After two straight trips and losses in the AL Championship Series, the Toronto Blue Jays slipped to 76-86 last year – their worst mark 2013 – and fourth in the AL East. Can the Jays get back to the postseason in 2018 or will it be another year of no October baseball?
In some ways, this is a fork-in-the-road type of season for the Blue Jays franchise. The team’s best player, third baseman and former AL MVP Josh Donaldson, is 32 and set for free agency after this season. Injury-plagued shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is an old 33, still isn’t fully recovered from a serious ankle injury suffered late last July and could open the season on the 60-day disabled list. Pitcher J.A. Happ is 35 and will be a free agent next winter. Catcher Russell Martin is 35. DH Kendrys Morales is 34. New outfielder Curtis Granderson is 37.
End Of An Era?
There are a lot of guys on the wrong side of 30, and a slow start to the season could lead the Jays to become sellers this summer ahead of the trade deadline and start calling up top prospects such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.
Toronto is currently given a win total of 80.5 and is a +900 third-favourite to win the AL East behind the New York Yankees (-146) and Boston Red Sox (+142). Both those teams got better in the offseason with the additions of sluggers Giancarlo Stanton and J.D. Martinez, respectively. Most prognosticators do project Toronto to finish third.
Pitchers Have Best Odds to Carry Team
The strength of the Blue Jays should be in the rotation, led by Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, who are just 25 and 26, respectively. Sanchez was a Cy Young candidate in 2016 with 15-2 record and 3.00 ERA but was limited to only 36 innings in 2017 due to blister problems and slipped to 1-3 with a 4.25 ERA. Blisters haven’t been a problem this spring. Sports Interaction’s futures odds have Aaron Sanchez at +4000 to win the Cy Young and has a win total of 11.5.
Stroman got a bit of a late start to this spring due to shoulder inflammation early in camp but is on target to make his first regular-season start April 1. He was very strong last year, going 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA. He has a win total of 12.5 and is +2500 for the Cy Young.
Happ, Marco Estrada and new addition and lefty Jamie Garcia, an innings-eater, round out the rotation. Toronto’s rotation led the AL in ERA (3.64), innings (995 1/3) and WHIP (1.22) and tied for second with 66 wins in 2016. Last year, the group ranked seventh in ERA (4.57), 13th in innings (868 1/3), 12th in WHIP (1.45) and 10th in wins (47). Roberto Osuna (39 saves) is back to close things out.
Blue Jays Player Odds
The lineup is a major question mark after the Blue Jays scored just 693 runs last year, fewest in the AL as they clearly missed the departed Edwin Encarnacion. Donaldson was limited to 113 games due to injury but still had 33 bombs. He’s +2000 to win AL MVP and +3000 to lead the majors in homers, of which he’s given a total of 34.5.
Jose Bautista wasn’t brought back this offseason. Granderson was signed to a one-year deal to play left field in a platoon with Steve Pearce and potentially lead off; or second baseman Devon Travis will hit first. Granderson batted .212 with 26 home runs and 70 RBIs over 147 games with the Mets and Dodgers in 2017. He’s considered a terrific clubhouse presence.
Toronto acquired outfielder Randal Grichuk from St. Louis to play right field. Like Granderson, Grichuk has power (22 HRs last year) but strikes out a lot (133 in 412 at-bats) and won’t hit for a high average. The Jays also made a deal with the Cardinals for Aledmys Diaz, who can play second, short and third. Diaz was an All-Star as a rookie in 2016 but slumped badly last year. Former Padre Yangervis Solarte also can play multiple positions in the infield. Thus, Tulowitzki’s absence for however long might not be felt much.
First baseman Justin Smoak was an All-Star last year in hitting .270 with 38 homers and 90 RBIs, but was he a one-year wonder? Smoak wasn’t as strong after the All-Star break. Martin and Morales are both trending downward in their careers. Long story short: The Jays should hit a ton of homers, but there’s not much in the way of high-average, high-on base guys. Could be feast or famine many nights.
Toronto Blue Jays Season Predictions
FanGraphs projects Toronto to win 86 games, which should put the team in contention for a second wild-card spot – whichever of the Yankees or Red Sox doesn’t win the division likely takes the first one. Expect a monster season from Donaldson as he prepares to cash in big next winter. Go over his 34.5 HR total. This looks like about an 82-win team with reasonable health. Bet over that win total of 80.5 but still only third in the division and no playoffs.