The Toronto Blue Jays enter the 2017 season on the heels of an American League Championship Series appearance. They may have a slightly different look than what fans saw last year, but don’t be surprised to see this team return to October once again. The AL East is the most challenging division in baseball, but with the combination of a potent lineup and, arguably, a top-five rotation, Toronto will have Canadians on the edge of their seats for another summer.
Toronto Blue Jays 2017 Season Preview
Last season saw Aaron Sanchez emerge as a major threat on the mound, and it’s not just Jays fans who see him as a future Cy Young candidate. His 15-2 record was certainly impressive, but a 3.00 ERA and 161 strikeouts over 192.0 innings jump off the page. The other young starter for Toronto, Marcus Stroman, had quite the 2016 campaign himself. He pitched over 200.0 innings while maintaining a respectable 4.37 ERA, with 166 Ks to top it off. Together, they are affectionately known as “Strochez”, and should be the backbone of the Blue Jays rotation for the foreseeable future.
Not to be overshadowed by the young guns, J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada put up jaw-dropping numbers last year themselves. At 20-4 with a 3.18 ERA 163 Ks in 195.0 innings, the stats speak for themselves on how dominant Happ in 2016. Estrada is closing in on 1,000 career innings pitched – he currently sits at 898 – and if he can build on his 3.48 ERA and 165 strikeouts over 176.0 innings last year, he’ll continue to prove any doubters wrong.
The fifth spot is a slight toss up, but will likely go to Francisco Liriano. In eight starts with Toronto last season, he posted a 2.92 ERA and over a strikeout per inning. He has pitched well over 1,500 innings in the big leagues, and provides veteran leadership and a durable arm to round out the rotation.
The trio of Joe Biagini, Jason Grilli, and Roberto Osuna, will play the biggest role in ensuring the Jays succeed this season. Biagini had a remarkable rookie season, going 67.2 innings with 62 strikeouts and a 3.06 ERA. Grilli continued to show that age is just a number by throwing 59.0 innings in 2016, with 81 strikeouts. Osuna was a reliable closer for Toronto, converting on 36 of 42 save opportunities while recording 82 strikeouts over 74.0 innings. Combined, this trio pitched 200.2 innings with 225 Ks. This season should be no different, if not better.
Starting behind the plate, Canada’s own Russell Martin will look to build on his 20/74 season and improve on his .231 average, which was .023 points below his career. First base duties will fall between newly-acquired Steve Pearce and Justin Smoak. Pearce batted .288 in 85 games between the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles last season. He displayed a bit of power, with 13 long balls in that span, and he is the better offensive option for the team at first base. Smoak put up a dismal .217 average in 126 games last season. His career number of .223 says we shouldn’t expect much more. His play in the spring will determine how often he sees the field in the regular season.
Second base is another weak spot for this team. Devon Travis is likely to start 2017 on the DL, which means extended playing time for Darwin Barney and/or Ryan Goins. Barney batted .269 in 104 games last year, while Goins hit .186 in 76 games. It’s no secret who has the better bat; it’ll be their play with the glove that determines who starts.
The left side of the infield features two of the game’s most prolific players in shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and third baseman Josh Donaldson. Tulo is a career .292 batter, so expect him to improve on his .254 mark from last season. He also notched 24 home runs and 79 RBI, and will be a key cog in the middle of the lineup, unless manager John Gibbons decides to bat him leadoff. Donaldson had another MVP-caliber season, batting .284 with 37 homers and 99 RBI. He plays the hot corner and will be a cornerstone to the success this team finds in 2017.
Melvin Upton Jr. will control left field and his speed threat will be a welcomed addition to a team that lacked it. He swiped 27 bags last season and over his career has 300 stolen bases. He also showed off pop in his bat last year, with another 20 home run campaign. The run game is becoming a lost art, but Upton will do as much as his manager will let him. It’s a high-risk, high-reward element of the game, but one Upton knows how to use.
Kevin ‘Superman’ Pillar will control center field and look to build on his .266 average from one year ago. His value comes with his ability to cover areas of the outfield few can, so any big production at the plate is a bonus. Lastly, Jose Bautista will be the Blue Jays right fielder for another season. The impact he has had on the city of Toronto and baseball in Canada has been well documented. He’s out to prove that he is, and should be, one of the most feared hitters in the game.
Edwin Out, Kendrys In
Edwin Encarnacion is now a member of the Cleveland Indians, but his ‘replacement’ is far from a downgrade. Kendrys Morales put together a great season in 2016 with the Kansas City Royals, batting .263 with 30 home runs and 93 RBI. He’s your prototypical DH and will fit nicely in Toronto’s lineup.
The Blue Jays home opener is April 11 against the Milwaukee Brewers. They have a tough stretch after the All-Star break, with ten road games and no off days from July 14 to August 2. Thirty-two of their final 56 games are against AL East opponents, with their final nine coming against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
Reaching the post season will be no easy task. However, the Blue Jays have a talented roster and the support of an entire nation, and October baseball is certainly attainable for this squad in 2017.