I won’t be spending much time talking about other teams this time around. Some years I’ve done an in-depth season preview, I’m never doing that again. Took about a month to do. I believe last year I did a more streamlined season preview, that was cool. But this is Canada. Pretty sure I don’t get many American readers (and if you are one, let me know!) So with that being said, let’s focus on the Jays.
The Troy Tulowitzki trade is one I won’t forget. I’m in bed on a Tuesday night I believe (it was either Monday or Tuesday, and the date is shady because it was made on a different day in Toronto than it was here or in Denver). Anyway, I was laying in bed and had been texting with my buddy about what moves the Jays would make and I remember about 10 minutes before the news breaking I said “I don’t think they’ll end up doing much of anything”. Boom, Tulo and it completely changed everything. From that point on the Jays have been a top team in the majors.
Had Ryan Goins caught a blooper in game 2 of the ALCS, who knows how things would have unfolded. But he didn’t, and the Jays were gone in 6. All of a sudden days later the GM was gone, wasn’t long before the staff ace whom everyone knew was likely out the door but the reality of it sunk in. And the new management seemed as though they could care less about getting this club over the hump.
I was one of those people who wasn’t real jacked about the job Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins had done this offseason. But then I was just thinking about it one day. The staff is 7 guys deep, the bullpen is at least as solid as it was to end last season, and the lineup remains intact. They didn’t do that much this offseason, but they didn’t have to do much this offseason. This was a club that tore apart the American League in the 2nd half of last season.
Now the way Aaron Sanchez has emerged has definitely helped. It isn’t just the Jays staff and the Canadian media who are excited about the guy. Jayson Stark, Jon Heyman, Ken Rosenthal, J.P. Morosi, there are A LOT of people who think he could make the jump. Not from reliever to starter, but to a frontline starter. If he can, the decision to let David Price walk sure looks a hell of a lot better. And let’s not forget that they likely can’t have Sanchez in the rotation unless Shaprio/Atkins do the Ben Revere for Drew Storen trade to shore up the bullpen. I still believe it’ll need an addition or two, but definitely looks solid going into the season.
I have my reservations about Marco Estrada. He proved last season that he has a ton of balls and a ton of heart. This hockey mad country LOVES a guy like that. Everyone does, but up here more than anywhere else. But was it a one off? A career year? This time last year the thought of having to use him in the rotation was terrifying.
I’m also not much of an R.A. Dickey fan, but people forget how strong he was from June on last season. We tend to just remembering the outing against the Royals in game 4, but prior to that the guy had been extremely solid. Regular season, I got little problem with him. He’ll eat a ton of innings and when he’s on he’s lights out.
I don’t expect J.A. Happ to do what he did in the 2nd half last season. If he does, wow the Jays got a steal! If he doesn’t and reverts back to what he was, that’s a horrific signing.
But while I can pick apart the staff all day, the biggest part is the littlest guy. If Marcus Stroman can take 1 more step and officially become the ace of the this ball club, everything else falls into place. He doesn’t have to be a Cy Young candidate, but he does have to take another step.
He has one of the best defensive squads in MLB playing behind him to help him out. It is amazing how Tulowitzki transformed this club, and it wasn’t with his stick. Going from the unpredictability of Jose Reyes to the gold glove calibre fielding of Tulo just made a world of difference for this club. All of a sudden you look around the diamond and you see gold glove candidates everywhere.
Then that lineup…
What else can I say about it? The x factor is Kevin Pillar. We’ll see how he does in the leadoff role. I have my doubts honestly. His OBP was .314 last season. A great leadoff man needs to have that up around. When Derek Jeter was leading off his OBP was always up over .350 and that is where I like a leadoff man’s to be. Ben Revere was at .354, so those are big shoes to fill. Even if Pillar can get it up to .335 I would take that as a win.
You can’t expect THAT again from Josh Donaldson. I would say a reasonable expectation is still 33 HR’s, 100 RBI, .290 AVG, .350 OBP. He exceeds those numbers, AWESOME. He doesn’t, he’s still elite.
As for the other big bats, I’m expecting monster years from Bautista and Encarnacion as most are since it’s their walk year. Tulo has everyone thinking big after an outstanding spring as well. The only hole offensively is maybe Ryan Goins. I had said for a year or more that if he just hit .250 he was a perfect 2B for this team, and that’s what he did last season. But should he fall back to being a .200 hitter, Devon Travis will be back at some point. Some of you may have forgot that type of season Travis was having before being injured.
Now maybe you’ve read this and thought “he’s just a Jays fan boy, they suck”. Fair enough. Don’t take my word for it then. Check out what ESPN’s Jayson Stark has to say about them.
As you’ll see below, I don’t have them to win the World Series, or even get there. But they could. I believe 3 holes that might need addressing as they approach the trade deadline are the leadoff spot, a 2nd left handed reliever (NOT Aaron Loup), and last but not least a top of the rotation starter.
This team is a real contender. It’s nice to enter a season knowing that rather than hoping that.
1. Toronto Blue Jays – I don’t want to pick them, mainly because I don’t want to jinx them. But I can’t make a rationale case for anyone but them.
*2. Boston Red Sox – On paper they are ahead of the Jays, but after burning me for two straight seasons I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little gun shy.
3. Tampa Bay Rays – The bottom 3 in this division can go in any order. I like Tampa’s staff better than the Yanks or O’s, and they have the highest ceiling of the 3.
4. NY Yankees – Don’t THINK the Yanks can repeat last year, but I didn’t think last year was possible.
5. Baltimore Orioles – The lineup is REAL good, the D is REAL good, the pitching is pretty scary bad.
1. Kansas City Royals – They’re the champs and I see zero reason to go away from this pick. Also, this division is pretty bad after them.
2. Detroit Tigers – There is just no way THIS team is as bad as they were last season. Verlander will bounce back, and I’m a big Zimmermann fan.
3. Cleveland Indians – I keep thinking about how they gave the Jays fits last season when the two played. Need some bats to emerge, pitching staff is great. They are always the baseball experts darlings.
4. Minnesota Twins – I don’t think there will be a big difference between 2nd and 4th in the division, but someone has to be 4th.
5. Chicago White Sox – No Drake LaRoche this season will hurt. But seriously, they have some great talent. But where they’re weak, they’re REALLY weak.
1. Texas Rangers – Feels like everyone loves the Stros, and I get that. But the Rangers won the division, and the Rangers have a ton of great young talent too.
*2. Houston Astros – Everyone’s favourite for the division, you have to expect a few guys to come back down to earth this season though.
3. Oakland A’s – This is a bit of an upset pick and I even had the A’s to win the division for a while! I just think you can’t ever count this team out.
4. LA Angels – They feel like such a mess to me, yet on paper they still look formidable. But with me liking the A’s to get back in the mix, someone has to fall.
5. Seattle Mariners – Weren’t they everyone’s World Series pick last year? If not to win it, at least to get there. Mariners fans have been teased enough the last 15 years.
*AL Wildcard Winners
AL Cy Young – Chris Archer. I’ve been a massive fan of his since day 1. Picked him for ROY a few seasons ago. He takes the next step this season.
AL MVP – Jose Bautista. Can’t you see this happening? This guy already plays with a massive chip on his shoulder, and now we have the contract situation on top of that, and the more pissed he is the better he plays.
Astros vs Red Sox – Like hell I’ll know who the hotter team will be. I’ll guess Houston.
Blue Jays vs Astros – I guess I got the Jays finishing 1st this time around. The Astros being a year older…they’ll be too tough to handle.
Royals vs Rangers – No way I’m picking against the Royals.
Royals vs Astros – No way I’m picking against the Royals.
1. Washington Nationals – Too much talent not to pick them to at least win the division, plus Dusty Baker is a great manager….until he burns through the staff.
2. NY Mets – Amazing starting staff, and they still have Zack Wheeler waiting in the wings. I didn’t pick them for a wildcard spot, but without a doubt they’ll be in it for the division and wildcard.
3. Miami Marlins – A lot of talent on this roster, but it’s a shit show of an organization so they’re a tough team to figure out.
4. Atlanta Braves – They’re no better than the Phillies, but I just trust the Braves to compete more than I do the Phillies.
5. Philadelphia Phillies – It’s still going to be a LONG climb back for the Phillies. They just held on a few years too long and are in the process of paying for it now.
1. St. Louis Cardinals – The Cubby’s are the darlings coming into this season. The Cards haven’t been quiet about feeling disrespected by this.
*2. Chicago Cubs – On paper, they’re a powerhouse. I still am not in love with this starting pitching, I have trouble imagining Jake Arietta can do it again.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates – Man I feel bad for the Pirates being in this division. They are so well run, such a good team, stuck in the toughest division in baseball.
4. Milwaukee Brewers – The Brew crew and the Reds are nowhere close to the top 3 in this division. Tough to say anything nice about either.
5. Cincinnati Reds – The tear down isn’t yet complete with this squad. I feel bad for their fans, all been downhill since being up 2-0 coming home against San Fran in 2012.
1. LA Dodgers – For all the upgrades the Giants have made, even with the loss of Grienke, this is still a regular season juggernaut.
*2. San Francisco Giants – This is it. It’s an even year. Giants always win in an even year and with Cueto and Samardzija they’re looking to ensure that.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks – All of a sudden they have a real good top of the rotation! Solid team, but I believe it’ll be another year or 2 before they overtake the division.
4. San Diego Padres – All the moves they made last offseason that gave Padres fans hope…there is zero hope this season.
5. Colorado Rockies – It’s a pretty major rebuild as they head into their 1st full season since 2006 without Troy Tulowitzki.
*NL Wildcard Winners
NL Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw. Say what you will about his postseason track record, he’s the best in the game today.
NL MVP – Bryce Harper. I picked him for the last few years and finally got it right, so I’m doubling down!
Giants vs Cubs – The Cubs are REALLY talented, but somebody has to go home and I’m not picking against the Giants.
Nationals vs Giants – Nats are REALLY talented, but somebody has to go home and I’m not picking against the Giants (notice the theme?)
Cardinals vs Dodgers – The Dodgers just aren’t going to get over the hump, at least not this season.
Cardinals vs Giants – Yeah, I’m still not picking against the Giants
Kansas City Royals vs San Francisco Giants – I know it’s a lot of repeating here. It’s the same 4 as last year in the ALDS, and that’s not likely and if it does happen it’s not exciting. In the NL it’s the same 4 in the NLDS as 2 years ago and if that happens it’s not exciting. The good news is that it is nearly impossible to predict how the MLB season will go and I’m never close on these. I do feel real good about this World Series pick though. These 2 organizations have built perfect postseason teams, and I fully expect to see the rematch of the 2014 classic between these 2, but this time, the Royals come out on top and go back to back.
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