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Ferguson: Blue Jays versus the AL East and lefties

Scott Ferguson
3/31/2014 12:19:22 PM
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I've got to admit, when I heard Casey Janssen was going on the disabled list with a lower back strain, the first thought running through my mind was here we go again. It seemed just like the past two seasons, where an onslaught of injuries derailed both seasons.

At least this time, the injury to the veteran closer doesn't appear to be that series and if there is any area the Blue Jays have depth in it's the pen. For now, at least, Sergio Santos, who's had to deal with two injury-plagued seasons of his own since coming back to the Jays, will get the chance to close.

I did a little digging and found out that only four of the 15 teams in the American League are starting the season with the same closer they had a year ago. That would be Boston with Koji Uehara, the Royals with Greg Holland, Minnesota with Glen Perkins and the Angels with Ernest Fieri.

The Red Sox and the Blue Jays, once Janssen gets healthy, will have the same closers. The Yankees, thanks to the retirement of the great Mariano Rivera, have handed the reins over to right-hander David Robertson. Tampa Bay let Fernando Rodney walk as a free agent and then picked up former A's closer Grant Balfour and another one-time closer in Heath Bell. Baltimore dealt their star closer Jimmie Johnson to Oakland and then decided to make veteran starter/reliever Tommy Hunter into their closer.

For this year, at least, there is far greater closer stability. Only three of the 15 teams - St. Louis, Arizona and the Cubs - are starting with different closers than they had at the beginning of last season. The Reds would actually be a fourth, as Aroldis Chapman is on the disabled list after taking a line drive just above the eye in spring training but he will be back this season.

It's no secret; if the Blue Jays are going to contend for a wild card spot at the very least, they've got to put up a winning record against their own division. If you look at the last four years since Alex Anthopoulos took over as general manager, the Jays have only been above .500 versus the AL East once. They went 39-33 against their own division in 2010, Cito Gaston's final year as skipper. That season, Tampa Bay was the only club that finished better without the division at 42-30. In 2011, they went 33-39, in 2012 they were 29-43, and last year they went 30-46, which was the worst of the five teams within the division.

Over that four year span within the East, Tampa has had the best record, averaging 42 wins per season and never worse than second best in terms of wins within the division. The Blue Jays are actually tied with Baltimore for the fewest wins inside the division over the past four years at 131.

I found another interesting stat surrounding the last four years - the Blue Jays' less than stellar record against left handers. Three of those last four years they have the worst record in the division against southpaws. Only in 2011 were they above .500 versus lefties with a mark of 23-19. Their cumulative record against left-handers over the past four years is 76-93. So, if you can't win enough within your own division and you can't beat lefties consistently, you're not going to be a contender.

One final note on the Jays and the American League East. From August 22 on this season, the Jays play 28 of their final 35 against their own division, including six against Boston, seven versus the Yankees, six against Baltimore and nine against Tampa Bay. The only respite is a three game series against the Cubs at home in early September and then a four game series at home; the final week of the season against Seattle. So this is the season the Jays just prove they can beat the East. Better luck against lefties wouldn't hurt either.

This is one of the tougher seasons to try and call the American League East, but right now Tampa Bay looks like the class of the division followed by the Yankees (if Tanaka and Pineda are for real), Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles, though if those two flip-flopped it wouldn't surprise me either. Check me in October.

I mentioned former Blue Jays catcher Yan Gomes in my last article. Cleveland obviously is impressed with the first Brazilian ever to make it to the Majors. They signed him to a six-year deal that included two option years worth $23 million. I can't ever remember a team trading two catchers as the Jays did in the same off-season - Gomes and Travis D'Arnaud - and have them both become number one catchers so quickly.




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