The Toronto Blue Jays entered the 2012 season with high expectations of competing for a division title. Unfortunately, the team did not live up to those expectations as the Jays were long out of contention as the season wore on. There were noteworthy events, however, and a combination of getting healthy and bolstering the lineup could make a playoff run in 2013 within reach.
Before that takes shape, here is a look back at Toronto baseball in 2012:
Team Record: The Blue Jays finished 73-89, good for fourth place in the AL East. On the bright side, Toronto finished 41-40 in home games at the Rogers Centre.
Woes at the Plate: As a team, the Blue Jays hit just .245, good for 23rd out of the 30 MLB teams. Only two Jays hit better than .270, and Edwin Encarnacion led the way at .280. The team average was hurt by every-day players Colby Rasmus and Kelly Johnson who hit .223 and .225, respectively.
Edwin's Big Season: Not all was bad at the plate in 2012 for the Blue Jays as the team got a career-year out of Encarnacion, the team's starting first baseman. He led the Jays in all three Triple Crown categories, batting .280 with 42 home runs and 110 RBIs. He was rewarded mid-season when Toronto inked the big bat to a three-year contract extension, with a team option for 2016.
Starting Pitching Issues: Even though the Blue Jays struggled with the bats in 2012, the team's starting pitchers arguably fared even worse. Only one starter earned 10 wins (Brandon Morrow) and only three starters made more than 20 starts (Morrow, Henderson Alvarez, and Ricky Romero). Romero was counted on to be the ace of the staff at the beginning of the season, but he took considerable steps back in his development, going 9-14 with a 5.77 ERA and 105 walks in 185 innings.
Injury Problems: The Jays' problems were not just a matter of poor performance; throughout the season, the team had more trouble keeping guys on the field healthy than anything else. Starting pitchers Kyle Drabeck and Drew Hutchinson and closer Sergio Santos were lost for the season due to arm injuries, and important pieces Morrow, Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, and J.P. Arencibia all missed considerable time.
Yunel Escobar Controversy: When it seemed that things could not get any worse for the team, shortstop Yunel Escobar was discovered having a homophobic slur written on his eye black. For the inexplicable move, he was suspended for three games at the end of the season. A combination of this incident and a general lack of productivity has led to rumors that the Jays plan on trying to trade Escobar this winter.
Fresh Faces: Mostly due to the countless injuries, the Blue Jays played 16 rookies in 2012. This experience may pay great dividends in 2013 when many of these rookies will be called upon to contribute more. Notable fresh faces included pitchers Aaron Loup and Steve Delabar, infielder Adeiny Hechavarria, and outfielders Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra.
Veteran Oliver Holding Down the Bullpen: With all of the rookies on the team during the season, it is fascinating to think that the most productive pitcher on the team was a 41-year old, crafty left-hander who doesn't hit 90 mph on the radar gun. But that's exactly what Darren Oliver was in 2012, appearing in 62 games and tallying a 2.06 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. Whether or not Oliver plays next season remains to be seen, but his 2012 contributions to the Jays will not be forgotten as the Jays' players voted him team pitcher of the year.
A Farewell to Omar Vizquel: On the subject of veterans, although shortstop Vizquel will be remembered mainly for his time in Seattle and Cleveland, the Jays brought him to Toronto in 2012 to provide veteran leadership and fantastic infield defense. The Jays gave Vizquel a well-deserved send-off before the final game of the season, having him throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game.
Need for a New Manager: The season ended in strange fashion, as rumors began swirling that John Farrell would be the next Red Sox manager as soon as Bobby Valentine was fired by Boston. The rumors became reality last week when the Jays effectively traded Farrell to Boston for utility infielder Mike Aviles. Where the Jays go in 2013 will depend in large part on getting the right guy to replace Farrell in Toronto.
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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.