Ahh, opening day. A time when all baseball fans get out in the sun, eat a hot dog or two and think to themselves “Maybe this is the year”.
That is, of course, unless you cheer for a team from the AL East.
Those who call themselves Jays fans are already worrying: about how Alex Rios is batting, about the health of Doc Halliday and if their hot dog will give them Mad Cow Disease.
Worrying about their team is nothing new to fans in Toronto, but the Jays carry their own special brand of worrying, a kind that is entirely justified.
In what is the hardest division in baseball, and maybe in all of sports, the Jays find themselves up against the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, two teams that routinely make the postseason and routinely outspend small oceanic countries in the process.
Those guys are good, as Rick Jeanneret would say. Scary good.
So to win, the Jays don’t have to be just good. They don’t just need to stay good all season while avoiding injuries. No, they need to stay good and injury-free while hoping that the Yankees and the Red Sox don’t.
Obviously, this hasn’t happened recently. After being lights-out in his rookie season, Gustavo Chacin has been plagued by injuries. The free agent signing of Troy Glaus never quite panned out. And drama, such as the Shea Hillenbrand incident a couple years ago, doesn’t help either.
But hope is hope, and this could be the year. BJ Ryan should be back. AJ Burnett is in a contract year and will hopefully go out on a high note. Their big off-season acquisition of Scott Rolen should help out their hitting.
And the Yankees are looking shakier then ever. Sure, they have a Murderer’s Row of hitting (Jeter, A-Rod, Abreu, Giambi, etc, etc) and an Ace in Chien-Ming Wang, but the rest of the rotation (Mussina, Pavano, Pettitte) is getting old fast. Their closer, the great Mariano Rivera, turned 38 in November.
And you could say the same about the Red Sox, although it’s a stretch. They have injuries – Schilling is gone for the season – and Tim Wakefield is 41. But at the same time, do you want to bet against their hitting which is every bit as good as the Yankees.
That’s pretty tough competition to face year in, year out. And usually either of these teams will improve over the season, picking up some huge contract from a rebuilding club.
Sure, the Jays could just beat one of them and finish second – it happened a couple years ago – and hope for a Wild Card, but that’s also unlikely to happen. Last year the Yankees won it with 94 wins, the lowest number since 2000. In a league that includes powerhouse teams in two divisions, it’s unlikely that the Jays would luck out to that extent.
So the Jays will need some luck to make the postseason. Okay, they’ll need a lot of luck.
But this is spring, the beginning of a long and unpredictable season. Relax, enjoy the game and stop worrying.
After all, you’re not going to catch anything from that hot dog.