Posted on February 24, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
After back-to-back trips to the ALCS, the Toronto Blue Jays took a big step backward in 2017, finishing the season 76-86. However, the Blue Jays resisted any urge they may have felt to enter a rebuilding period. Instead, they have decided to reload in an effort to return to the postseason in 2018. But in such a competitive division, will the Blue Jays have enough to push for a playoff spot this season?
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Toronto’s rotation in 2018 will look almost identical to the one the Blue Jays used in 2018. The quartet of Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez, and Marco Estrada all return. Both Stroman and Happ are coming off impressive seasons and should be relied upon to perform like top-of-the-rotation caliber starters.
Estrada, meanwhile, had a down season in 2017 and considering his age, there’s no guarantee he’s able to bounce back this year. However, he did give the Blue Jays 33 starters over 180 innings last season, so he should at least take on the role of innings eater in Toronto’s rotation. The same should be true for Jamie Garcia, who the Blue Jays were able to sign late in the offseason.
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Sanchez is undoubtedly the key for the Blue Jays. After going 15-2 during a sensational 2016 season, he was limited to just eight starts last year because of injury. If Sanchez had been healthy last season, the Toronto rotation would have been one of the best in the American League. If he can bounce back in 2018, the Blue Jays should have five established starters in their rotation, putting them in good shape.
The one problem the Blue Jays could have is depth in the event of injuries. The signing of Garcia should push Joe Biagini to the bullpen, where he’s been more effective. However, there’s still little rotation depth beyond Biagini, so if there are injuries to Toronto’s rotation, they could be in trouble.
The Blue Jays had a solid bullpen last season and they’re in good shape heading into 2018. Roberto Osuna gives them an experienced closer despite being just 23 years old. Of course, Osuna had 10 blown saves and a 3.38 ERA last year, with most of his troubles coming in the second half. But there’s every chance that he’ll be able to return to the all-star form he had the first half of 2017.
Helping to set up Osuna will be the trio of Aaron Loup, Danny Barnes, and Ran Tepera. All were consistent performers last season and should be dependable relievers this year as well. The Blue Jays are also hopeful that Carlos Ramirez and a couple other youngsters can add to the depth in their bullpen.
The Blue Jays were one of the worst offensive teams in baseball last year, but there is hope that things will get better this year. Josh Donaldson is still around to anchor the middle of the lineup. Justin Smoak is coming off a massive season in which he hit 38 home runs. Kendrys Morales also provides plenty of power in the middle of the lineup. However, the Blue Jays still need to get more out of (expensive) veterans like Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin.
Without spending a lot this winter, the Blue Jays were able to overhaul their outfield and add depth. Curtis Granderson and Randall Grichuk are in line for everyday jobs in the outfield. Neither comes with a guarantee, but Granderson should have something left in the tank after hitting 26 home runs last year, while Grichuk does have high upside despite a couple rough years in St. Louis. Youngster Teoscar Hernandez also gives the Blue Jays another outfielder with some pop.
Perhaps equally important, the Blue Jays added infielders Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte. Considering the injury history of both Tulowitzki and second baseman Devon Travis, the Blue Jays are now better able to cope with injuries, something they weren’t able to do in 2017.
Based on their offseason acquisitions, the Blue Jays should be at least marginally better in 2018. Offensively, they won’t be quite as explosive as in past years, but the depth they added should make them at least middle of the pack. Pitching-wise, the Blue Jays should be at least average, and better-than-average if their rotation can stay healthy.
However, all of that won’t be enough to keep pace with the Yankees and Red Sox atop the AL East. Expect the Blue Jays to finish 81-81 this season. It’ll be enough to stay within shouting distance of the wild card heading into September, but not enough to return to the playoffs.