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Losing the Arms Race: A Toronto Blue Jays preview

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A look ahead at our first opponent on this 11-game road trip

We're grimacing in advance now.
We're grimacing in advance now.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

In 2001, the Seattle Mariners were eliminated from the playoffs, marking the last time that the franchise has seen postseason baseball. With the Royals making it to the World Series last year, the Mariners' current 13-year drought is the second-longest in all of baseball.

The longest drought, at 21 years, belongs to the Toronto Blue Jays.

In some ways, you feel for the Jays because they face plenty of unique disadvantages. They've had to deal with over a decade of dominance by the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East. In addition to generally being unable to equal these division rivals' spending, they've had to deal with currency risk, as the Canadian dollar's movement against the U.S. dollar has affected their budget in the past. It can be hard to lure free agents to Canada, and Toronto frequently appears on players' no-trade lists. As market inefficiencies continue to dry up, it's hard enough to build a competitive baseball team as it is without the additional challenges in Toronto's way.

Particularly of late, Toronto's failures can't be blamed on refusing to take a risk. The current era of the Blue Jays has been defined by the big splashes made in the 2012-13 offseason, as they brought in R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Jose Reyes, taking on substantial payroll in the process. Expectations soared for Toronto, but the result was that the 2013 squad improved by a full win over the 2012 team, as they finished in last place with a 74-88 record.

The Jays brought roughly the same cast of characters into the 2014 season and they performed notably better, finishing at 83-79. With the makings of a decent team in tow, general manager Alex Anthopoulos decided to make another push for the AL East crown this past offseason with another set of big moves. The biggest acquisition was bringing in one of the very best players in all of baseball, Josh Donaldson. Donaldson is a terrific defensive third baseman who will likely be near the top of the AL leaderboard in all three triple-slash stats, particularly after departing the expansive foul territory of the O.co Coliseum for the hitter-friendly confines of the Rogers Centre.

The other major player brought in was catcher Russell Martin, who was fresh off of two excellent seasons in Pittsburgh. Like Donaldson, Martin has found success at the plate in Toronto, particularly in the power department. He's also a spectacular pitch framer, making Martin's 5-year, $82 million deal look like a terrific investment thus far.

Though these latest big acquisitions have played extremely well for the Blue Jays this season, it hasn't translated into winning baseball, as they sit in last place in the AL East. They can point to some tough luck with injuries as part of the problem, though.  Shortstop Jose Reyes has been sidelined with a cracked rib, popular White Sox offseason trade target Michael Saunders has missed time with knee inflammation, and newly acquired second baseman Devon Travis is now out with shoulder inflammation after putting up some impressive power numbers. In addition to the guys on the shelf, slugging superstar Jose Bautista has had a sore shoulder that has limited him to DH duties. Finally, perhaps the biggest blow of all took place before the season when young up-and-coming pitcher Marcus Stroman tore his ACL. He's lost until at least September, which is a huge blow to the Toronto pitching staff.

Unfortunately, Stroman alone would probably not have been enough to save the Blue Jays' rotation. You never want to doubt Mark Buehrle, baseball's answer to the unicorn, but the end appears to be in sight. The former White Sox hero has allowed more hits than any pitcher this season not named Phil Hughes, and a good chunk of those haven't stayed in the park. 40 year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey looks to be similarly washed up, as somewhere over the offseason he lost essentially all ability to strike hitters out. I'll give you one guess as to what happens when 75 mph pitches stop fooling people.

Continuing down the sad, sad line, Marco Estrada led all of major league baseball in homers allowed last year, with 29, and it took him a mere 150 innings to rack up that total.  Things haven't changed much this year.  15 percent is simultaneously a terrible strikeout rate and terrible walk rate and both apply to Aaron Sanchez, a prospect with mechanical issues that throws fastballs about 80 percent of the time.  The guy who provides the greatest optimism of the Jays' active starters is probably Drew Hutchison. He looks like he could develop into a good mid-rotation starter, and there was a theory that Russell Martin's arrival could help him score some extra strikes with his slider. Despite the reasonable hope, his ERA is currently the worst of the bunch.

The pitching is the reason the Jays haven't been able to win in spite of the fact that their lineup can still slug with anyone. Bautista and his bashing companion, Edwin Encarnacion, have been great in the power department. That duo, along with Donaldson, Martin, and the injured Travis give the Blue Jays five players who have hit at least as many home runs as Jose Abreu. Sure, they've received putrid production from guys like Ryan Goins and Kevin Pillar, but the Toronto offense is on the whole quite potent.

In all likelihood, it won't be enough until the Jays can find a way to keep runs off the board. The only real fix available at present time for the pitching woes is for Toronto to promote number-one prospect Daniel Norris back to the major leagues, but he's still struggling with his control at Triple-A Buffalo. Even if they swap out Estrada for Norris, they'll be counting on rapid progress from two prospects without a track record of major league success, dead cat bounces from two guys who look like they're about to wash out of the show, and improvement from whatever you want to call Hutchison. That makes them a long shot even in a division as tightly packed as the AL East.  After this season, the Blue Jays will get arguably their best pitcher in Stroman back, and Buehrle and Dickey will come off the books, which should allow some flexibility for external solutions for 2016. At this point, Anthopoulos must be counting the days.

Predicted Record and Finish: 74-88, fifth place, AL East

Probable Lineup

Pitching

1. Josh Donaldson - 3B

SP1. R.A. Dickey - RHP

2. Jose Bautista - DH

SP2. Mark Buehrle - LHP

3. Edwin Encarnacion - 1B

SP3. Drew Hutchison - RHP

4. Russell Martin - C

SP4. Aaron Sanchez - RHP

5. Danny Valencia - LF

SP5. Marco Estrada - RHP

6. Chris Colabello - RF

CL. Brett Cecil - LHP

7. Kevin Pillar - CF

RP1. Roberto Osuna - RHP

8. Steven Tolleson - 2B

RP2. Aaron Loup - LHP

9. Ryan Goins - SS

RP3. Liam Hendriks - RHP