By Rob Ficiur
As the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays made the playoffs for the first time in 22 years, Blue Jays fever swept across Canada. The reasons for Blue Jays fever are three fold: First, low expectations meant that the American League East title and a first round victory were more than the most loyal fans thought was possible. Second, after the Blue Jays acquired an all-star pitcher and an all-star short stop at the trading deadline the previously average team exceeded went on the have the best record in baseball the last two months. Third, all year long fans were entertained by the Blue Jays were a run scoring home run machine
The 2016 Blue Jays will do better than the 2015 team for five reasons:
1. Relief pitching – One of the keys to the Kansas city Royals 2015 World Series Championship and their 2014 American League championship was an elite bull pen. In the past a closer and a set-up man was enough. When the Royals expanded their elite bull pen to a seventh inning pitcher it changed the game. Now starters only have to get through six innings before they can turn the game over to an elite pitcher.
Last year the Blue Jays relief corps struggled in the early months. By early August Roberto Osuna established himself as the closer; and Brett Cecil, Aaron Sanchez and Mark Lowe became an elite relief corp. Lowe has now been replaced by Drew Storen and Sanchez has moved to the starting rotation. With a solid three of Storen, Osuna and Cecil the Jays hope they have what the Royals had the last two years.
** Last minute update: After I had this article finished, there was breaking news. Speaking of the Kansas City Royals – just the day before the season started the Jays signed left handed reliever Franklin Morales. The thirty year old played (and won) with those Royals last year. Morales pitched in 67 innings with a 3.18 earned run average. Great depth got even deeper as the season started. (We won’t talk about his 108.00 Earned run average because that was just in one third of an inning. We all chose to discuss the facts we chose to.)
The Jays have depth in the minors including Pat Venditte and Ryan Tepera who were close to making the team. The Jays had enough depth that they released former all-star Steve Delabar, even though he had a 2.27 earned run average in the pre-season. The Jays released Delabar on Monday – and by Saturday Cincinnati signed him. When teams want your cast offs then you are in good shape.
2. Starting depth – Drew Hutchinson won13 games last year. He starts the 2016 season in the minors. The Blue Jays have 8 capable major league starters for five spots. The starting give all pitched in the major leagues last year. It is common to have at least one of these spots be a prospect that might be ready for the big leagues; or an aging veteran who might be able to be a comeback. If the Jays starters are as good this year as they were last year the team has one of the best pitching staffs in baseball.
In a six month 162 game season depth is critical. Two relievers, Gavin Floyd and Jesse Chavez were starters last year. While they are in the bull pen this year either they could fill in when necessary. One television commentator said that the three starters who are not in the rotation could all move to the Baltimore pitching staff and make that team better.
3. Defense – Short stop Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Goins are gold glove caliber infielders. Back up infielder Darwin Barney won a gold glove with the Cubs in 2012. In left field they have veteran Michael sanders instead of a platoon of infielders trying to learn a new position as happened last June and July. When Tulo took over at short stop fans were reminded that defense wins games. Games early in the season were lost by timely errors instead of great defensive plays.
4. Power Hitting team will return – in 2015 the Blue Jays lead baseball with 232 home runs and 891 total runs scored. (second in runs scored was the New York Yankees with 764) Seven of the seven Blue Jays players who hit ten or more home runs are back with the team. Teams could not pitch around the Jays 2-3-4 hitters because Joss Donaldson (41) Jose Bautista (40) and Edwin Encarnaceon (39) all had power. Short stop Troy Tulowitzki, who is playing a full season with the team, had 17 home runs last year. That means eight of the nine starters had ten or more home runs last year. The ninth player was injured all year. All these numbers mean that there should be more not fewer home runs this season.
5. The Experience Veteran Core is Hungry – Michael Sanders missed basically the entire season with an injury he has something to prove. Edwin Encarnaceon and Jose Bautista will be free agents after this year; they know a great 2016 season will reward them with a lucrative long term deal for 2017. The Blue Jays starting 25 man roster contains 18 players who enjoyed the Blue Jays amazing ride in 2015. No one is satisfied with coming in third last year – the Jays team knows what it feels like to win. They also hated the taste of playoff losing they got from a Kansas City team they could have beaten.
Canada, which has no teams in the NHL playoffs, is more than ready to let the Blue Jays fever of 2015 become an epidemic in 2016. Winning will cause that, so play ball!