It's tough enough for the Blue Jays to be playing in the American League East to get even a sniff of the postseason. Then you've got to worry about the other up and coming teams in the two weaker divisions in the "Junior Circuit". If you had to peg one team whom the Blue Jays will have to reckon with in 2014, it would be Kansas City.
The Royals finished with an 86-76 record a year ago and missed the playoffs. However that record was 12 games better than the Jays' 74-88. One bad month really cost KC a spot in the playoffs a year ago. They went 8-20 in May. Every other month, they were over .500 including 17-10 in September.
Kansas City scuffled a bit to score runs in 2013 averaging four per game, but the Blue Jays weren't all that much better at 4.40 runs per game. The big difference was in runs allowed by the starting rotation and the bullpen.
The Royals starters had an ERA of 3.87 to the Blue Jays' 4.81 which was well above the American League average of 4.17. As highly touted as the Blue Jays bullpen was, its ERA of 3.37 was no match for the Royals 2.55.
This is in part because of the Royals spacier ballpark, but KC only gave up 155 home runs over the course of the season to the Jays ugly total of 195. If you want to talk team speed, the Blue Jays stole 112 bases, which was better than the league average of 95, but the Royals were even better swiping 153.
You could argue the Royals will be even better in 2014. Although they lost Ervin Santana as a free agent, they added durable lefty and former Angel Jason Vargas to plug into the rotation. They also have an elite closer in Greg Holland who saved 47 out of 50 a year ago and a workhorse starter to lead the rotation in James Shields, who through 228.2 innings last season.
The Royals also upgraded at second base and right field. They filled a major hole at the keystone by signing former Tiger Omar Infante to a four-year deal worth $30.25 million and traded for speedy right fielder Norichika Aoki, who will take over as their leadoff hitter.
KC's secret weapon might just be 22-year-old right-hander Yordano Ventura. Though only 5'11", he throws consistantly in high 90's and has been known to hit between 100 and 102mph on occasion. He's already earned a spot in skipper Ned Yost's rotation and is being touted as one of the top candidates for rookie of the year.
Since Pittsburgh made the playoffs last season, Kansas City and the Blue Jays are the two teams that have gone the longest between post-season appearances. The Royals haven't made it since they won the World Series over St. Louis in 1985. The Blue Jays of course, haven't made it since winning their second straight World Series in 1993.
The Blue Jays play the Royals seven times this season, from April 29 through May 1 in Missouri and then back in Toronto from May 29 through June 1. Those are seven games of their first 58 that could well prove whether the Jays are good enough to contend for a Wild Card spot, or which team of these two will wind up with the longest postseason drought when the 2014 season is all said and done.
Around Spring Training
Injuries turned right-hander Josh Johnson into arguably the biggest disappointment of the Blue Jays season a year ago. Unfortunately his luck hasn't changed much in San Diego. The 30-year-old right-hander is going to be out 4-to-5 weeks with a strained right forearm.
Tough blow for the Texas Rangers. Their young second baseman Jurickson Profar is out 10 to 12 weeks with a slight muscle tear in his right shoulder. Profar was expected to shoulder the load at second since Ian Kinsler was dealt to Detroit as part of the Prince Fielder deal. Profar hasn't proven himself as a big league hitter yet, but his glove and arm are world class.
Yes, it's only spring training, but the Yankees have got to be a bit concerned that Derek Jeter is only hitting .114 and Mark Teixiera only .120.
Great to see David Ortiz is probably going to end his career in Boston. After all he's been pretty much the face of the franchise for the last 10 years. Ortiz agreed over the weekend to a one-year, $15 million extension for 2015. He also has a vesting option for 2016 and there is a club option for 2017 by which time Ortiz will be 42 years old.
Erik Bedard is looking for new gig. The 35-year-old southpaw and native of Navan, Ontario opted out of his deal with Tampa Bay after the fifth starter's job went to 24-year-old Jake Odorizzi. Bedard just didn't want to go back to Triple-A at this stage of his career.
We mentioned a couple of articles ago that a former Blue Jays third baseman, Roy Howell, was managing in Triple-A this season at Tacoma. Now another Ex-Jay, Tom Lawless, has taken over as interim manager at Oklahoma City in the Pacific Coast League. Lawless will be filling in for Ton DeFrancesco who was diagnosed with cancer while working in the parent Astros camp this spring. DeFrancesco's cancer was caught early enough that he is expected to make a full recovery.