The Toronto Blue Jays are back in the postseason, but this time as one of the wild-card teams in the American League, after failing to repeat as American League East champions. The core of that squad that reached the ALCS last year is still kicking though, and they feel like they have some unfinished business to deal with.
It all starts with the AL wild-card game Tuesday night at Rogers Centre against the Baltimore Orioles in a matchup that features two powerful offenses. A win there, and the Blue Jays can take advantage of their biggest strength this season, consistent starting pitching, in a series.
They’re not coming into the playoffs with the same optimism as they did in 2015, but there are still reasons to believe the Blue Jays can come away with baseball’s biggest prize.
Assuming they can get past the Orioles in the wild-card game, the Blue Jays’ set of starting pitchers can match up with any other team in the postseason. Aaron Sanchez and Marco Estrada were All-Stars this season, veteran left-hander J.A. Happ went 20-4, meaning either Marcus Stroman (their wild-card game starter) or Francisco Liriano is going to end up in the bullpen. They have to get to a series first, but you have to like their rotation in a series, regardless of their opponent.
OFFENSE WAITING TO BREAK OUT
By no means was Toronto’s offense bad this season, ranking in the top-10 in the majors in runs scored and top-five in home runs, but they certainly weren’t as dynamic or consistent as last year, when they easily had the best lineup in baseball. Reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson and perennial All-Stars Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin have all had their stretches of success this season, just not at the same time. If they can put it all together at the most important time of the year, watch out.
STRONG UP THE MIDDLE
There’s no doubting the Blue Jays’ defense up the middle: Martin behind the plate, Tulowitzki at shortstop and Kevin Pillar in center field. That’s as good a defensive group at the three most important positions that you’ll find in the big leagues. It gives Toronto’s pitchers confidence knowing that they can trust their catcher and piece of mind that most balls hit to short and center are going to be turned into outs.
TOUGH PLACE TO PLAY
The Blue Jays will have the home crowd behind them in the wild-card game, and that’s a very good thing. Toronto averaged an AL-best 41,880 fans per game this season, and those fans can get loud. The Rogers Centre had an electric atmosphere throughout the 2015 postseason, and the promise of more playoff games is only going to have the fans even more fired up.
Jose Bautista: "We can't wait to get home" #BlueJays
— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) October 3, 2016
TEAM TO BEAT?
This has more to do with the other teams in the AL than with the Blue Jays, but it’s still relevant. The Rangers have won a historic number of one-run games, a result that is believed to have more to do with luck than skill over a representative sample size. The Red Sox have the league’s best offense, much like Toronto did in 2015, but there’s still a feeling of uneasiness with their pitching. The Indians feel vulnerable after the recent injuries to key starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. If the Jays win the wild-card game, they have just as good a chance as any of those three teams to be the AL representative in the World Series.
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