The Toronto Blue Jays have made the playoffs three straight seasons once in franchise history. That was 1991-93, and the Jays won the World Series those final two years.
Toronto Blue Jays Odds
Toronto hasn’t been back to the Fall Classic since and sat at +1000 in MLB World Series odds since the beginning of Spring Training. However, with Opening Day just hours away, the Jays have actually dipped to +1200 to win the championship this season, while their over/under win total in baseball odds remains steady at 86.5.
Blue Jays end Spring Training at Olympic Stadium
Some Jays fans could be panicking over the team’s struggles in spring training as they finish off their exhibition games in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium this weekend. After all, the Blue Jays were one of the Grapefruit League’s best teams in 2015 & ’16 and those two clubs would end their seasons in the American League Championship Series. There is a very small correlation regarding teams with winning spring records then making the playoffs in the regular season this century, but largely statistically insignificant.
For example, the Arizona Diamondbacks led the Cactus League with a 24-8 mark in 2016 and finished second-to-last in the NL West during the year with a 69-93 record. The Chicago Cubs were 11-19 last spring and won 103 regular-season games and the franchise’s first World Series since 1908.
The Blue Jays haven’t been whole for parts of this spring with some players off in the World Baseball Classic and guys like Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Devon Travis and new addition Steve Pearce battling injuries. The most important thing in Florida is to break camp healthy. The biggest news around the team this spring has been the contract extension given to manager John Gibbons.
Blue Jays offseason transactions
The Blue Jays ranked fifth in the American League in runs last year with 759 and were third in homers with 221. They are likely to take a step back in those categories with the free-agent losses of slugging first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion and, to a lesser extent, outfielder Michael Saunders. Those two combined for 66 homers and 184 RBIs. Encarnacion landed on defending American League champion Cleveland, which is +350 to repeat as the pennant winner.
It’s imperative, then, that Toronto keeps guys like All-Star third baseman Donaldson, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and Bautista healthy. Donaldson has missed just 19 games over the past four seasons combined but did suffered a moderate right calf strain this spring. Donaldson battled an injury to his other calf last season and said he was never 100 percent. He still hit .284 with 37 homers and 99 RBIs. He is +1600 to lead the majors in home runs this season and +1400 to win a second MVP Award. ZiPS projects Donaldson to bat .276 with 34 dingers in 2017.
Blue Jays fans should probably resign themselves to Tulo going on the DL at least once because he always does. He did play 131 games last year, his most since 2011, and hit .245 with 24 homers and 79 RBIs. Bautista had to swallow his pride a bit to return to Toronto when he found no serious big-money suitors in free agency. A motivated Bautista can only be a good thing. He did slip quite a bit in 2016, batting .234 with 22 homers and 69 RBIs in 116 games. He is +3000 for the home run crown.
This is probably the third-best lineup in the AL East behind the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles.
Blue Jays starting pitching rotation
If the Blue Jays are to return to the playoffs, it might have to be on their backs of their starting rotation. Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano should be one of the American League’s best groups.
Stroman looked great in the World Baseball Classic and got the win in the championship game over Puerto Rico. He is +3000 to win the Cy Young Award. How will Sanchez follow his All-Star season (15-2, AL-best 3.00 ERA) after pitching by far a career high in innings? He’s +1200 for the Cy Young. ZiPS projects Sanchez to go 14-7 with a 3.35 ERA in 198 innings. It should be noted that of the previous 50 ERA champions combined in the AL and NL, only six had a lower ERA the following season. Sanchez has not looked good this spring.
The lefty Happ (20-4, 3.18) was one of the biggest surprises in baseball. This guy was a journeyman from 2011 through the first half of the 2015 season. Estrada was very solid, and the southpaw Liriano looked reborn after the midsummer trade from Pittsburgh.
The bullpen, which was 22nd in MLB in ERA last year, lost right-hander Joaquin Benoit and lefty Brett Cecil but should be solid as long as closer Roberto Osuna (36 saves, 2.68 ERA) stays healthy. He dealt with a sore neck at times this spring and didn’t pitch well in the WBC for Mexico.
Toronto appears to have the second-best rotation in the AL East behind Boston after the Red Sox acquired Chris Sale. The Jays could be No. 1, however, if Boston lefty and former Blue Jay David Price continues to have elbow trouble. He might miss all of April at a minimum because of it.
Blue Jays betting predictions
If you believe in the statistic Wins Above Replacement, Encarnacion was worth around four victories in 2016. Toronto’s new designated hitter, Kendrys Morales, was worth 0.7 WAR with Kansas City last year. First base (Justin Smoak/Steve Pearce) and left field (Ezequiel Carrera/Melvin Upton Jr.) look like potential offensive problem areas.
Assuming Price will be fine, the Red Sox appear to be the class of the division, and they are -161 favorites. There’s no reason the Blue Jays, who are +250, can’t finish second as their pitching staff is far superior to that of the Yankees or Orioles. The Rays don’t have the hitting to be a threat.
FanGraphs projects Toronto to finish 86-76 and second in the division. I project an 88-74 mark, which should be just good enough for the AL’s second wild-card spot. Other than Cleveland, the AL Central is very weak. So the Jays likely will be battling the likes of New York, Baltimore, Texas, Houston and Seattle (whichever one of those three that doesn’t win the AL West) for those two wild-card spots.
Bet over the Jays’ win total, but there’s no World Series or major individual award in this team’s immediate future. Toronto opens the season April 3 in Baltimore. The home opener is April 11 vs. Milwaukee.