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Blue Jays set sights for playoffs

by Ben Fraser March 27, 2018
Blue Jays set sights for playoffs

90-win season is realistic for Toronto after a losing 2017 season

As the Toronto Blue Jays prepare for the 2018 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, The Concordian takes a look at how “Canada’s team” will line up in the field, on the mound and behind the plate.

After a disappointing 2017 season where the Blue Jays finished with a record of 76-86 and missed the playoffs, the 2018 team is looking to improve. It was a very busy off-season for general manager Ross Atkins. Long-time Blue Jay and fan-favourite outfielder Jose Bautista will not return after nine seasons in Toronto, prompting Atkins to revamp his outfield.

The Jays acquired outfielder Randal Grichuk from the St-Louis Cardinals in a trade, and signed Curtis Granderson for $5 million in free agency. The Blue Jays outfield, centred by defensive dynamo Kevin Pillar, combined for 64 home runs (HR) and 165 runs batted in (RBI) last season. The problem with the Jays outfield is their lack of on-base percentage (OBP). Grichuk, despite his power numbers, had a OBP of .285 last year, and Pillar’s OBP was .300. Granderson’s OBP was decent at .323, but not good enough for a player of his calibre. If Granderson is leading Toronto’s hitting line-up at the beginning of the season, he will need to up his OBP in order for the Blue Jays to compete.

In the infield, other new faces will add depth to a very injury-prone group. The Jays acquired the versatile infielder Yangervis Solarte from the San Diego Padres and 2016 All-Star shortstop Aledmys Diaz from the Cardinals. Both of these acquisitions are meant to be back-up options for injury-prone infielders such as Troy Tulowitzki (who will miss the start of the season) and Devon Travis. Don’t be surprised if Solarte or Diaz take their place in the line-up at some point in the season.

Despite being insurance policies, both Solarte and Diaz have the potential to become very serviceable infielders for Toronto. Both are capable of hitting 15-plus HRs in a very hitter-friendly ballpark at the Rogers Centre. Diaz in particular has the chance to return to his 2016 form, when he finished fifth in votes for the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

The pitching line-up remains largely unchanged, with the exception of a new starter and setup man. The Jays signed Jaime Garcia in free agency to a one-year contract worth $8 million. Garcia has never been able to replicate the success he had with the Cardinals in 2010 and 2011, and will be the team’s fifth starter. While looking good in spring training, don’t expect Garcia to be a dominant force in the Jays rotation.

The American League (AL) East division produces some of the most potent offences in baseball. In Garcia’s first taste of AL East play last season with the Yankees, he had a 0-3 record, with an earned runs average (ERA) of 4.82 in eight starts.

The Blue Jays didn’t make significant moves with their relief pitchers in the bullpen. They signed Seung-hwan Oh, who will act as a setup pitcher ahead of All-Star closer Roberto Osuna. Like many of this season’s acquisitions, Oh will try to return to his previous form, when he dominated with the Cardinals in the 2016 season.

The Jays do have several players returning, including 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson and All-Star first baseman Justin Smoak, who hit career-highs last season with 38 HRs, 90 RBIs and a .355 OBP. Many of the Jays pitchers will be returning, such as starters Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada. Injuries have hurt the Jays in the past, and if the team intends to compete for a playoff spot, they will need to stay healthy.

There are several ways this season could go. If Donaldson plays like he did during the 2015 season, and the starting rotation is effective enough to win games, the Blue Jays will be able to compete for the second wild-card position. However, if injuries become a problem again, and Smoak regresses to his pre-2017 level of play, the Jays will become a basement-dweller in the American League under the thumb of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

All in all, should the cards fall in their favour, the Blue Jays could expect to win 90 games and fight for a playoff spot this season.

Main graphic by Zeze Le Lin.

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