As part of TSN.ca's 2013 MLB Season Preview, we will be rolling out stories this week on five pressing questions facing the Toronto Blue Jays this season. The fifth question facing the team: Can the Jays win the American League East?
In the end, after all of the trades and signings, all of the rotation and closer decisions and roster tweaks, it all comes down to one thing: Can this team win the Division?
While the Wild Card is a viable route into the playoffs, it carries with it a one game, do-or-die situation that can immediately bump you back to the outside looking in, there is no doubt that the goal of all five teams is to capture the pennant.
The Toronto Blue Jays are all-in this season with major upgrades at almost all positions in an attempt to overcome not only last season's fourth place finish but also a 20-year playoff drought.
The East is one of baseball's toughest divisions to win and while the Jays are the sexy pre-season pick to win the crown, what helps their chances of pulling off the feat are the challenges facing the teams that have had the run of the division of late.
The New York Yankees are the defending AL East champions but enter this season with an injury list worth more money than the payroll of many teams in the league.
The Bronx Bombers will be forced to start the season with Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Phil Hughes all on the disabled list, dealing a major blow to the middle of their order and rotation.
The Baltimore Orioles earned a Wild Card spot in 2012 as they shocked a baseball world that had predicted another year of doom and gloom in the Beltway.
One of the keys to their surprising 93-69 record was that they were an incredible 29-9 record in one-run games and 16-2 in extra innings, but in order to replicate that success they'll need another standout year from the likes of Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters.
The Tampa Bay Rays will also be in the mix for the division crown with their usual mix of quality signings and well developed young talent. Desmond Jennings will be the anchor of the outfield and the spark at the top of the lineup and 2012 Cy Young Award-winner David Price will be front and centre leading one of the best run organizations in all of baseball.
The Boston Red Sox brought up the rear of the Division last season falling short of a lot of pre-season hype. They will have to recover from 2012's mid-season roster overhaul and hope that John Farrell is a happier and more effective manager in Boston than he was in Toronto.
The East has produced two playoff teams in each of the last six seasons with every team but the Jays making at least one appearance. An extra Wild Card berth has improved the team's odds even further, but will they finish the year on top?
TSN.ca's Scott MacArthur has been following the Jays all season and he thinks that the off-season additions make the team a no-brainer as Division favourites.
He writes: “That's an easy question. The answer is yes.
Slightly less easy question: SHOULD they win the AL East? The answer, again, is yes.
Let's throw the obvious comment out there and afterward we won't refer to it. They need to stay as healthy as possible. So does every club with championship aspirations.
One through nine, the Blue Jays have the most potent lineup in the division. Toronto's speed threats -- Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Brett Lawrie, Melky Cabrera -- can all hit. So they'll be on base. Can the Bautista/Encarnacion duo in the middle of the order combine for 80 home runs? They could, if they stay, uh, healt...I promised I wouldn't recycle that word.
Pitching drives the bus. Who's got a better starting rotation than Toronto? The Rays come close, maybe even match, provided Jeremy Hellickson and lefty Matt Moore take the next step forward in support of ace David Price. Alex Cobb and Jeff Niemann/Roberto Hernandez (the old Fausto Carmona) provide a competent back end.
The Orioles learned how to win last season, there's value in that, but they're unlikely to win 16-consecutive extra-inning games like they did in 2012. A far cry from their old laughing-stock status, the Orioles take a step back this season.
And the Yankees? They just cut Juan Rivera, limiting their frightening contingent of former Blue Jays to Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay. Jayson Nix is kicking around there too.
Seriously, though, this team has been written off year after year. But they weren't without A-Rod and Mark Teixeira; Derek Jeter didn't have plates and screws keeping a wobbly ankle together; Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera were, well, younger (like the rest of us.) Will Michael Pineda's wonky shoulder ever allow him to pitch again? He missed all of last season after being acquired from Seattle and he's not due back until June at the earliest. Not good for the pinstripers. New York goes over the cliff this season.
All of the above to say, yes, the Blue Jays will win the AL East. I'll give them a record of 93-69.
What do you think?
Can the Blue Jays go from second-last to the top of the American League East and finally make their long-awaited return to the playoffs or will one of the other teams rise up and grab the pennant? Who will win the AL East?
As always, it's Your! Call.