Blue Jays, Dickey carry huge expectations into opener against Indians

    8:24 AM, Apr 2, 2013   |    comments
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    (Sports Network) - It's been a while since fans in Toronto have anticipated a baseball season more than this one. The new-look Blue Jays get it started on Tuesday with the opener of a three-game set against the Cleveland Indians at Rogers Centre.

    Manager John Gibbons won't be the only new face in the Blue Jays' dugout this year, as general manager Alex Anthopoulos completely changed the face of the club with a monster deal with the Miami Marlins that saw them pick up shortstop Jose Reyes, second baseman Emilio Bonifacio, lefty Mark Buehrle and righty Josh Johnson.

    That deal came on the heels of Toronto signing outfielder Melky Cabrera to a 2-year, $16 million deal. Of course, Cabrera comes with some baggage, as he sat out most of the final two months serving a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

    And if that wasn't enough, the Jays went out and acquired the National League's reigning Cy Young Award winner in R.A. Dickey, who will be on the hill Tuesday.

    "He'll be very focused," Gibbons said. "I don't think you can distract him. I look forward to him having a big year for us."

    Dickey put forth his best season as a pro last year, going 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA and 230 strikeouts. He also led the NL in innings (233 2/3), strikeouts, shutouts (three) and complete games (five), while ranking second in both ERA and wins.

    Plus, Dickey revealed late in the season that he had been pitching since April with a torn abdominal muscle, which he had surgically repaired this offseason.

    All that equals some high expectations north of the border, as the Jays eye their first postseason spot since winning back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993.

    Cleveland, meanwhile, will also have an entirely new look to it as it begins the 2013 season.

    The Indians entered the 2012 season with modest expectations following an 80-82 campaign in 2011, but the Tribe struggled in all aspects of the game and ended the year 68-94.

    So, of course, changes were made.

    The first of which came before last season was even over when Manny Acta was fired after three years at the helm. Cleveland acted quick and hired Terry Francona shortly after the season ended.

    Some have speculated that Acta's biggest problem was that there was a real disconnect between him and the clubhouse. Typically that has not been a problem with Francona, despite how his tenure ended in Boston.

    Also gone from last year's squad are Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, and Shin- Soo Choo, a trio that combined to play 25 seasons and 2,655 games in Cleveland.

    Most teams that struggled the way Cleveland did a year ago opt to build from within, but you don't bring a manager like Francona in to deal with growing pains, so general manager Chris Antonetti went the other way, handing out big free agent contracts to outfielders Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, as well as infielder Mark Reynolds and right-hander Brett Myers amongst others.

    "I like this group a lot," Francona said. "It's going to be fun. I'm looking forward to this group to see just how good we can get."

    The one move that was made with an eye towards the future, though, was the deal that sent Choo to Cincinnati. As part of the three-team deal, the Indians acquired highly regarded righty Trevor Bauer, who could find his way into the Tribe rotation this season.

    Getting the call for the Indians on Tuesday will be right-handed sinkerballer Justin Masterson, who struggled last season, posting an 11-15 mark to go along with a 4.93 ERA.

    Toronto won four of its six meetings with the Tribe a year ago.

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