This post certainly would have had more zing had the Blue Jays just beaten the Red Sox, improving their own record to 3-1 while consequently dropping the Beantowners to another abysmal start, at 0-4.
That being said, zing or not, I’m going to make the post anyway, as you might realize from having read my 10
bold largely incorrect predictions at the beginning of last season, I’m not afraid to put something out there and potentially have egg on my face should I be wrong. So, here goes …
I think the Toronto Blue Jays currently have a better overall team and will have a better season than the Boston Red Sox.
There, I said it. I could be all kinds of wrong, but let me explain.
Each and every season in recent years it is always just a foregone conclusion that the Yanks and Red Sox (and to a lesser degree the Rays) will have solid, playoff contention calibre teams that are automatically pegged into the top spots of the American League East.
But does it have to be such a foregone conclusion this season?
We can start with the injuries as to why I like Toronto’s chances, as Boston currently has $57 million worth of players on the disabled list. Some of those players could make an impact, while some it’s probably for the best that they are injured, but I digress.
Honestly, my first taste of doubting the Red Sox’s chances at playoff contention this season came not when they got off to an 0-3 start, it came when I saw their lineup flashed during their season opener against Detroit.
Sure they have a formidable middle of the lineup bolstered by Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz and kicked off by Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, but, maybe it’s me, the bottom half of their lineup just doesn’t seem that threatening to me.
The bottom of the order punch of Ryan Sweeney (.732 career OPS), Cody Ross (.777 career OPS), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.711 career OPS) and Mike Aviles (.736 career OPS) just doesn’t appear to make as complete and dangerous a lineup as Boston has fielded in the past. I don’t think this is an offense that is going to set the league on fire as they have in recent years.
Add to that the fact that Kevin Youkilis has seen a decline in his production in the last couple years and at age 33 he’s not likely to get any better in 2012. You could say the same thing for David Ortiz at age 36, although I must admit he does look to be in much better shape this year and that might help slow some of his productivity decline.
Of course, the Red Sox don’t necessarily need a fantastic lineup if they have the starting pitching. Jon Lester and Clay Bucholz are undeniably good, Josh Beckett should still be a solid pitcher despite his opening start shellacking but I think the 4th and 5th spots will be question marks – who knows how Daniel Bard will transition to starting and although Doubront looked great tonight he’s surely an unproven commodity.
The bullpen is another question mark, as Andrew Bailey’s injury sends a shockwave down through the rest of the team that throws up a lot of concerns. They do have some reliable arms down there, but it seems a group that really could go either way.
Maybe I’m totally out to lunch here, or maybe I’m just being homerish in my support of the Jays, but to be honest, there doesn’t seem to be that same disparity when the Jays go up against the Red Sox. In past years the Jays were always hugely outgunned by Boston, not only in pitching but in hitting as well. This year I don’t know if that’s the case.
Of course for my prediction to be anywhere close to accurate a lot of things will have to break right for the Jays. They will have to stay healthy, have big performances from some of their proven talents and have some of their young stars step up and play big roles.
The rose colour glasses are admittedly on tightly for me on this one, but I stand by my thoughts.
My main point is this …. In my mind, at least, the Jays got a lot better in the offseason. Not just in the acquisition of new bullpen arms, but also in the simple process of many of their young players now being one year older and having some more experience under their belts before the full season ahead.
On the other hand, the Red Sox veteran core got older and the team didn’t noticeably improve in the offseason.
It’s difficult to really compare player to player with the Red Sox and Jays, because in Boston you have a lot of established veterans, while in Toronto there are a lot of new guys (Lawrie, Thames, Alvarez, Arencibia) as well as a lot of guys who have been around but are expected to have breakout campaigns and be perhaps historically better than they were the last couple years (Rasmus, Morrow, Lind).
So, in conclusion, I think the Jays will finish higher in the standings than the Red Sox. Optimistic? Certainly. Crazy? Only time will tell. I think, regardless, it will be a lot closer than many people think.
Now for some random thoughts on the first four games.
- Let’s face it, the Jays are fortunate to be 2-2. As devastating as tonight’s loss to Boston was, you can’t expect to win a game only putting up two runs against the Red Sox. Likewise against the Indians the hitting wasn’t nearly as good as it needs to be, despite momentary spurts of excellence. Through four games, the team is hitting .190/.266/.298 for a horrendous .564 OPS, good for 25th in the major leagues. Once the bats get rolling I think this is a team that could put up a pretty good stretch of wins, especially with how overly solid the pitching performances have been thus far.
- It’s great to see Sportsnet start using triple-slash stats on their broadcast. I only wish they would include OPS as well as its components (I want to watch baseball, not do math!). Also would be nice if this was included for more than just each hitter’s first at bat.
- It was great to see a home opener crowd so completely pro-Toronto. I couldn’t believe the number of people decked out in Jays gear at the stadium.
- While I understand (and applaud) the lefty/righty rationale of starting Rajai Davis over Eric Thames, I feel bad that a young guy like Thames didn’t get the chance to start in his first home opener. As a semi-related aside – as much as we raved early last season about how great it was to have Davis’ game-changing speed in the lineup, it’s even more of a weapon to have a more complete player (Rasmus) in centre full-time and to be able to have Davis as a weapon off the bench.
- While you would obviously never blame Bautista, in tonight’s 9th inning, I can’t help but think he rushed his throw from right field and didn’t get a proper grip on the ball. From where he was on the field, a two hop throw is inexcusable. Hell, I could toss the ball on a line from that depth in right field, so I am quite certain if one of the better arms in the MLB properly gripped the ball he would have thrown a strike to J.P. and perhaps the outcome of that game would have been different.