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3 Toronto Blue Jays
Tom Verducci
March 31, 2008
"THEY MIGHT HAVE THE DEEPEST PITCHING STAFF, YET THEY NEED NEW YORK OR BOSTON TO FALTER."
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March 31, 2008

3 Toronto Blue Jays

"THEY MIGHT HAVE THE DEEPEST PITCHING STAFF, YET THEY NEED NEW YORK OR BOSTON TO FALTER."

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DAVID ECKSTEIN (New acquisition)

SS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 267 .309 3 31 10
ALEX RIOS   RF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 44 .297 24 85 17
VERNON WELLS   CF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 60 .245 16 80 10
SCOTT ROLEN(

New acquisition)

  3B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 120 .265 8 58 5
FRANK THOMAS DH
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 88 .277 26 95 0
MATT STAIRS   LF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 131 .289 21 64 2
LYLE OVERBAY   1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 184 .240 10 44 2
AARON HILL   2B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 122 .291 17 78 4
GREGG ZAUN   C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 251 .242 10 52 0
BENCH
MARCO SCUTARO [

New acquisition]

IF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 340 .260 7 41 2
SHANNON STEWART [

New acquisition]

OF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 268 .290 12 48 11
ROTATION PITCHER PVR W L K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Roy Halladay 17 16 7 5.6 1.24 3.71
RH A.J. Burnett 47 10 8 9.6 1.19 3.75
RH Dustin McGowan 35 12 10 7.6 1.22 4.08
RH Shaun Marcum 66 12 6 6.9 1.25 4.13
RH Jesse Litsch 102 7 9 4.1 1.37 3.81
BULLPEN PITCHER PVR W SV K/9 WHIP ERA
LH B.J. Ryan 90 0 3 6.2 2.54 12.46
RH Jeremy Accardo 69 4 30 7.6 1.11 2.14
RH Brandon League 234 0 0 5.4 2.23 6.17

CHASING THE Red Sox and the Yankees every year, the Blue Jays operate with a fingernail's margin for error, which would make the off-season injury to starter A. J. Burnett particularly ominous. Burnett ripped the fingernail off his right index finger when, the club says, he closed a car door on it. The injury prevented Burnett from throwing his curveball for the first month of camp while he visited what pitching coach Brad Arnsberg called a "nail specialist." Just when you thought Burnett, 31, had seen every specialist possible over his injury-plagued 69-66 career--he's missed 59 starts over the past five years--he added a new one: manicurist.

So it goes for the nearly good, nearly healthy Blue Jays, the team with the most wins in the wild-card era without making the postseason--they've won between 83 and 88 games six times in the past 10 years. Last season Toronto had the second-best ERA in the American League, received a combined 56 starts from Burnett and ace Roy Halladay, saw rightfielder Alex Rios continue to blossom into a star, and was still a nonfactor in the uncompromising AL East. This year, the Blue Jays just might have the division's deepest pitching staff, yet they'll still need Boston or New York to falter for a playoff door to open.

"I don't think so," retorts centerfielder Vernon Wells, when asked about needing outside help. "We're good enough to beat anybody. The key is to be consistent. New York and Boston are not our problem. We play them well [37-36 over the past two years]. We have to play consistent baseball against everybody else."

Toronto may have the pieces to put up around 95 wins under the best of circumstances, but too many Blue Jays come with disclaimers tied to age and injury. No player better represents Toronto's predicament than Scott Rolen, who in a swap of third basemen, was obtained from St. Louis in January for Troy Glaus. "Taking nothing away from Troy," general manager J.P. Ricciardi says, "but Scotty is a different kind of player. His motor is going all the time at a high speed. Guys feed off his energy. It's like adding [New England Patriots wideout] Wes Welker to your team."

Still, Rolen, one of five Blue Jays' regulars who will be at least 33 by season's end, has missed 176 games in the past three years and showed little power last season because of an injured left shoulder that restricted his swing. And though he reported that his shoulder felt as good as new in camp, he still can't shake those nagging injuries; on Sunday, he broke a knuckle on his right middle finger.

Rolen was nonetheless happier in camp, his gusto enhanced by his escape from Tony La Russa, with whom he had a nasty, public two-year feud. Says Rolen, "All I'll say is we're two very different people with two very different sets of morals. I never had a problem with St. Louis. I would have been happy to finish my career there. It was just one person. Now I've got the freshest start you could imagine. New team, new league, new country."

If Toronto eventually gets a healthy Rolen, if a well-manicured Burnett can make all of his starts for only the second time in his career . . . well, the Blue Jays really will look like a new team.

CONSIDER THIS a modest proposal . . .

On occasion in 2003 and '04 the Blue Jays used righthander Roy Halladay (left) on three days' rest, and the results were outstanding: In four starts he was 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA. Toronto should consider a more aggressive version of that experiment in 2008, running Halladay out every fourth game over an entire season--with off days on the schedule sometimes providing him an extra day of rest. Manager John Gibbons would then shuffle the rest of the rotation around Halladay to get the 2003 AL Cy Young winner 40 starts. Halladay is among the best-equipped pitchers in baseball to work at this pace because of his efficiency: He required only 14.8 pitches per inning last season. If he maintained that rate, Halladay could make it through seven innings with an average pitch count of only 103.

THE NUMBERS

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