Fact OR Fiction v1.9

Welcome to another installment of Fact OR Fiction here at InsideTheDome. In this segment we field certain statements from fans to be answered by our Blue Jays expert Lee Ferguson. He will debate on the topic and provide you with reasonable evidence that answers the question - Fact or Fiction? In this week's edition Lee analyzes if the Toronto Blue Jays will finish above .500 this season.

FACT OR FICTION:

The Toronto Blue Jays will finish above .500 this season.

This week at InsideTheDome, we are taking a step back and looking at the big picture. Not just a single player like our segment has been used to in its brief existence, but a look at the Toronto Blue Jays team as a whole.

We are nearly at the half-way point of the 2005 season and the Blue Jays currently sit in fourth place, just behind the New York Yankees in the American League East. It has been an interesting season to say the least. Who would have expected the Baltimore Orioles to remain in first place for most of the season to date (recently bumped from first on June 24th by the Boston Red Sox)? If you aren't an Orioles fan and predicted this, then kudos to you.

One could say it wasn't entirely surprising to see the Orioles playing well, but to have both Boston and New York struggling out of the gate was the shocker many hadn't foreseen. Baltimore's weakness, as it has been since the departure of Mike Mussina after the 2000 season, is pitching. They have failed to sign, acquire or produce an ace for their rotation – and no, one good season from Sidney Ponson does not make him an ace. There is no doubt though that the O's have hitting, with veteran guys like Rafael Palmeiro, Miguel Tejada, Sammy Sosa, Javy Lopez, and the ultra-talented Brian Roberts, but all will be for not, again, if they don't find pitching.

The month of July will be extremely tough on the Orioles, as they are set to play the Yankees twice, Boston, Texas, Minnesota and the Chicago White Sox. It is certainly gut-check time for this team and it wouldn't surprise me to see them fall dramatically as the All-Star break approaches.

This leads us to the defending World Champion Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox just took over first place in the East after struggling to find their identity early on. After losing many key players to free agency in the off-season (Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe being the key one's), they've looked to David Wells and Matt Clement to carry the load. Only now are they shaking off the rust and beginning to gel as a team again, and that certainly doesn't bode well for any other team in their division. They have a similar schedule to the Orioles in that they play the Yankees, Baltimore, Texas, Minnesota and the White Sox. They also play the Devil Rays six times in the month of July. They should be able to keep their lead atop the AL East.

Being a lifelong Blue Jays fan, it's easy to find pleasure in the misfortunes of the New York Yankees. What has happened to them this year? Could it be that we've been so accustomed to seeing the Yankees win that we've been surprised by their performance thus far? Are they really this bad? For the most part, the answer is no. But we have seen a steady decline of success from the Bronx Bombers in recent years. They have in fact gone without a World Series title birth since 2000 when they beat the New York Mets in the titled "Subway Series".

The fear of how you were already defeated once you stepped onto the field against the Yankees is long gone. Teams now realize that the games still need to be played and that anyone can beat anyone on any given day. Opposing players are starting to believe in themselves rather than be intimidated entering the batters box against, say – Randy Johnson. So I believe that the intimidation factor is losing its gusto, but it is also coupled with a few players who are no longer the players they once were – or never were to begin with and have been over hyped, but I won't get into that here.

The Yankees have a relatively similar schedule in July with regards to opposing team's records to that of Boston and Baltimore. They will be fed a steady diet of the Orioles, Red Sox, Minnesota, Texas and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. If they don't step up (which they have yet to accomplish), they could struggle to end up more than ten games above .500 at season's end. Now some of you may roll your eyes at the thought, but look who has been beating the Yankees; Milwaukee, Tampa Bay and Kansas City to name a few. If they can't find a way to beat teams they should be able to handle, it could be a surprising finish for the Yankees and ‘The Boss' in New York.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, with all due respect to their organization, are a dreadful team. With a 26-50 record, they've eliminated themselves from any sort of contention this season. They do have some amazingly talented players, but without a strong commitment from management, they will continue to be bottom dwellers in the East. Part of building a team is to add talent thru free agency and I cannot remember the last time a player of significance signed to play in Tampa. Manager Lou Pinella will try and make this team believe in themselves, but it's becoming clearer that it is a lost cause. The only thing keeping these players trotting out there day-after-day with any enthusiasm is self-pride.

So that brings us to the Toronto Blue Jays, who currently sit in fourth place in the East and a half-game back of the Yankees with a 38-38 record. The Blue Jays have continued to perplex their general manager J.P. Ricciardi with a style of play that is becoming more inconsistent the past couple of seasons. The Jays would go out and win two of three from the Cardinals, three of four from the Orioles, and then resort back to mediocrity, losing two of three to the likes of Seattle and Milwaukee.

With the trading deadline approaching, no one knows what the Jays will do, mostly because of their up and down play thus far. If they could string together a few winning streaks, they may delve into their pockets and execute a trade that can allow them to compete, whether it be this year or next. Their July schedule actually favors them quite a bit, so it isn't a stretch to see the Jays pull off such a feat as they are scheduled to take on Oakland, Tampa Bay, Seattle and Kansas City, with of course a few series against Texas, Boston and the Angels.

If they can succeed in beating the teams they should and continue to play well against stiffer competition, it could lead the way for a trade, hopefully catapulting this team out of mediocrity and giving them a chance against an unfavorable August and September schedule.

Keep in mind that the Jays should receive a healthy Corey Koskie back after the All-Star break which should spark the club's inconsistent offence. If the Anola, Manitoba, native can provide some security in the lineup and drive in some runs, it should allow players like Vernon Wells, Shea Hillenbrand and Eric Hinske to keep from trying to do too much. It should give the Jays some much needed balance in their lineup.

As for where this team stands at the end of the year, I believe it will be a fight for third place between the Orioles and Jays. Toronto should take a big step forward in July and carry some of that momentum into August before evening out in September. Baltimore meanwhile, should take a big step backwards in July while rebounding somewhat in August before struggling in the latter parts of September, making it an interesting race to watch. I expect Boston's bats to keep them alive and leading the East, followed by the Yankees to play well enough to land in second place, while the Jays and Orioles battle for third with Tampa returning to the cellar, making this week's statement – FACT!

Tune in next week as we take a look at Blue Jays starter Josh Towers!

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