One Jays From the Couch writer sees several reasons to be optimistic about the Toronto Blue Jays in 2018
Looking at the 2018 Toronto Blue Jays, I think we may have something going here. In a post Jose Bautista era in Toronto that never got us the World Series we were all praying for, but we all secretly expected, we were looking for an identity this offseason and I think the Jays brass has brought us that. Past teams have always had a tendency to have a few guys that give us hope: Bautista, Clemens, Delgado, Donaldson, Wells, Encarnacion and the list goes on.
It is the teams of 1992 and 1993 that had a couple of those big names but a lot of non-Superstar names, just plain solid players. Every great team needs a supporting cast. It has been proven that in years past that the “too many chiefs, not enough Indians” theory does not work. Nor does an entire team of “Moneyball” no-namers. You need a great mix of both to win a championship, and the 2018 version of the Toronto Blue Jays is no different. I believe this year’s team can be summed up in 5 words. Let’s say 4 words, and 1 word I would rather not associate with us. Here is how this goes…
I wanted to list this one first as I felt it was the one that needed the most attention. This front office, I feel, felt mostly the same beginning near the trade deadline last season. Going out and getting some young prospects…namely Teoscar Hernandez. This shift was much needed as we all noticed when the injury bug hit in 2017. Tulo, JD, Sanchez, Estrada, Travis, etc all went down and it quickly showed in the lineup, the standings, and in the faces of the Jays faithful.
Biagini to hold down the rotation; Goins and Barney to duct tape the infield, with a little help from Russell Martin at third. (Russell himself was even bit by the injury bug). But they lacked…depth. Seeing that, they have went out and added some middle round fantasy players who may not have been on the tip of everyone’s tongue but are good enough to say, “Okay, we can work with that”.
Names like Granderson, a great hitter, good fielder and a solid veteran to put right into the lineup in left field; Diaz, more solid than Goins or Barney, but can swing a bat and you can trust his reliability; Espinosa, much the same type of player, in my eyes, as Diaz but with a little less bat and maybe a little more glove; Randall Grichuk will provide 20+ Homeruns, with another glove to turn to when needed; Solarte, more infield depth, and although an everyday player in San Diego will be a great fill in for this infield; Hernandez, whom I mentioned, has worked his way into the lineup in right; and the bullpen: Axford, a former closer who will be a great transition pitcher to close down some innings before Osuna comes out; Clippard will do much the same, and with a similar background; Garcia, a middle rotation pitcher historically, will likely hold down the fifth spot showing the sneaky strength and the true pitching depth they have. So confident in this depth in fact, that the front office could afford to send Biagini to Buffalo to better improve his skills. All of this, and they still have Alford, Guerrero, and Bichette getting better by the day, waiting for the perfect time to be uploaded into this lineup. This all adds up to some great depth…other AL teams may have power or speed but the 2018 Jays have depth to match up against any lineup in the league.
This is a team that has been built around leadership. John Gibbons is made to look like the glue that binds this team but indeed we can start right behind the plate with Russell Martin. He has been effective in molding Sanchez, Estrada, and when you see him work with Roberto Osuna…it is like he is the son he never had. They have a unique relationship that you die for between a pitcher and catcher, something that a young player like Osuna needs. You have JD at 3rd who is the firecracker that just wants to win but still gives the superstar quality player that fills the Rogers Centre seats every day, and loves the spotlight; Justin Smoak is quietly leading this team’s power battalion; then we go and bring on a crafty veteran hitter like Curtis Granderson, add Axford and Clippard in the pen and we have leadership on all sides of the field. Don’t forget Pillar in center, although I think he knows his days are numbered, but he is also having a spring that shows it. No one can deny his defense, but a solid showing with a bat is welcome for the CF that has been known to spark this team in the past and the crowd loves him. Russell can call a game as well as any catcher in the league and is worth his weight in gold, but it is the playoff experience John Axford and Tyler Clippard bring that may prove useful in August and September down that long hot summer pennant run.
This might be an odd word, but this team might just sneak into the playoffs. Sure, they have to get past Boston or New York, but that’s right, only one of them. I don’t believe the Jays are directly competing for the division but they could. Besides, who is their competition for the Wildcard?
You have Cleveland likely to take the Central, and Houston is all but a lock in the West…that leaves Minnesota, KC, Seattle and Boston/New York all competing for that last spot. Let’s face it, Texas I have not seen drastically improve, and Oakland, Baltimore and Anaheim? Who are we kidding? They cannot compete right now against the teams I listed previously.
Like I said, sneaky. They could back their way into the postseason, and with this lineup, no one would be surprised. They have the potential to be THAT good.
As we look around, New York is really showing that they want the World Series back even if they have to hit 1000 home runs to cover the runs they will allow. Boston is solid, Cleveland is going in the same direction as the Yankees but, they are all playing for second against Houston. They proved last season they were the class of the AL, and not much has changed for 2018.
If the Jays are taking after anyone, it may be the Astros, believe it or not. A solid, deep rotation; balanced bullpen; an experienced, well hitting infield; a defensive outfield; and a rock behind the plate. Smoak is a better hitter than anything Houston has at 1B. JD is comparable to Altuve when he is healthy. Hernandez may be the player that is able to put up George Springer type numbers and Russell can call a better game than their two catchers…although they have the edge offensively.
Now, the word I do not want to associate with this team, especially negatively is…
Everything can’t always be rainbows and unicorns, and this is one word that has bothered me in seasons past. Nagging calf injuries, hamstrings, blisters, knees…all something that screams conditioning to me. Other than Sanchez and that pesky blister problem on his throwing hand in 2017, the pitching staff has been well conditioned for the most part. Sure there are some injuries but you don’t see a pile of guys going down to Tommy John or anything. It is the little pesky injuries that don’t go away that bother me though. Is it team conditioning; is it lack of player monitoring? Hamstrings and calf pulls are typically blamed on dehydration to start, and if that is the case then the training staff need to step things up and take care of our boys…the 2018 season depends on it.
A few months from now, we will be able to look back at the season that was, or wasn’t, and ask ourselves in our true opinion, “How did we do?”
This may not be THE year, but with the depth and youth in this team coming up…it may not have to be. Let the Yankees and BoSox slug at each other all season like Batman v. Superman; let Cleveland kick the tar out of the Central, and the same for Houston in the West. Maybe, when the smoke clears, we will have something to be proud of this season. Until then game on, play ball, and enjoy it while we can…because before we know it we are only left with memories. BW
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