shuffle were the seasons enjoyed by Romero and Cecil. Both starters combined to win 29 games in their first full season in the big leagues.

1. Bautista breaks the franchise record for most home runs in a single season.

Bautista's breakout campaign was the biggest storyline of the season for the Blue Jays. The 30-year-old entered 2010 having never hit more than 16 home runs in a season. He surpassed that mark by early June, and on Sept. 17, he broke George Bell's franchise record (47).

Bautista finished the season with 54 homers and 124 RBIs. For his efforts, he earned a Silver Slugger and received the Hank Aaron Award, which is given to the top offensive performer in each league. Not bad for a guy who began the season as the club's leadoff hitter.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.