I love this picture of a blue jay dive-bombing a red-tail hawk, a much larger and more dangerous bird, while the hawk is nobly and serenly perched on the church spire, taking no notice of the Jay whatsoever. The Jays will have to be equally fearless and aggressive if they are to unseat the large birds of prey in the AL East.
Another quite successful bullpen day brought the Jays' Grapefruit League season to a close last night as the Jays defeated Cole Hamels and the Philadelphia Phillies 3-1. Aaron Hill lead the Jays at the plate with a 2-run homerun and a double, and Randy Wells and Brian Wolfe lead a succession of bullpen arms that held the Phils to 5 hits and 1 run. Vernon Wells also doubled and has looked very good at the plate over the last 2 weeks or so. Meanwhile, A.J. Burnett struggled mightily in a minor-league start against the Tampa Yankees, but the Jays aren't worried about it.
With that, we can close the book on the 2008 preseason. The roster is set and features few surprises:
Catchers: Greg Zaun, Rod Barajas
Infielders: Lyle Overbay, Aaron Hill, David Eckstein, Marco Scutaro, John McDonald
Outfielders: Alexis Rios, Vernon Wells, Shannon Stewart, Matt Stairs, Buck Coats
Starters: Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, Jesse Litsch
Bullpen: Jeremy Accardo, Scott Downs, Brandon League, Brian Wolfe, Brian Tallet, Randy Wells, Jason Frasor
Scott Rolen and B.J. Ryan are still recovering and Coats and Randy Wells will take their places on the roster, for now. Wells has been quite impressive this spring, while Coats won the team over with his hard work and speed. Certainly Coats will be the odd man out when Rolen returns, but it will be interesting to see what the Jays do when Ryan comes back.
I hate to draw much into spring performance, so all I'll say is that Vernon Wells has looked very comfortable at the plate over the past few weeks, hitting the ball hard and having good at-bats. That has been encouraging, as has the relatively good and healthy spring enjoyed by Lyle Overbay. This Ottawa Sun article gives some great insight on Lyle's problems last season in his own words and is a great read. In fact, prior to his freak finger injury, I counted Rolen's spring performance as one of the most encouraging things of the spring. I still think the offense will hinge upon the performance of these three individuals this season.
The Jays begin the regular season on Monday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, now in its last season. Roy Halladay will face Chien-Ming Wang, and John Gibbons has announced the Jays lineup:
SS David Eckstein
LF Matt Stairs
RF Alexis Rios
CF Vernon Wells
DH Frank Thomas
1B Lyle Overbay
2B Aaron Hill
3B Marco Scutaro
C Greg Zaun
Jeff Blair has a long piece in the G & M to kick off the season, and his article focuses on JP Ricciardi and his management of the team over the last several years. Blair thinks this is a make-or-break season for Ricciardi and it's hard to disagree. The article ends with Blair and MacLeod's picks for the division and neither has the Jays finishing higher than 3rd, with MacLeod picking the Rays to vault into second place, ahead of the Yankees and Jays.
Next, our friend John Brattain has the 5 Questions for the Toronto Blue Jays in the Hardball Times and it is a typically insightful and well-written piece.
And the Deadspin preview for the Jays, written by the fantastic Neate Seager, is a must-read for any Jays fan.
Finally, I'm going to dominate the Bluebird Banter fantasy league. Just so y'all know.
Update: 3.29.2008, 3:15 pm: So in my haste for spring training to be over, I totally forgot there was still one more game to play! At the moment, the Jays lead Philadelphia 5-3 in the 7th inning behind another HR by Aaron Hill and some effective pitching by the Jays big league bullpen arms.