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Last Chance - A Toronto Blue Jays preview

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A look ahead at our final new AL East opponent of the season

Toronto Blue Jays v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

So here’s a fun chart.

The Blue Jays endured a great deal of misfortune over the season’s early weeks and they’ve only now been able to climb back out. Having Edwin Encarnacion around these last few years helped shield them from such blips, but when he’s downgraded to a league-average hitter in Kendrys Morales, talent voids become more noticeable and the losses begin to pile up. Consider the following:

  • Josh Donaldson, the Jays’ superstar third baseman, missed about a month and a half with a calf injury. He’s healthy now and raking, but in his absence, the Jays employed Darwin Barney — who still exists — on the regular at third base. Barney has always been a bad hitter, and now that he’s 31, you can insert “laughably” into that.
  • Second baseman Devon Travis began the season in an unbelievable slump. He was hitting .167/.203/.263 on May 13 before seriously turning it on in the weeks since. The hitting stopped when he succumbed to a bone bruise. He’s now out indefinitely which means hey, more Barney.
  • Troy Tulowitzki missed about the same stint of games as Donaldson. Though it’s looking more and more like Tulo can’t hit anymore, his replacement Ryan Goins never could.
  • The Jays opened the season trying to platoon Ezequiel Carrera (famous for needing an instruction manual to operate sunglasses) and Steve Pearce in left field. Pearce hasn’t played since mid-May because of a calf issue and Chris Coghlan — who still exists — has been filling in for him...poorly.
  • Lefty J.A. Happ has had elbow problems this year and missed a sizable chunk of time and staff ace Aaron Sanchez has had trouble staying on the mound due to recurring blister issues. The Jays got desperate enough in their time of need to turn to Mat Latos — who still exists — and they watched him allow dingers for a little while before disposing of him.

Travis, Pearce, and Sanchez are all still on the shelf, but everyone else has healed up, which should allow the Jays a chance to make a push in the Wild Card race, though one gets the sense that this roster isn’t as good as those from the previous two campaigns. In addition to the departure of Encarnacion, the middle of the Jays’ order has had to deal with the decline of Jose Bautista. Joey Bats took a sizable step back last year as reduced bat speed caused an uptick in strikeouts and a decline in power numbers. Those trends have continued in 2017, so it looks like the 36-year-old’s Indian summer is finally coming to an end. As one of baseball’s most animated and out-of-nowhere superstars of this decade, Bautista’s run of greatness will be missed.

Also gone is R.A. Dickey, which you might not think is a big loss until you look at how the Blue Jays have replaced him. Dickey was very healthy and average during his time in Toronto; Francisco Liriano has effectively stepped into his rotation slot and has been very bad and hurt. Liriano can still make you swing and miss a lot at the changeup, but he’s lost all sense of control and the walks have rendered him ineffective. On the other end of the control spectrum has been 27-year-old Joe Biagini who has stood-in admirably for Sanchez. Biagini is a converted reliever who Toronto has gradually been allowing to rack up pitch counts and work deeper into games. He keeps the ball on the ground and limits free passes, which is generally a winning formula. Biagini may have copied that formula from rotation-mate Marcus Stroman. Stroman is a number-two starter who has slashed his ERA by over a run this year, largely due to better luck with men on base than any real improvement.

The pitching staff may have taken its lumps this year, but in the past, the Jays could withstand giving up runs because the offense had been so prolific at scoring them. This year, the vast majority of Toronto’s hitters have been no better than league average, with two exceptions. The first is the aforementioned Donaldson and the other is perpetual tease Justin Smoak. Once the top prospect in a high-profile Cliff Lee trade, Smoak has disappointed ever since he entered the league in 2010, but something has clicked in this, his age-30 season. The strikeouts are way down and his power numbers are better than ever. The Blue Jays haven’t moved him ahead of Bautista and Morales in the order yet, but they should.

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The Jays’ resurgence over the last two years has rejuvenated the baseball spirit in Toronto and has provided some of the most exciting baseball around the game. Now, we’re taking a good look at what happens when a team begins to move into the decline phase. Toronto chose to make one last gasp at a postseason chase before having to deal with the reality of their situation. This is an old team, with only Stroman, Sanchez, Travis, Biagini, glove man Kevin Pillar, and closer Roberto Osuna fulfilling key roles under age 30. Should the Jays sputter before July, Donaldson should be the envy of the trade market. The hope will be that whatever he can fetch plus the young talent on hand will be enough to kickstart the Jays’ next core. It’s sad that it feels like Toronto only just surfaced as a legitimate player in the baseball landscape and we’re already talking about tearing them down, but this can be a cruel game sometimes — particularly in the AL East.

Probable Starting Pitchers

Friday, June 16: Joe Biagini vs. Jose Quintana

Saturday, June 17: Marcus Stroman vs. Mike Pelfrey

Sunday, June 18: J.A. Happ vs. James Shields

Key Personnel

Probable Lineup Pitching
Probable Lineup Pitching
1. Kevin Pillar - CF SP1. Marcus Stroman - RHP
2. Josh Donaldson - 3B SP2. Marco Estrada - RHP
3. Jose Bautista - RF SP3. J.A. Happ - LHP
4. Kendrys Morales - DH SP4. Joe Biagini - RHP
5. Justin Smoak - 1B SP5. Francisco Liriano - LHP
6. Troy Tulowitzki - SS CL. Roberto Osuna - RHP
7. Russell Martin - C RP1. Joe Smith - RHP
8. Ezequiel Carrera - LF RP2. Ryan Tepera - RHP
9. Ryan Goins - 2B RP3. Aaron Loup - LHP