By: Sam Rowley
Are the Toronto Blue Jays an actual playoff contender? Sam is here to tell you.
The Toronto Blue Jays are currently the hottest team in professional baseball and are climbing ESPN’s baseball power rankings day by day. Already with one of the most powerful lineups led by Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion as well as a strong pitching staff consisting of Marco Estrada, Mark Buehrle, and RA Dickey. The Jays made considerable noise at the deadline by landing perennial all stars Troy Tulowitzki and David Price. There is no doubt the Blue Jays have clearly committed to making a playoff push. I am here to answer the question: Are the Blue Jays for real?
The case FOR the Blue Jays
The Blue Jays boast the most productive offense in baseball, leading the majors with an average of 5.28 runs per game and in slugging percentage (.445). Opposing pitchers can't pitch around anyone at the top of their lineup as they feature Tulowitzki - Donaldson - Bautista - Encarnacion as their 1-4 hitters. Tulowitzki, recently swapped for Jose Reyes, is currently hitting .293 with 15 bombs to his name this year. Donaldson, recently the American League player of the week and frontrunner for the 2015 AL MVP award, ranks third in the league in homeruns with 31 and first in runs and RBI. While only hitting .240, Jose Bautista is on pace for 37 home runs and 112 RBI and has played a lockdown right field. Encarnacion rounds out this quartet and is well on his way to a 30 HR, 90 RBI caliber season. This is arguably the best lineup in baseball, and without a doubt the best top four hitters in a single lineup.
With the addition of David Price, the Jays’ pitching staff has taken some pressure off the league’s best offense. In Price, Toronto has acquired a clear ace for their staff and their go-to starter should they find themselves in the one game wild card playoff matchup. In fact, the Blue Jays have had the lowest team ERA (2.30) in the American League following the all star break. Toronto will also likely be helped down the stretch by the return of last year’s team ace Marcus Stroman. Stroman, 24, has miraculously rehabbed his way back to health after tearing his ACL during spring training. The Jays most recently completed a three game sweep against seemingly their only competition in the AL EAST in the New York Yankees, who had previously scored 93 runs in the 12 games leading up to their series with the Jays. The Yankees were only able to muster one run in the series as it was the first time they had been shutout in back to back games all season. This is certainly a positive sign for the Jays, whose pitching has been the biggest question all season.
As I said earlier, the Blue Jays right now are the hottest team in Baseball. Toronto has won eight straight and 11 of their last 12 games, outscoring opponents by a combined score of 67-32. On July 29, the Blue Jays had a losing record and were eight games behind the leaders (The New York Yankees) in the American League East. Due to their recent hot streak, the Jays currently sit 1.5 games behind the Yankees for the lead. With the way the Jays are playing and due to New York’s recent offensive struggles, its only a matter of days before Toronto surpassess New York for the lead in the East.
The case AGAINST the Blue Jays
Lack of Depth
Right now the Blue Jays appear to be invincible. Their top four hitters are producing right now, and their starting pitching is getting the job done. However, what will happen if either Tulowitzki, Donaldson, Bautista, or Encarnacion gets injured while someone else slumps down the stretch? Who in the bottom half of their lineup is going to step their game up to the level of their core four when it matters most down the stretch? The Blue Jays live and die off the longball and even if only one or two of their top hitters goes down, they won't know what to do.
The Blue Jays’ bullpen will be the team’s Achilles heel down the stretch. While the Jays have the 9th best bullpen ERA (3.25) in the bigs, that ranks below other American League contenders like Kansas City, Houston, and New York. The Jays bullpen has not been tested much lately due to their strong second half starting pitching and has not encountered the same amount of pressure situations as other bullpens due to their prolific offense. How will the Jays bullpen perform when premier clubs such as the Royals, Astros, Angels, and Yankees run the Jays’ starters out of the game and when the Bash Bros are slowed by dominant postseason pitching? This is a bullpen with an average age of 28.5 years old, yet only features two pitchers who have ever experienced postseason baseball (Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins). In the playoffs, where good pitching matters more than good hitting, I doubt the Blue Jays will be able to rely on their bullpen game after game.
The Blue Jays will make the playoffs for the first time since their 1993 championship season, ending their 21 year playoff drought. Whether they win the AL East or secure a wild card spot, I believe they have the firepower to advance past the AL division series. However, I think the Jays bats will be overpowered by dominant starting pitching in the American League Championship Series, and their flaws (bullpen and back end of starting rotation) will be exposed. I say the Jays fall in the ALCS to the Kansas City Royals in a low scoring, six game series.
While the Blue Jays will experience some postseason success this year and perhaps next year as well, it will not last. Toronto has a number of big time contracts expiring after the 2016 and 2017 seasons and will have to make a serious financial commitment if they want to prevent their core players from exploring the market. The majority of players on the current Jays’ roster are in their primes but will likely have peaked in a year or two. Also with the lack of homegrown talent on the current roster, I wont be surprised if Alex Anthopoulos trades off some the main stars of their roster in the years to come for draft picks and young prospects, bringing the Blue Jays back to irrelevance in the AL East yet again.