Toronto Blue Jays: No room at the top


Blue Jays' Willie Upshaw

First baseman/outfielder Willie Upshaw joined the Jays in 1978 for their second season and stayed for nine of his 10 in the majors. Batted .262 and hit 123 career homers, including a high of 27 to go with 104 RBIs and a .306 average in 1983.


Time goes by like pouring rain: Erratic doesn’t begin to describe the career of Adam Lind, who has 80 homers and 280 RBIs in four-plus major league seasons, the great bulk of them in 2009. If you think Hosni Mubarak has had a bad 2011, it wasn’t much worse than Lind’s 2010. Lind fell in a big way in every offensive category — 35 homers to 23, 114 RBIs to 72, .305 average to .237, .932 OPS to .712 — at just the age (26) his  numbers should be going in the opposite direction. He’s the anti-Jose Bautista. Lind is supposed to be the Jays’ designated hitter, but last year he was their designated out-maker, and his career .796 OPS — which is mediocre for a DH, anyway — is only propped up by his 2009. Lind is 27, a mediocre fielder, and but for 2009, a mediocre hitter. It’s hard to blame his failings on ex-GM J.P. Ricciardi any longer.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: Brett Lawrie may not open the season in Toronto, but he’ll probably be back before Shaun Marcum’s next injury. The two were traded for each other last winter, and while Milwaukee, which gets Marcum, may see a short-term benefit, the Jays are likely to get the longer reward. Lawrie is 21, a former No. 1 pick, and even better for the Jays, a native Canadian (although from British Columbia, not Ontario). Lawrie hasn’t put up big minor-league numbers (career .788 OPS) yet, but he’s been advancing beyond his years and reached AA by age 19. As his age rises, presumably so will his production.

What is this man doing here? We’re not sure what it is about John McDonald that so fascinates the Blue Jays, but they’ve kept him for five seasons. Perhaps, like winter, the Jays see McDonald as a season to be endured. Last year, at age 36, was McDonald’s best — he reached career highs with 6 home runs and a .727 OPS, 72 points above his previous best OPS. But McDonald has a career .604 OPS, and the Jays might want to upgrade to a utility infielder around who can play. Because with Yuniel Escobar at shortstop, he’ll probably have to. 

Outlook: The Blue Jays’ predicament is simple: they’re stuck in a division with better teams and in a city with better followings. It’s easy to say they’ll never catch the Yankees or Red Sox in the standings or the Maple Leafs (heck, even the Argos) in the city’s interest.

That would be as easy as being satisfied for finishing ahead of the Orioles, which is about all the Jays have done recently or can hope for in 2011. They’ve had winning records in four of their last five years, including 2010, and finished next-to-last in two of them, including 2010.

Climbing to 85 wins is as easy as making the playoffs in the NHL, or if you watch the Leafs, easier. Climbing to 90-95 wins, and into contention, is the hard part. The Jays will likely regress in 2011 to try and move forward in 2012 and beyond.

Second-year GM Alex Anthopoulos has done well so far, shedding Vernon Wells’ contract, building a young foundation of Kyle Drabek and Lawrie (by trade) and J.P.Arencibia and Travis Snider (farm system) and gambling on a long-term contract for Jose Bautista, who hit 54 of his 113 career home runs in 2010.

The Jays will be competitive in 2011 without being contenders, and in their division it’s never easy to be the latter. They’ve got a better chance in 2012, though, than they did in 2010. 

Remember when: Joe Carter’s home run won Game 6 and the 1993 World Series, and is on any list of the top 10 Series’ homers. Ed Sprague’s homer didn’t win the 1992 World Series for the Jays, but it sure saved it.

On any degree of difficulty, Sprague’s could rank higher: both times the Jays were a run down in the ninth, but Sprague hit his off well-rested closer Jeff Reardon, Carter off a beleaguered Mitch Williams. Sprague hit his to avoid a 2-0 deficit, Carter a Game 7.

By any measure the Jays were better than the Phillies in the 1993 Series — when Curt Schilling wasn’t pitching. They won in six and outscored them 45-36 (they averaged nine runs a game in the five they weren’t shut out).

In 1992, not so much. The Jays won in 6, but were outscored by Atlanta 20-17 and won all four games by one run — two in the ninth inning and the clincher in the 11th.

Next: Baltimore


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