USA TODAY Sports Weekly

Keys to victory

- – Gabe Lacques

Enough offense: In dealing Teoscar Hernandez and acquiring Daulton Varsho and Kevin Kiermaier, the Blue Jays swapped offense for defense in the outfield. That addition will boost the pitching, but will the new guys hit enough to avoid a lineup drop-off toward the back end of the order? The impetus for those guys to deliver will be lessened if new designated hitter Brandon Belt remains healthy and productive. He had a third surgery on his right knee in September, clearing out scar tissue and cartilage as his San Francisco Giants tenure wound down. But he is just 34 and across 148 games in 202021 produced a .988 OPS.

Dog mentality: Toronto has taken baby steps every year, culminatin­g in a wild-card berth, but then a blown 8-1 lead in the decisive game against the Seattle Mariners. The time has come for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and company to do big damage in the American League East. After going from 67 to 91 and 92 wins the past three full seasons, another rung or two up the ladder will pay big dividends.

Back-end production: In Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman and Chris Bassitt, the Blue Jays have the foundation of an outstandin­g rotation. Yet it will require significant steps forward from Nos. 4-5 guys José Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi to stay afloat in a five-team division race. Can these guys suddenly elicit weak contact? Kikuchi gave up 8.3 hits per nine innings each of the past two seasons, while Berrios is at 9.8 and a 1.33 WHIP since his July 2021 trade to Toronto.

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