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Monday March 3, 2008 9:39 pm

Team Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

Next team up in our MLB Team previews is the Toronto Blue Jays. The last Jays team to finish in first place in the AL East had Joe Carter, Paul Molitor and Jack Morris. This occurred in 1993, and since then the Blue Jays have been stuck right in the middle of the AL East, finishing in 3rd place 9 of the last 14 years. Will 2008 be the year of the Blue Jay? Read on.

Starting Rotation: The starting rotation for the Blue Jays will be very high risk high reward in 2008. There’s no questioning the ace Roy Halladay, who may be the best pitcher in the American League following the departure of Johan Santana. If the Jays provide run support for Roy, a 20 win season is possible. After Halladay is AJ Burnett, who has great talent but just can’t seem to stay healthy. Burnett only started 25 games last year, but somehow managed to strikeout 176 batters. Burnett has the ability to strikeout 200, but may never do so because of his frequent injuries. 3rd Pitcher Dustin McGowan could have a breakout season. At 26 years old, 2008 will be his put up or shut up season. He was solid for the Jays last season, winning 12 games. The 4 and 5 slots in the rotation should go to Jesse Litsch and Shawn Marcum. Each are in their young twenties and pitched well in 2007. McGowan, Litsch and Marcum could be breakout pitchers for the Jays in 2008, but if they prove to not be ready for the show, Toronto could be in trouble.

Bullpen: A strength of the Jays. Even if BJ Ryan is out for the season, Toronto will be well equipped with young pitcher Jeremy Accardo (Whom the Jays practically stole from the San Francisco Giants-They surrendered only Shea Hilldenbrand and Vinnie Chulk for Accardo who can throw 100 MPH) in the closer’s role. Last year Accardo shut the door 30 times, walking only 24 and striking out 57. Scott Downs and Brian Tallet are great set-up men, each had very good WHIP last year. If hard thrower Brandon League can realize his potential this season, Toronto could have one of the league’s best bullpens. Also, the Jays invited Shawn Camp to Spring Training this year; he was 7-4 with 54 K’s just 2 years ago.

Starting Lineup: Simply put, the Blue Jays need Vernon Wells to be healthy to have a successful offensive season in 2008. Alex Rios, Scott Rolen and Lyle Overbay can help carry the offensive load, but another season hitting .245 from Wells will not cut it this season. At the very least, Toronto needs Wells’ old offensive production (32 home runs in 2006, 16 last season). The Jays are solid up the middle; second baseman Aaron Hill could hit 20 dingers this season, and David Eckstein helps energize the clubhouse (Though he doesn’t do much else). The Blue Jays have two DH’s this season, Matt Stairs and Frank Thomas. Stairs hit 21 home runs last season in only 357 at-bats, Thomas hit .277 with 95 RBI’s.

Bench: Middle infielder John McDonald is among the best fielders in the league. Expect to see him eat into some of Eckstein’s playing time (Particularly in the later innings). Marco Scutaro is a valuable pinch hitting bat, he can also play just about every position on the field. Russ Adams doesn’t seem to pack much of a punch in any offensive category; he may start the season in the Minor Leagues. Lefty power hitter Adam Lind is still young enough to be considered a prospect, but after hitting .238 in the Majors last year, he’ll have to prove a strong case to win playing time this year. The Jays also invited Shannon Stewart to Spring Training this year, he can stand to take alot of Vernon Well’s playing time if he’s injured for much of this year.

Overall: I think that this is a solid Blue Jays team, an improved Blue Jays team from last year. However this is not a good enough team to dethrone either the Boston Red Sox or the New York Yankees. Even if the Jays have a solid season of over .500 baseball, it seems that Toronto is destined for yet another 3rd place finish in the AL East in 2008.

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