The last two years have been a fantastic time to be a Blue Jays fan. Frankly, it’s been the best time to be a fan in the last two decades…and that’s not hyperbole. With back-to-back trips to the American League Championship Series, and countless “where-were-you-when” moments including the infamous ‘Bat Flip’, the Blue Jays have reminded Torontonians why they became fans of the blue birds in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. But as we look ahead to 2017, can this version of the Blue Jays challenge for another World Series title?
In 2016, the Blue Jays front office made the shrewd decision to sign J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada instead of over spending on big names like David Price and Zack Greinke. Combined with the emergence of Aaron Sanchez and the acquisition of Francisco Liriano, the Blue Jays finished with the lowest team ERA in the American League. While the rotation figures to remain a strength of this year’s squad, there are still some questions: Can Sanchez and Stroman take the next step? Will Happ and Estrada regress?
- Strength: Balance - You are only as strong as your weakest link. One through five, the Blue Jays have above average starters.
- Weakness: Depth - The Blue Jays do not have a lot of pitching depth in AAA. What happens if one of the top 5 gets injured?
- Wild Card: Francisco Lirianio – Will Liriano be the pitcher he was after he was traded to the Blue Jays last year, or before?
Re-tooled with the additions of Joe Smith and J.P. Howell, this is the best bullpen the Blue Jays have rolled out to start a season in recent memory. It is a unique combination of power-pitchers, soft-throwers, and the one-of-a-kind Joe Biagini. Led by Roberto Osuna, the back-end of the Blue Jays bullpen has the ability to shut-down the best hitters in the game, while the middle relievers have the ability to generate ground balls and help the starters escape from tough situations. After blowing several late leads last April and May, this year’s bullpen could turn out to be an asset.
- Strength: Roberto Osuna - Osuna has established himself as one of the best young closers in baseball.
- Weakness: Left-Handers - After JP Howell, the Blue Jays lack left-handed options. They need Howell to stay healthy.
- Wild Card: Jason Grilli – If Grilli can continue to rack up strikeouts at the age of 40, the back-end of the bullpen will remain a force.
After losing their clean-up hitter and one of the best hitters in baseball, is this team still defined by their offence? No, they’re not. But does that mean that a lineup which includes Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki, and Kendrys Morales will struggle to score runs? No, probably not either. The biggest difference between this year and last year is the middle of the order presence of Edwin Encarnacion. The switch-hitting Morales still has some pop left in his bat, but he’s a clear downgrade in terms of power and base running. All that being said, if the lineup can stay healthy this team has a chance to remain in the top 10 in runs scored.
- Strength: Josh Donaldson - Donaldson has been nothing short of spectacular since coming over from Oakland. Don’t expect things to change this year.
- Weakness: Left Field and First Base - Left Field and First Base are clear holes in the lineup. Melvin Upton Jr. and Ezequiel Carrera do not form an adequate platoon and Justin Smoak needs to cut down on the strikeouts.
- Wild Card: Devon Travis - The oft injured Travis is still recovering from off-season knee surgery. When healthy, his bat is a welcome addition to the top of the order.
With Russell Martin behind the dish, Troy Tulowitzki at short stop, and Pillar patrolling the outfield, the Blue Jays were a top 10 team in Major League baseball according to advanced metrics. Although Martin and Tulowitzki aren’t getting any younger, this season will likely be much the same.
- Strength: Up the Middle – Russel Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, and Kevin Pillar give the Jays strong defence where it matters most: Catcher, Short Stop, and Centre Field.
- Weakness: Right Field – Jose Bautista’s defence is feeling the effects of Father Time. His range and arm are not what they used to be.
- Wild Card: Depth - The defence will take a huge hit if Martin or Tulowitzki gets injured.
Here at True North Sports Camps, we tend to have an optimistic outlook on Toronto’s sports teams. While this isn’t the same offensive juggernaut of 2015 and 2016, we believe the Blue Jays will make the playoffs on the strength of their starting pitching, improved bullpen, and still potent offence led by 2015 MVP Josh Donaldson. Will they win the American League East? It’s tough to say as they play in the most competitive division in baseball. But the season is 162 games for a reason, and when the dog days of summer are all said and done we think the Blue Jays will either win the division or be playing in the Wild Card game. And if that’s the case, anything can happen in October.
Let’s go, Blue Jays!