Out of the six combined wins that were needed by the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees to advance out of the American League Division Series, four were credited to CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander. In addition, in each team's deciding Game 5, the respective aces twirled complete-game victories, allowing a combined one run in 18 innings.
This has further proved the age-old saying that a baseball team in the playoffs is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher and when you have one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, you are always going to have a shot to advance.
Heading toward next season after a disappointing 2012, the Toronto Blue Jays will have high expectations to bounce back and make a run at the playoffs in 2013. Notwithstanding the fourth-place AL East Division finish in 2012, the Jays have reason to be hopeful next year, with many key pieces set to return off the disabled list and a promise from ownership to spend aggressively in the free agent market.
Perhaps, more important, however, is the fact that Toronto may already have a Sabathia- or Verlander-type ace at the top of the rotation. Although Brandon Morrow's final 2012 tally of 10-7 and career 39-37 record and 4.10 ERA do not necessarily jump off the page, there is reason to believe that Morrow will be able to take the next step in 2013 and anchor the Jays' starting rotation for the foreseeable future.
Through June 6 of this past season, Morrow was 7-3 with a 2.90 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings. Even more impressively, in those 12 starts, Morrow registered three complete-game shutouts. In this stretch, it could have been argued that the Jays' ace was as dominant as any pitcher in baseball. With this in mind, it stands to reason that a full season with Morrow in the rotation will pay great dividends in terms of the march to the playoffs in 2013.
Although it may not be that easy, as the key will be having Morrow in the rotation for the whole season, something that has not happened in his six-year career in the major leagues. Granted, Morrow started as a reliever with the Seattle Mariners but in three seasons as a starter in Toronto, Morrow has never made more than 30 starts in a season. Luckily for the Jays, Morrow has appeared to get over the oblique injury that sidelined him for nearly two months in 2012 as he finished the season strong with two dominant victories.
In order for the Blue Jays to make the playoffs in 2013, they will need to stay healthy and receive contributions from many different players. One pitcher will not be able to do it by himself. That being said, having a go-to guy at the top of the rotation is imperative to make it in the American League. If the first half of 2012 is any indication, the Blue Jays have that guy in Brandon Morrow who they can comfortably put against Verlander, Sabathia, and any other ace.
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Del Pearson has been a big Blue Jays fan since seeing the team's best prospects come through Auburn and Syracuse as a child. You can follow Del on Twitter @DelPearson2.
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