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Blue Jays aiming for a healthy season to unseat Orioles in AL East

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The Blue Jays are in town for the Orioles home opener. We got some thoughts from our Toronto blogger counterparts about the series to come.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Blue Jays are coming to town, so who better to tell us about them than people who actually follow that team? They've been a decent team in most recent years, never great, not really bad either. After an offseason with some interesting trades and signings, and with nobody seeming to be TOO strong in the AL East, they're hoping this year will be their year.

I talked to Tom Dakers, the manager of Bluebird Banter, about a few things to look for with the Jays this year and in this series in particular. I gave some thoughts on the Orioles as well, which you can find on his site here.

1. The Blue Jays haven't won more than 87 games in a decade and a half and haven't made the playoffs in over 20 years. What do you think has to go right this year to break out of that streak?

Tom: Health.

The team, as it sits at the moment, looks pretty good. The problem is that that Jays are paper thin at just about every position. We could maybe handle an injury at one or two spots, but any more than that and they could end up closer to the bottom of the division than the top.

The Jays have had more than their share of injury problems over the past few seasons, I'm hoping that this year the Baseball Gods will treat them more kindly.

2. This year was supposed to mark the first full season as closer for Maryland product Brett Cecil, who has a 2.76 ERA in two full seasons as a big league reliever. He has already been bounced from the role. What's that about? Who is taking over as closer and how do you feel about that?

Tom: Who is taking over is a very good question. The team has two 20-year old rookies, neither of whom have played above A ball. Manager John Gibbons likes seems to like them. I'm guessing that Miguel Castro gets the majority of save chances early. He has a power arm, can get to 99 with his fastball, which is something that all managers like out of a closer.

I think Gibby is looking at Castro and, our other 20-year old, Roberto Osuna as guys that can pitch 2 innings at a time in a close game. I think there will be some ‘bullpen by committee' stuff going on. Castro may be his choice as closer, but I think he'll also come into games earlier than the 9th inning.

Why was Cecil dumped from the closer role? He really didn't pitch enough this spring. He had some shoulder soreness and missed a couple of weeks of work in the middle of spring, so he didn't get in enough work to be as sharp as he needs to be to pitch in tight games. Cecil lives and dies with his curve, and I don't think he's got the release point figured out yet.

Given time, he might earn the closer job back again.

3. I know spring training is just spring training and all, but is there anyone who you're worried about based on how they played in the spring? On the other side, is there anyone who you're excited about based on their spring performance?

Tom: Russell Martin had a pretty tough spring with the bat but I'm not worried about him. Edwin Encarnacion had a tough spring, but then he always takes a while to get his timing down. I guess the one whose spring kind of worries me is Justin Smoak. Smoak started spring very slowly. I think he went 5 or 6 games before getting his first hit. He ended up with fairly respectable numbers, .222/.344/.481 with 4 home runs, but he looked lost at the play for much of spring and, of course, he doesn't have a great track record in the majors. I hope that the move from the pitcher's parkof Safeco to the much more hitter friendly Rogers Centre will help his batting numbers, but he's going to have to prove it to us.

Maicer Izturis was having a tough time at the plate, in the first couple of weeks of spring, hitting just .125/.263/.188 in 16 at bats, and then he went down with a groin strain and is still on the DL. He went from odds on favorite to win the second base job, to someone that might end up being released, to the DL all in about 2 weeks.

On the positive side, Devon Travis came into camp as a long shot to be second baseman, and then he didn't get a hit for his first 5 games and we thought that he needed more time in the minors. Then he started hitting. He finished spring with a .359/.400/.453 line. Josh Donaldson hit .327/.403/.673 with 6 home runs this spring, which also gave me a very warm feeling.

4. Saturday's starter, Aaron Sanchez, will be making his first start at the big league level. What kind of stuff can the O's expect to see from this 22-year-old?

Tom: Last year, working out of the Jays bullpen, Sanchez pretty much just used his upper 90's fastball and batters hit just .126 against him. As a starter, his fastball will be more in the 94-95 MPH range and he'll be using his very good curveball much more often. His changeup and slider are still works in progress, they aren't great pitches yet, but, at least in spring training, he's been trying to use them as much as he can.

For Sanchez, his control will be what to watch.  In the minors he walked 4.8 batters/9 innings and this spring he walked 10 in 22.2 innings of work. If he's going to be successful in the majors, he's going to have to throw more strikes.

5. The biggest black hole in the Jays lineup last year looks to have been the spot at second base. Is rookie Devon Travis the answer to that vortex of suck?

Tom: I'm hoping so.

He's had a good start to his major league career, he hit a home run in his first game. He's 3 for 9 with 2 walks in three games. He is showing a good eye at the plate, seems to be patience enough to walk for his pitch. On defense, he has shown decent range, a good arms and seems to have lots for baseball smarts.

Last week I wrote that Travis was well on his way to becoming my favorite player. After the season opening series, against the Yankees, I was right, he is my favorite player. I think he'll quickly prove to be our best second baseman since Aaron Hill.

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Do you feel threatened by the Jays this year? How many wins do you think the Orioles will walk away with from this series?

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