Jays hitting could be solid gold this year…

 

Alex Anthopolous and by extension, the Blue Jays organization are nothing if not optimists. Their reasoning for expecting much greater results from essentially the same roster as last year are based on the assumptions that they can avoid the major injuries that plagued the team in ’13 and that players returning from injury will be back upto speed. And, indeed, if that happens to be the case, the 2014 Blue Jays could make some noise. But that is also a whole lot of “ifs”.

If healthy- note the ‘if”- this team should score runs. Lots of them. Dioner Navarro, the new #1 catcher, should easily outpace JP Arencibia’s insipid .194 average and .592 OPS, even if he tires out and lags behind his .300 average over 89 games with the Cubs last year. The front end of the lineup could be a run-scoring machine, given that it will be fronted by the men who had the highest batting averages in the NL in 2011 and 2012 (Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera respectively) followed by two bona fide 40 home run threats in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. The monkey wrench in there is that all 4 suffered significant injuries last season and already Jose Reyes is having difficulty with his hamstring. If (there’s that word again) Reyes is ok and stays more or less in good condition through the long year on bad turf, he should be in scoring position for the big bats a lot, needless to say.

Cabrera has benefited from new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer or from feeling better after back surgery last year, or perhaps both , and is hitting up a storm this spring. In the final week of spring training, he looks like a new man compared to the slow, weak-hitting version Toronto fans endured last season, and is clipping along with a .429 average and nine doubles. There is hope to think that last year was the aberration. After all, over the 2011-12 seasons Melky hit .325 with a slugging pct of almost .500. Anything remotely close to that this year, hitting behind Reyes, could easily put both Joey Bats and EE over the century mark for RBIs by the time Labor Day rolls around.

Bautista is seemingly in good health and spirits this spring and if he manages to play past mid-August for the first time since 2011, should be a contender for the home run title again. Even over the past two injury-marred campaigns he’s tallied 55 home runs, and averaged at least a homer per 16 AB, numbers any team would happily put up with, even if at the expense of a few silly temper tantrums along the way. If JB stays healthy, I have a sense another 50 home run year may be on its way and his strong arm could garner a Gold Glove for him as well. Edwin Encarnacion often goes unnoticed it seems, despite knocking 78 balls out of the park over the past two years. Reports are that his wrist is good again and hitting in this lineup, another 35 dinger,100 ribbie year is easily doable.

Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind are both hitting well this spring, and could be added offensive weapons. I’m undecided on Lawrie’s potential, but used judiciously, I think Lind could hit .300 and near 30 HR, even if not matching his fabulous 2009 season.

Colby Rasmus , if not hitting up a storm , is at least hitting up a drizzle and seems to have matured little by little through his time here , so it’s entirely possible he could hit .275 or so and perhaps drive in 80. That leaves only second baseman Ryan Goins, who is struggling this spring and didn’t look altogether comfortable at the plate in his debut last summer, despite an OK .252 average. This year he’s below the Mendoza line , but his defence has been solid (Alex the Optimist suggests already he’s a Gold Glover in the making, something not altogether outrageous to those of us who watched him last year as he looked at ease even when adjusting to a new position– he’d played SS in the minors). If – yes, that word again- his weak bat is the biggest hole in the lineup, Jays fans will have reason to feel chipper and look forward to the playoffs.

My gut feeling is that Reyes hamstring will be a nagging problem well into the summer, and as we saw after his return last season, a slowed

Jose Reyes is no game changer but still an adequate infielder. A big year from any two of Bautista, Encarnacion and Lind should result in a pretty powerful hitting machine that could well produce a good few runs more than last year’s 712 (which ranked them 8th in the AL). Alas, even if they can do so,it may not be enough to move up in the standings given the pitching… which we’ll look at next.

 

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