Toronto Blue Jays @ Cleveland Indians

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Apr 15, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie (front) celebrates with teammates after hitting a grand slam in the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Blue Jays won 9-3. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Indians Welcome Blue Jays to Progressive Field

Remember last year, on Opening Day when the Indians were in Toronto, and that old man threatened them with that bat? That was pretty cool.

It was also a nice little microcosm of the Blue Jays season. Coming into the campaign, the 2013 Jays looked real good. They got R.A. Dickey and Jose Reyes from the Mets, made that big trade with the Marlins for most of their team, signed Melky Cabrera on a “prove it” deal, and along with a nice little core of hometown players, they looked real dangerous. Then, like an old man with a bat getting into a fight, they collapsed under the weight of repeated injury and eventual depression. They ended the season fifth in their division after a host of experts and analysts called them preseason division champs and World Series contenders. It was a little weird, kind of tragic, but then, like most things Blue Jay-y, ultimately forgotten.

It’s understandable that 2014 is full of reduced expectations for Toronto. They were pretty terrible last year especially considering how good they were supposed to be, one of the supposed big gets from the Marlins trade is gone in Josh Johnson (though he wasn’t that good even when he saw the field last year), the pitching staff is led by a knuckleballer whose ball doesn’t dance enough at home and a 35-year old control pitcher, and their middle of the pack offense from a year ago doesn’t have much new blood to engender excitement. Plus Jose Reyes is dinged up again. He is slated to return in this series from another hamstring injury and when he’s healthy he’s one of the most exciting, dangerous players in the game. Unfortunately, that caveat is a big one. He’s missed some time with leg issues every year since 2009 except for the 2012 season, where he stole 40 bases, posted a 109 OPS+ and was worth 2.9 bWAR. His defense did suffer a bit that year, but he doesn’t strike out a lot when he’s on and every base hit in the gap has potential for three bases. He’s fun.

Power is not a problem for the Blue Jays. The 1-2 punch of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion was worth 74 homers a year ago, and Bautista is already on a tear to start this season. Encarnacion hasn’t homered yet, but give him time. Both are neat, they were pretty much journeymen before the Jays lucked out and the guys found their home run swing, now they are one of the best middle of the order duo in the league. Add to that Colby Rasmus and Melky Cabrera, both 25+ homer threats, and Adam Lind if he’s not  continuing to decay, the team that hit the fourth most homers in the AL last year could do it again. And that was with Bautista on a down year. The Rogers Centre loves bombs, and the Jays love the Rogers Centre for that.

Two players on the Jays are uniquely intriguing, for obviously different reasons. Otherwise it wouldn’t be unique. Third baseman Brett Lawrie has been a highly touted farm product for years, and in 2012 he was worth 4.6bWAR including 2.3 defensive wins above replacement. He was a marvel at third. He came in the league in 2011 for 43 games and crushed the ball to the tune of a 153 OPS+ but has since fallen off, down to 96 OPS+ the last two years. He’s also totally nuts, in a good way. I think, anyway. He got suspended last year you might remember, for spiking his helmet after a particularly bad call at the plate and the helmet hit the umpire. Hothead, impulsive, firebrand, all these words could be used to describe Lawrie. The hitting hasn’t come back since 2011 but he’s still only 24 and if he can find some patience at the plate and not strike out quite so much, dude could be very scary. But until then, at least he’s an offensive downside despite his defensive prowess.

The other is Munenori Kawasaki. With their starting second baseman Maicer Izturis out for the year, Toronto had to go out and re-sign Muni as a platoon/utility guy to pair with rookie Ryan Goins (who to this point is an unknown quantity) and fans of quirky weirdos rejoiced. On the field Kawasaki is middling at best, posting a 65 OPS+ in his career so far and some above average defense. But it’s the little things that make him so special. It’s hard to put into words. Just… check it out.

So yeah, that’s the guy the Blue Jays have back. I can’t decide if that makes the locker room better or worse, or just more confusing. I guess he’s starting to learn English though. Which is nice.

Other than that, they’re a pretty good team that can contend all summer if the pitching holds up. They’re score runs, there’s no doubt of that. They just need to not get injured. Also, how come Colby Rasmus has such an allergy to taking a walk or two? He could be so good. Great hair though.  Their outfield with Rasmus, Baustista and Melky Cabrera could hit about 90 homers by themselves if everything breaks right, that’s some borderline historical stuff. Shoot, that’s not too many fewer than the 2001 Giants outfield, and they had some guy hit 73 of the things. Homers are awesome.

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