Bautista, Jays' rotation prove critics wrong

Bautista, Jays' rotation prove critics wrong

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays always felt they were better than the preseason predictions.

Over the course of the 2010 season, Toronto showed it, proving the prognosticators wrong. There would be no last-place finish in the American League East or a 100-loss season. Instead, the Blue Jays wielded power at the plate and promise on the mound.

Toronto may have exceeded outside expectations, but the club never doubted that doing so was out of the realm of possibilities.

"I mean, why not?" Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "Every day you come out here, you have a chance. You could look and see what kind of team we had here. I think the biggest question was the pitching, because the kids were young."

Top 12 moments

Gaston now heads into retirement coming off an impressive last stand as the Blue Jays' manager. In helping Toronto post a winning record, Gaston moved over 900 victories as the team's skipper, and he leaves with the Jays excited about the progress made over the past year.

The Blue Jays' young rotation performed well all season, laying the groundwork for the type of deep group that is needed to survive in the AL East. In the end, Toronto's efforts resulted in a fourth-place finish in 2010, but there were days when the gap did not seem that vast.

"There's a lot of things that have gone on over the course of the season," Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells said. "Our young arms developing and learning how to win at this level, and just coming together as a team and believing we can compete in this division.

"I think guys have started to realize that and we'll go into the offseason and prepare ourselves for a better season next year."

Beyond the pitching, the Blue Jays rode the hot bat of Jose Bautista to the most powerful season in franchise history. Bautista joined baseball's 50-homer club, and Toronto had nine players reach double digits in long balls, paving the way for the most homers hit in one year for the team. Their 257 were the third most in baseball history, tying the 1996 Baltimore Orioles.

"As far as the home runs and all that sort of stuff," Gaston said, "I kind of looked at the team and figured that out, that that's the kind of team that we had. If we could do that, then we had a chance to win some games. We won a lot of games on home runs."

It was not a season that ended with a postseason berth, but it was the type of campaign that has the Blue Jays ready to see what 2011 has in store.

"This is just a year to build on," Blue Jays catcher John Buck said, "and to see the potential this team has to keep this organization moving forward."

What follows is a quick look back at a year of progress:

Record: 85-77, fourth in AL East.

Defining moment: On Sept. 17, Bautista drilled a 3-2 pitch from Red Sox reliever Michael Bowden deep into the Boston night. The powerful swing sent the baseball sailing over Fenway Park's Green Monster and crashing into the seats high atop the famous wall. With that blast, Bautista established a new franchise record with 48 home runs in a single season, passing George Bell's mark of 47 in 1987 (More | ). Bautista would go on to belt more than 50 long balls in a magical season for Toronto (More | ).

What went right: Bautista provided the biggest bat within baseball's most powerful offense. The Blue Jays led the Major Leagues in home runs and set a club record as a team for blasts in one season. ... After battling through injuries for much of the past three years and seeing his offensive production fall in the process, Wells bounced back with his best showing at the plate since 2006. ... The young front four of Toronto's rotation, consisting of Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil, took a big step forward as a group. Each posted double-digit win totals and showed that the foundation may be set for a strong starting staff for years to come. ... On Aug. 8, Morrow fashioned a brilliant performance in a 1-0 win over the Rays. The right-hander came within one out of a no-hitter and finished with 17 strikeouts in a masterful showing (More | ). ... On Aug. 7, Jays rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia enjoyed one of the greatest debuts in big league history. Arencibia belted a home run on the first pitch of his Major League career and went on to become the first player in the modern era (since 1900) to launch two home runs within a four-hit performance in a debut (More | ). ... It was not always pretty, but in the end, closer Kevin Gregg was effective, piling up a career high in saves to help strengthen the back of the bullpen. ... Bautista, Wells and Buck each made the AL All-Star team.

What went wrong: Aaron Hill and Adam Lind were unable to put up the type of showings that earned them both AL Silver Slugger Awards in 2009. ... The down seasons from Hill and Lind created some early uncertainty in the middle of the Blue Jays' lineup, an issue later solved by Bautista's breakout performance. ... Lefty Brian Tallet opened the year as Toronto's No. 2 starter, but suffered through a poor season that ended with him back in the bullpen. The Jays were forced to cycle a variety of pitchers in and out of the rotation's fifth spot all season long. ... Left fielder Travis Snider missed a chunk of the season with a right wrist injury, falling short of the breakout season the Jays hoped to see in 2010.

Biggest surprise: Without a doubt, Bautista's showing was the biggest surprise for the Blue Jays, and perhaps the biggest surprise in baseball. After launching just 13 home runs in 2009, Toronto's right fielder became only the 26th player in Major League history to belt at least 50 homers in one season, finishing with 54.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.