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Middle of the Pack – Replacing a Star

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30:1…………….10 pays 300

If the Toronto Blue Jays were “Hamilton” the last two seasons, the hottest and most popular show in town, they’ve been downgraded to an off-Broadway play.  Only the true savants can still appreciate their talents, and the amount of people in attendance (or on the bandwagon) is few and far between.  A live look at me, myself, and I on the bandwagon:

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This may seem like a sad state but being under the radar is a gambler and team’s dream scenario.  We’ve all heard the news, clean-up slugger Edwin Encarnacion is gone and he ain’t coming back.  His 42 HR will not easily be replicated.  But at 30:1, I love this team’s chances of winning it all.

Devon Travis is a lightning rod that makes this offense tick.  His .321 average (post All-star) in the lead-off spot was sorely missed when he was injured and missed the majority of the postseason.  He’s only 26 years old and has shown flashes of brilliance in his young career, he may be primed for a breakout season.  If he really develops like his post All-star break numbers indicate, murderer’s row still sits behind him.

The enigma, Troy Tulowitzki, comes in at the projected #2 spot.  There’s been a lot of talk around Troy from his brittle injury-ridden days in Colorado to whether he can finally live up to his potential in Toronto.  While he’s been a bit of a disappointment thus far, I still see .300+ potential left in the tank at 32 years old.  Coming off a season where he hit .254, if he can approach anywhere close to .300 it will be another significant piece to the Jays replacing Encarnacion’s production.

Josh Donaldson, Toronto’s own.  The 2015 MVP, the stud, the luxurious flow..  Does anyone make it look easier than this guy?

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Nothing to see here, just another MVP-caliber year on deck.  Let’s move on.

Joey Bats, public enemy #1.  In Texas I’m pretty sure it’s legal to TOS (Terminate on Sight) Joey.  Rangers fans will never forget the infamous bat flip in the 2015 postseason, and Odor made that clear when he knocked him the fuck out.

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Forgetting about his Texas-sized drama for a minute, Bautista had a huge down year at age 35 hitting .234 and 22 HR in only 116 games.  A lot of this was due to a lingering back issue that caused him to miss more than a few games, and after being left out to dry on the free agent market this offseason he will be looking to exact revenge.  Consider those teams (like the in-division Orioles) warned, his back is now healthy and the Joey Bats Revenge Tour will be on full display.  I think you can figure out the theme at this point…chalk another gup up for a comeback/break out year.

Here’s where things get interesting.  I already pointed it out in my offseason rundown, but the pickups of Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce are going to help put Big Edwin in the rearview mirror.  Morales hit 30 HR in not-so-hitter-friendly Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City…the Rogers Centre and the protection in the Toronto lineup will be a sight for sore eyes.  Pearce is a lefty-masher and will fit in beautifully with the lefty-mashing Blue Jay crew with his .309/.411 splits against southpaws.

Factor in big-hitting catcher Russell Martin, up-and-coming outfielder Kevin Pillar (playing great in Spring Training) and a deep bench and this lineup is nothing to sneeze at.  Even with the departure of Edwin and his parrot I don’t see any slippage of production.

Now that we’ve cemented into absolute certainty that the offense won’t skip a beat let’s discuss this pitching rotation.  Top to bottom, the most underrated staff in baseball in this humble man’s opinion.  At age 24, Aaron Sanchez is a stud who had Cy Young numbers a year ago with a 15-2 record and 3.00 ERA.  He’s got a 95 MPH fastball and great stuff, his trajectory is higher than a Snoop Dogg concert.

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J.A. Happ was reborn last season, the Lefty also posted Cy Young numbers as a 20 game winner going 20-4 with a 3.18 ERA.  Some may consider Happ a lucky journeyman last year at 34 years old, but the sustained success he had was much more than “luck”.  He showed plenty of promise in Pittsburgh in 2015 when he went 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA and the old dog may just have a few tricks left up his sleeve.  While 20 wins will be hard to duplicate, 15-18 is definitely in range.

As a #3/4 starter, Marco Estrada is plenty good.  No, he won’t blow you away with his stuff but what #3/4 starter does?  He keeps his high-octane offense in the game each and every start and that’s all you can ask for.  Over the last 2 seasons as a Blue Jay he’s averaged a 3.30 ERA, more than getting the job done.  It feels like every start he gets through 6 innings and gives up 2 or 3 runs which gives the offense a great chance to steal the W.

The enigma of the pitching staff is Marcus Stroman, he’s streakier than your grandpa’s tighty whiteies.  Last year his 7.76 ERA in June followed by a streak of 3.71, 3.13, and 3.41 ERAs the next three months was par for the course.  There’s no question he has electric stuff, bringing it game in and game out is the real internal issue Stroman needs to overcome.  At age 25, this could definitely be the year he puts it all together.  After shutting down Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic Championship game I’d say he’s on track to do just that.  Let’s put what he just did into proper context:  He was called upon to win USA their first ever WBC championship and delivered with 6 shutout, HITLESS innings.  No hits!  C’mon Marcus, let’s turn those nasty tighty whities into some luxurious women’s lingerie this season.

Francisco Liriano provides a quality 5th starter with upside, and the Roberto Osuna-led bullpen is solid.  This is a team coming off of back to back ALCS appearances.  They were oh-so-close:

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At 30:1, don’ t tell me you can’t see the 3rd time being the charm.

BREAK OUT STAR:  Marcus Stroman — The kid has the tools to be great.  Team USA doesn’t pick you to lead their staff because you’re a run-of-the-mill kinda guy.  He’s shown flashes on the biggest stages in the playoffs, and this is the year everything falls into place.  Look for him to approach 20 wins with an ERA around 3.00.

UNDER THE RADAR:  Kendrys Morales — This is the most underappreciated pick up of the offseason.  There’s barely been a whisper about him, when i see him coming into this lineup and having a monster year.  The last couple of years he’s shown what he can do in Kansas City, this year in a better lineup and much better home park he takes the leap and hits 35 HR.

DUE FOR REGRESSION:  J.A. Happ — Only because he was on such a ridiculous tear the 2nd half of last season I find it hard to believe he’ll duplicate that level of performance.  As long as he doesn’t regress too far though, he’ll still be a very good pitcher and win his fair share of games.

FINAL VERDICT:  250 Units

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