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Blue Jays make their move, making them popular pick to take AL East

19

December

The last time the Blue Jays were in the playoffs, Bill Clinton was just finishing his first year as president.

It was twenty years ago, before Facebook, before Twitter. The Devil Rays didn't even exist.

But after a flurry of offseason moves, including two blockbuster trades, the Jays have turned into the new beast of the American League East. And, according to Bovada, Toronto is the early favorite to win the World Series (15/2 odds). Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi recently polled 20 executives and scouts, asking who will win AL East, and 13 of them predicted the Jays.

"What Toronto did," Rays manager Joe Maddon said at the winter meetings, "Was very substantial."

And that's before Toronto acquired NL Cy Young winner, R.A. Dickey, this past week. The Jays have bolstered their rotation, adding veteran lefty Mark Buehrle and righty Josh Johnson in their mega trade with the Marlins, to go along with Dickey and returners Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow.

Don't think the Rays haven't noticed. As several of them pitched arguably the best games of their careers against Tampa Bay (Buehrle a perfect game in 2009, Morrow striking out 17 in 2010, and Dickey a one-hitter last season).

They already had a solid lineup with former home run champ Jose Bautista and slugger Edwin Encarnacion. Now they've added star shortstop Jose Reyes (from Marlins) and All-Star MVP Melky Cabrera.

Maddon has said the AL East may be as wide open as it's ever been this season, and the Jays seemed to sense that, with the defending champion Yankees getting older, Boston still working its way back, and the Rays having lost key pieces like James Shields, B.J. Upton.

Nobody wins championships in November or December. Just ask last year's Angels and Marlins.

But with what the Jays have done, and the Red Sox additions (Dempster, Victorino, Napoli, Gomes), the Rays road to the playoffs got that much tougher.

"I believe there are five teams in the AL East that could finish first, and five teams that could finish fifth," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "It's going to be a couple bounces here or bloopers, or an injury or two that makes all the difference." 

-- JOE SMITH

joesmith@tampabay.com

[Last modified: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 7:40pm]

    

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