PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania - The Blue Jays' revamped, veteran-laden lineup is rich in major league experience but relatively light on World Series championships. There are players with rings who weren't able to play – they were hurt or had been traded in-season – and others who've made it to the dance but lost.
Among them are Mark Buehrle, a key member of the 2005 world champion Chicago White Sox; Mark DeRosa, who was injured but in the clubhouse with the 2010 San Francisco Giants; and Darren Oliver, who broke in to the majors in 1992 and has yet to win it all despite two recent trips to the World Series with the Texas Rangers in 2010 and 2011.
They've seen it all, to use the old phrase, and they like what they see of this Blue Jays' roster.
"On paper, talent-wise, this team is as good as any one I've been on," said DeRosa.
Oliver echoed DeRosa before offering a familiar caution.
"It looks good on paper but not too many championships are won on paper so you've got to go out there and do it," he said.
Talent aside, the guys with experience in high pressure games say good health, some luck and consistently good-to-great pitching are part of a successful team's mix.
"I remember we'd look up (at the scoreboard) in the fourth inning and we'd be winning 1-0, 2-0 and we'd have no hits," said Buehrle of his 2005 White Sox team. (Scott Podsednik) would get on base by a walk or a hit by pitch or an error, steal a base or two and then a sac fly and he scores. It wasn't like we crushed the ball. We pitched well, we had good defence and we scored enough runs when we had to... A few times, a ball would hit a thing in the infield and bounce over a guy's head and we'd score a run and win the game because of that play. Everything went our way that year."
"I remember in 2010, they always say whenever you get into the post-season, it's a crapshoot and it is but I took from that how good Matt Cain was, how good Tim Lincecum was and how good our bullpen was," said DeRosa, who missed much of that season with a wrist injury. "They pitched to a game plan, they attacked it and it worked. That's not always going to be the case but I think any time you trust your stuff and you succeed at that level, I think what it does for your confidence is immeasurable."
Buehrle likes the Jays' balance of power and speed. A lefthander who works efficiently but, by his own admission, allows a lot of base runners, Buehrle sees pitchers struggling to contain the likes of Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio on the base paths.
"I hate pitching against teams like that because you do have to focus on the (runner) at first. You can't just (think,) 'He's not going to go anywhere, let me focus on this pitch.' You've got to say, 'I've got to keep this guy close,' because you know, if he gets on second and a base hit, that scores a run. If you keep him close on a base hit, then it's first and third and you still have a chance to get out of the inning. I don't like facing teams when they have a lot of speed guys because you do have to take your concentration off making a quality pitch and you have to focus on the guy at first."
John Gibbons returns a more grizzled veteran of the coaching game, with stops in Kansas City as bench coach and a managerial job at Double-A San Antonio since he was let go by the Blue Jays in 2008.
"I'm probably more confident, you know I've done it before so it's been easier that way," said Gibbons of spring training. "We've got a better team; that makes it a heck of a lot easier. The lineup's pretty set, we've got veteran players. They know who they are, they know how to play the game (and) they've got track records so it's been easier from that angle. Myself, the games haven't started but I feel really confident in what I can do and what can happen."
Gibbons then threw in a little humour.
"I haven't gotten into any slugging matches, any fights yet, I guess that's good," he said, a nod to his much-publicized spats with Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly during his first tour of duty.
In this day of advanced statistical analysis in which individual player ratings are given priority, the intangible that is clubhouse chemistry goes ignored. Likely because it can't be measured; it can't be run through a calculator.
"I think it's used in the media and gets dismissed from time to time but the players don't take it for granted when it's flowing good, they enjoy being around each other and they can confide in each other," said DeRosa. "You become buddies and those are the memories you take from the game. I try to bring that everyday; incorporate everyone in conversations, have fun with it, goof on people, see what makes them tick and get to know them."
DeRosa estimates, on paper, his world champion Giants team was the third or fourth best club on which he played.
"That team just came together at the right time, got hot and had ungodly pitching," he said. "As far as sheer roster on paper, the 2003 Braves I played on was a team that set offensive records and a team I thought was going to roll to the World Series. But the Cubs with Carlos Zambrano, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior put an end to that. The 2008 Cubs was a team that won a bunch of games and thought we had a chance to win it all and Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers and Manny Ramirez took care of that."
The Blue Jays' roster looks good on paper. Now the games begin.
The Blue Jays will have Easter Sunday off and will hold a workout on Monday at Rogers Centre. The workout is not open to the public. Toronto opens the regular season on Tuesday, the first of a three-game home set with the Cleveland Indians. Each game starts at 7:07pm et.