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Ferguson: Always difficult to predict division winners

Scott Ferguson
3/28/2014 1:55:47 PM
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Imagine if you will a Jays team starting this season with Roberto Alomar at second base, Joe Carter in right field, Devon White in centre, John Olerud at first and Paul Molitor at DH. Not to mention a pitching staff, that includes Dave Stewart, Juan Guzman, Pat Hentgen and up-and-comers like Woody Williams, Al Leiter and Todd Stottlemyre. This team would also have three young prospects who could be the foundation of a great team for years to come in Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green and Alex Gonzalez. You might already be printing the World Series tickets.

Well it didn't exactly turn out that way  for the 1994 Blue Jays. They did win six of their first seven games and got off to decent 12-6 start including a six-game win streak. However it didn't last, and by the time the strike came in mid-August that led to the eventual shutdown of the season, they had faded to 55-60 and the dream of a three-peat gone with it.
 
I painted that little scenario to show you how difficult it can be to predict division winners, let alone World Series champs. The 1994 Jays had most of the key components back from the team that had repeated in 1993, including having WAMCO intact as the top five hitters in the lineup (White, Alomar, Molitor, Carter and Olerud).
 
There were three missing pieces. Closer Duane Ward had injured his shoulder in the offseason and was never really able to come back and be the dominant bullpen stopper he had been. Shortstop Tony Fernandez and left fielder Rickey Henderson had been allowed to leave in the offseason as well. Still, there was more than enough talent for this team to contend. Darren Hall, a mere shadow of Ward took over as closer and recorded 17 saves. Veteran Dick Schofield played the bulk of the games at short and journeyman Mike Huff played left for the most part.
 
I would submit the 94 Blue Jays had far more talent than the current Jays, yet they finished the abbreviated season five games under .500. You don't want to be a total buzz-kill about the 2014 Jays, because they do have talent.

If they both stay healthy, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are capable of hitting at least 40 homers. Melky Cabrera, sans back tumour, is looking more like he could have been batting champ with the Giants a couple of years ago. Jose Reyes, again when healthy, is one of the top shortstops in the game. Brett Lawrie could be on the cusp of developing into one of the top third basemen in the Majors, and this is a free agent contract year for Colby Rasmus, so the pressure is on for him to produce. In other words, the offence should be there.
 
As it has been the past two seasons, pitching is the question. The starting rotation has to log enough innings to give a solid bullpen the chance to produce results for the entire season, not just the first half, after which they could fade from overuse.
 
If Drew Hutchison is the real deal, and it looks as though he just might be, the top three in the rotation looks pretty decent, though you always worry about the inevitable age-related declines of veterans like R.A. Dickey ( 39) and Mark Buehrle (35). The question marks are the 4 and 5 starters. Brandon Morrow has to prove he can put together a dominant healthy season and finally realize his vast potential. As for Dustin McGowan, you'd have to have a heart of stone not to be pulling for this guy, who's battled through injury after injury to finally crack the Opening Day roster for the first time since 2008.
 
Top prospects Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman are waiting in the wings, but probably won't make significant contributions this season, unless there is another rash of injuries, or the Jays drop so far back, they just decide to go young.
 
After calling the Jays to win 92 or 93 games a year ago and contend for a wild card spot, I'm reluctant to make any kind of a call on where they will finish in 2014. But my gut tells me they will win 83 or 84 games and be battling for fourth with Baltimore or maybe even Boston. I really do hope I'm wrong.

Jays Elsewhere

Not a really good well for Canadians in the Majors or ex-Jays. The Cubs released Canuck catcher George Kottaras, while Minnesota out-righted lefthander Scott Diamond of Guelph, Ontario to Triple "A" Rochester.

Lefty Frank Viola, a Cy Young winner and World Series star in his days with the Twins, had a brief stint with the Jays near the end of his career. The now 53-year-old  Viola is taking  a leave of absence from his job as the Mets Triple "A" pitching coach at Las Vegas after undergoing open heart surgery. The man taking Viola's place is Tom Signore, who was the Blue Jays  Double "A" pitching coach at New Hampshire the past three years. So Signore will get to work with the Mets top pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard, whom he also had in the Blue Jays system before he was traded as part of the package for R.A Dickey.
 
Former Jays righthander Shaun Marcum was sent to their minor league camp by Clevleand. Marcum, who was dealt to Milwaukee for Brett Lawrie, has seen his career hampered by injuries. Over eight years in the bigs, the 32-year-old Marcum has a 58-46 record with a 3.88 earned run average. The Indians are hoping he can battle his way back at some point this season.
 
J.P Arencibia was hoping to get some significant playing time in Texas this season to re-establish his career. When the Rangers number one backstop Geovany Soto went down for 10-12 weeks with torn meniscus in his right knee, it looked as though J.P would be the man but skipper Ron Washington has been more impressed with Robinson Chirinos. So it appears J.P., at least for now, is stuck as the backup.
 
One Jay having a good week, in fact a good spring, is catcher Yan Gomes. He appears to have won the number one job with Cleveland after the Indians moved Carlos Santana from catcher to third base. The Jays traded Gomes and veteran utility infielder Mike Aviles to the Indians for righthander Esmil Rogers in the previous offseason. Considering how Gomes has progressed and Rogers has faltered this spring, the Jays might like a mulligan on that one.




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