Toronto Blue Jays Must Pitch to Contention in 2017

The Toronto Blue Jays’ outlook isn’t as glum as it seems. Yes, they lost Edwin Encarnacion, but the team has much more to offer, especially in terms of pitching.

The Toronto Blue Jays lineup lost some serious pop with the departure of Edwin Encarnacion. Although the team knew they likely wouldn’t be able to re-sign him, they’re well aware the lineup won’t be the same without him. No Encarnacion means the loss of 40+ home runs, 120+ RBI and the likes of 100 runs scored. They also lose their protector to Josh Donaldson.

Toronto signed veteran Kendrys Morales to a three-year, $33 million contract this offseason. Morales will be the replacement DH for Encarnacion. Morales is certainly a good pickup, especially at the price of $11 million per year. He’s coming off a 30-home run, 97-RBI season with the Kansas City Royals. He’s also played over 150 games in each of the past two years after a couple of unhealthy seasons. Morales is no slouch, but he won’t impact the Toronto offense in the way Encarnacion did.

Beyond the Encarnacion/Morales swap, the Toronto Blue Jays retained mostly the same lineup. Josh Donaldson remains an MVP-caliber player, but it’s difficult to predict the rest of the order. Troy Tulowitzki is the other premier power bat in the lineup, but he’s dropped off considerably in terms of consistency since joining the Jays.

They’ll need to determine a leadoff hitter, unless John Gibbons opts for Jose Bautista to fill the role again in 2017. Chances are the team will need Bautista in a position where he can drive in more runs. Now 36 years old, Bautista’s production is sure to continue to decline. The slugger struggled last season, slashing a measly .234/.366/.452. There is a reason Toronto had such cold feet in bringing him back for the upcoming season.

Point being, their offense will go from well above average to maybe slightly above average. Thus, they’ll need their pitching staff to play a bigger role. The staff may have taken a back seat to the offense last season; however, it turned out to be every bit as good as the offense, if not better. Toronto’s staff led the American League with a 3.78 ERA in 2016. They also led the league in quality starts with a smooth 100.

Toronto has a sneaky deep starting rotation. Aaron Sanchez will be expected to take the reins as the team’s ace this season. He’s followed by the man with the masterful changeup, Marco Estrada. Then comes J.A. Happ, who is coming off a career year, the supremely talented Marcus Stroman and old reliable Francisco Liriano. Their rotation is a perfect mix of power and finesse arms. They will cause problems for their opponents day after day.

Also not to be overlooked is the bullpen. The Toronto Blue Jays relief corps looks to be among MLB’s best in the coming season. The emergence of Joe Biagini and the 2016 mid-season addition of Jason Grilli helped improve the staff last season. They look to be even better in 2017 with the additions of J.P. Howell, Joe Smith and Mat Latos. And all pitchers lead up to the dominant Roberto Osuna. The 22-year-old will only improve with experience. After notching 36 saves last season, it will be exciting to see what the young, powerful arm accomplishes this season as a closer.

Toronto has all the pieces in play on the defensive side of the ball. Despite their league-leading ERA in 2016, the Blue Jays actually ranked seventh in the AL in strikeouts. This goes to show how much help each pitcher has behind him when on the mound.

The Boston Red Sox are the clear favorites to take the AL East this season. However, the Blue Jays could challenge them for the greater part of the year if their pitching is in order. They’ll definitely be able to contend for a Wild Card spot. Things aren’t as bad as they seem with the loss of Encarnacion, and the strange back-and-forth with Bautista this offseason. The Toronto Blue Jays remain a good team, a team that could benefit as a sleeper in 2017.

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