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Canada’s team poised for big season, again

by Matthew Shanahan April 14, 2015
Canada’s team poised for big season, again

A look at the Toronto Blue Jays and why this year is their best shot at a World Series

Photo by K.W.B. on Flickr

Photo by K.W.B. on Flickr

There’s no doubt that when the Montreal Expos left for Washington, D.C. in 2004, the Toronto Blue Jays jumped at the opportunity to label themselves as Canada’s team. Fans can’t deny the fact that they’ve done a great job at doing so—the statistics speak for themselves. Most Canadian baseball fans follow the Blue Jays, myself included.

I’ll always be an Expos fan at heart, but the Jays are now my team and I’m not the only one who has followed them through thick and thin since the Expos left Montreal.

For the past few years, the Jays have gone around Canada to many different towns promoting their product and more importantly, showing Canadians why they represent baseball in their country. Surely that has an impact on some small-town Canadian baseball fans, but the Jays have taken an even bigger step in the past two years by pushing the idea of playing a couple of exhibition baseball games at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

That was a big move by the Jays for two primary reasons: first, they’ve realized that it’s a great cash grab, generating over 96,000 fans in both 2014 and 2015, and giving them a competitive atmosphere to play in before beginning the long 162-game schedule they endure until October; and second, they’ve reconciled, at least to some extent, with the city of Montreal. Not only are Montreal and Toronto historically at odds with each other in a variety of sports, but the Jays did share an equal part in helping baseball leave Montreal at the dawn of the 21st century. In November 2004, the Jays, along with 27 other MLB teams approved the move for the Expos from Montreal to Washington. Only the Baltimore Orioles blocked the move because of the problems it would create with the market given the proximity of the two cities. So even if many Montrealers refuse to cheer for the Jays, they will attend these exhibition games because they want to help the movement to bring back baseball to Montreal, something that’s building exponential hope with every passing year.

While Montrealers hope to get a team back in the near future, the Jays are hoping to break the longest active playoff drought in Major League Baseball at 22 years. Sick of losing out to their American League East rivals and star-studded rosters of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, the Jays made a big splash a couple of years ago in free agency when they acquired Jose Reyes, Mark Bhuerle, Josh Johnson, R.A. Dickey and Melky Cabrera, creating an intimidating roster of their own. Like many teams before them, acquiring big names in the prime of their career to create a nucleus of talent often doesn’t work out. After a disastrous 2013 campaign, the Jays had a competitive 2014 season and were on the brink of a playoff spot until mid-September.

Both Johnson and Cabrera are long gone, and time is ticking for the star-studded Jays roster. With the exception of Josh Donaldson who turns 30 in December, no big-name player on their roster is less than 30 years old. So why is this the year to win it for the Jays?

There are plenty of things to be optimistic about. Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Dickey all have contracts that conclude after this year. Players tend to pick up their game when next year’s contract is on the line, especially when they are nearing the end of their prime and need to add a title to their resume. The Jays also have a nucleus of players that have been competitive late in the season and now have a better idea of what it takes to win.

This past offseason, they’ve also acquired Montreal native Russell Martin, Vancouver-born Michael Saunders, as well as first baseman Justin Smoak. Despite the sour news that starter Marcus Stroman will be out for the year, they have a bevy of solid players in the farm system that have filled the role nicely to begin the year. Behind the core rotation of Drew Hutchison, Dickey and Bhuerle, both Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris are poised to do well this year as starters after being successful last year as late-season call-ups.

This is not to say that it’s going to be a cakewalk for Toronto. The Red Sox and Yankees are due for comeback seasons while the Orioles are looking to start right where they left off last year at the top of the division.
It is clear that the Blue Jays have a talented roster with players who are hungry for a playoff push, and that’s a formula we haven’t seen north of the border since Major League Baseball cancelled the 1994 season due to the strike.

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