Roy Halladay looked sharp. Schoeneweis, Ligtenberg, Speier, and Frasor were near-perfect. Frankie the Cat didn't just drive in 5 runs. He had a couple of hits against a left-hander. The Jays beat the NL East champs, they look just great, they're going all the way, man. All the way! YEAHH!!
It's spring time, we're allowed to dream. In fact, we should be dreaming.
You see, the spring will be over soon. We will be bumping our heads against Reality. Not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of the year. It might hurt. Let us dream while we still can...
So. If the Jays were to go all the way, what would need to happen?
Two things, obviously.
One: they would need to give up fewer runs than they allowed last year.
Two: They would need to score more runs than they scored last year. Many, many more.
The Jays gave up 823 runs last year. That's actually not so bad. Only six teams in the league gave up fewer. The New York Yankees, who won 101 games, gave up 808 runs.
Blue Jays starting pitchers whose first names begin with "H" allowed 133 runs in 213 IP last year. Yuck. But - Pat Hentgen allowed half of those runs in 80 innings; this year, Roy Halladay gets all of those innings.
I absolutely guarantee that Halladay will not allow 133 runs in 2005.
See? The pitching staff has already improved! We've already shaved 45-50 runs off last year's total.
More can be achieved. There are all kinds of reasons to think a full year of Dave Bush should be better than half a year of Justin Miller and half a year of Dave Bush. I think so, anyway.
In fact, if everything breaks right, the Jays can cut their runs allowed into the 730-750 range. An enormous IF, I grant you. A dream, perhaps. But this is what the spring is for.
And if they do that, but can only score 719 runs like they did last year... well, they're looking at about a 79-83 season. Maybe 82-80 if they get lucky. In order to actually contend - and this is our dream, this is our quest - they have to find at least another 100 runs of offense. At least. I think they need to score about 850 and allow about 740, myself.
And of course, their best hitter ever is now the Big Fish in Miami.
How can it be done?
How about if every spot in the lineup, plus the bench, is 10 runs better than last year. Is that feasible?
Catcher? Sure. Kevin Cash gets no at bats this year. Mission accomplished! Wow, that was easy.
First Base? Let's just compare Hinske to Hinske. Can he be ten runs better than last year? Of course, he can.
Second Base? Can Hudson continue to improve? Why not?
Shortstop? Can Russ Adams kick in 10 more runs than Gomez/Woodward? Well, why else is he in the major leagues?
Third Base? Can Koskie be 10 runs better than Delgado? Oops. Its very unlikely, but he has a chance to at least battle the 2004 Delgado to a draw.
Right Field? Can Rios take a step forward? Of course he can.
Centre Field? Can Wells play like he did in 2003? Of course he can.
Left Field? Between Sparky, Cat, and the Babe can this position be 10 runs better? Sure.
DH? I'm not a Hillenbrand fan, but he will be significantly better than the 2004 DHs.
Bench? Its hard to tell what constitutes a modern bench. On this team, it looks like a backup catcher and two backup infielders. Assuming that there's a platoon happening in LF. The Jays had seven players with more than 100 AB last year who weren't a "regular" starter last year - all were between 115 and 249 AB. Four of them were really bad - Cash, Woodward, Gross, and Clark. Two were kind of ordinary - Catalanotto and Berg (for a backup infielder, he was pretty good; for a starting LF, not so much). One of them was fabulous, and that would be the same guy who's been one of their two best hitters this spring: Mighty-Mini-Me-Mouse Menechino. OK, its hard to see where they get much better here. OK, never mind.
Anyway. Everything - and I mean everything - has to break the right way. But nothing really ridiculous and outlandish is required. Two still young and developing players - Wells and Hinske - are asked to play at a level they have already played at. Some other young players - Rios, Hudson - are asked for just modest improvement. Etc etc.
But more to the point - has a team like the Blue Jays ever won anything? A team with two big-time bonafide stars - a pitcher and an outfielder - and a bunch of - let's be frank - kids and journeymen of varying degrees of skill and promise.
You bet. Stay tuned, because in my next foray through Baseball History (and I promise it won't be 8000 words long!), I will be describing a World Championship team - a famous and celebrated team - that had two absolutely great players. But just two. By an Absolutely Amazing Coincidence, those two players were - you guessed it - a pitcher and an outfielder. They won the World Series when those guys were supported by: 1) a bunch of not-too-young journeymen who stepped up and had career years more or less out of the blue, and 2) some young players not otherwise bound for glory who also contributed fine to outstanding seasons.
I'll let you all wonder who that team might be. But yes - it can be done, folks.