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Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista reacts after striking out in the third inning of a spring training baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota, Fla., Tuesday, March 29, 2011. (Gene J. Puskar)
Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista reacts after striking out in the third inning of a spring training baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota, Fla., Tuesday, March 29, 2011. (Gene J. Puskar)

Ten storylines for the '11 Blue Jays Add to ...

1. Can history repeat?

Following a season in which he exploded onto centre stage, leading the majors with 54 home runs, all eyes will be on Jose Bautista to see what he can produce for an encore. The 30-year-old should be entering the season in a good frame of mind, armed with a rich new contract and learning on Tuesday that he will be returning to his preferred position in right field after working out at third base for most of the spring.

2. Time to step up

A wrist injury last season put a crimp in the development of Travis Snider, a former first-round draft choice. This spring didn't get off to a great start either when the 23-year-old was on the shelf with a rib-cage injury. The Blue Jays lost considerable offensive power over the off-season and the team will be relying on Snider to be a consistent masher at the plate to help drive the offence.

3. A tough start

The schedule maker certainly didn't do the Blue Jays any favours, with 20 of their first 31 games away from Toronto and wrapped around two arduous trips. That includes a stop in Texas for a four-game set against the defending American League champion Rangers. Fifteen of those games will also come against three of their AL East rivals: the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays.

4. Return to form

So much of Toronto's offensive success this season will rest on the contributions of Aaron Hill and Adam Lind, who were both mostly abysmal at the plate last year. Lind is hoping a move to first base from designated hitter will help boost his production. Hill's desire to start the season injury-free has hit an early snag, as he's been bothered by a tight right quadriceps muscle through most of spring training.

5. The starting five

It was anticipated that Toronto's pitching rotation would be the least of their worries but then Brandon Morrow was sidelined with a strained right forearm. The Jays are hoping it's a minor setback. Ricky Romero appears ready to claim the role as team ace while a healthy Jesse Litsch will be a welcome addition. Rookie Kyle Drabek, Brett Cecil and Jo-Jo Reyes are also in the mix.

6. Behind the plate

Another of Toronto's highly-regarded prospects is J.P. Arencibia, whom the club has earmarked as its new everyday catcher. It's a chancy proposition given the relative youth and inexperience of the team's starting pitchers. The 25-year-old has made big strides defensively but his bat, at least at the major-league level, is still a work in progress. The Jays plan to be patient.

7. In the stands

In spite of a remarkable year in which the Jays fielded an exciting team that led the majors in home runs, home attendance dropped 13 per cent to 1.6 million from 2009. The club has already announced that the regular-season opener Friday is sold out at Rogers Centre, which seats about 50,000. But nothing less than a pennant drive that lasts deep into the season is likely to maintain that kind of support.

8. A new sheriff in town

Laid-back Cito Gaston is gone from the manager's job. He has been replaced by John Farrell, who promises to loosen things up offensively on a team that last year was reliant on stroking home runs and not much else. So you can expect a little more hit-and-run, a little more first-to-third on balls hit to right field, and a little more leeway for players to try stealing bases.

9. New faces

Among the position players the most exciting newcomer is Rajai Davis, who came over in a trade from the Oakland Athletics, and will be pencilled in as the Blue Jays' leadoff hitter and a replacement for Vernon Wells in centre field. Davis stole 50 bases for the A's in 2010, giving the Blue Jays a dimension they haven't had at the top of the order since 1998 when Shannon Stewart swiped 51.

10. That's a relief

A bullpen that appeared devastated by the loss of Kevin Gregg, Scott Downs and Brian Tallet has been shorn up by several free-agent additions, including veterans Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch. Francisco, who will start the season on the disabled list with arm soreness that isn't considered serious, has been tabbed as the closer. Until his return, Rauch - all 6 foot 11 of him - will handle the chore.

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