This Year May be the Year the Jays Return to the Playoffs
The Toronto Blue Jays opened their 2015 season last week and already, after only five games, we can see a pattern emerging. The Blue Jays will score runs. They could lead the American League in runs scored. They will continue to have a questionable pitching staff, both starters and bullpen. But, given the general weakness of the American League East, the Blue Jays have a reasonable chance to win the division and make it back to the post-season for the first time since their World Series repeat in 1993.
The top five in the lineup are as good as any team in baseball. The Blue Jays added All Star Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson to their lineup to go along with Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes, and Jose Bautista. The Blue Jays are a homer happy team playing in a homer happy stadium.
The bottom of the order is a major question mark. The really great offensive teams have role players who get on base, don’t strike out, move runners along, wait the count, and generally keep innings alive for the heavy weapons. It remains to be seen if the bottom half of the Blue Jays lineup can rise to the occasion.
Baseball is the epitome of the team game. Your best pitcher may pitch only every fifth day. Your best hitter may get four or five chances to create runs. Your best defender may not get any difficult chances to stop opponents’ rallies. Every player has to contribute. If the guys who won’t hit 25 or more home runs don’t get drawn into the atmosphere of swinging for the fences, if they play “within themselves”, the Blue Jays will have many multi-run innings and could overwhelm the opposition with offence.
The Blue Jays are relying on some long-in-the-tooth veterans to pitch into the seventh inning start after start. R. A. Dickey is already 40 years old. He still throws hard and has excellent stuff. He’s only three seasons removed from his Cy Young season. But baseball has a very long season with few days off. Can Dickey sustain a winning edge for 33 or more starts?
Mark Buehrle is 36 years old. He has been an iron man for many years logging over 200 innings ten tears in a row. Buehrle doesn’t throw hard; he’s always survived on guile and control. He also works fast and never seems to take himself too seriously. In short, his is a perfect pitching personality. If he has another good season in him, he can take some of the pressure off the bullpen which is clearly the biggest question mark on the team going forward.
The 3, 4, and 5 men in the rotation are young, talented, and inexperienced. Aaron Sanchez has been moved to the starting rotation even though he had success coming out of the bullpen after the All Star break last year. If these three can develop over the course of the year, they will be major assets to the team.
The Blue Jays outfield defence is expected to be much improved over last year. Given the nature of baseball these days, having outfielders who can run down long hits will save runs and win games that the Jays may have lost last year.
Russell Martin behind the plate is expected to adapt himself to the pitchers better than last year’s catchers could. The veterans Dickey and Buehrle can pretty much call their own game. The younger starters need to be coaxed along. He will have to call their pitches, convince them that the pitches he calls in game situations are the best pitches to call, and to calm their nerves.
Martin will have an even more difficult task with the bullpen. The season will be a failure if the middle relief and the closers don’t have consistent success. Some expect the Blue Jays to go to Miguel Castro early in the season as the closer. He has the fastball for the role but he’s only twenty years old. A great deal of the Jays’ chances to win the division will rest on Russell Martin’s ability to handle Miguel Castro in the 9th innings of close games.
The Blue Jays were devastated when future superstar starting pitcher Marcus Stroman went down for the season. Another injury that could set the Jays back is the knee injury to Canadian Michael Saunders. He is recovering faster than expected but will still miss a good part of the early season. Everyone was looking forward to his expected contribution before his injury. Maicer Izturis is also on the disabled list heading into the season.
So Many Ifs
There are so many ifs on this Toronto Blue Jays team that were they in a different division, we wouldn’t be exuding hope for the postseason. In the Central Division, Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City, and even the White Sox are thought to have the chance to get to the playoffs. In the Western Division Los Angeles and Oakland are considered shoo-ins for the playoffs. This leaves room for one team from the Eastern Division.
With so much uncertainty on the Blue Jays this year it should be hard to wax hopeful about them. But the East is one huge question mark. Boston is being touted as the favorite to win the division but they finished a very distant last in 2014! The hated Yankees and the Rays are teams on a downward track. Baltimore lost many players over the winter and could fall back from the heights they achieved last year.
A Little Improvement Could Go a Long Way
The Jays won 83 games last year. If they can find a way to improve on that a few games they have a very good chance to win the weak American League East and go to the postseason for the first time in 22 years!