Toronto Blue Jays
After back-to-back ALCS appearances in 2015 and '16, the Blue Jays took a nosedive in 2017 and ended up finishing in fourth place. Stuck in the same division as the Red Sox and Yankees, Toronto is, like the Mariners, basically competing for a Wild Card berth as they try to reclaim their perch of power in 2018.
They started the year strong, but have hit a rough patch that has them hovering around the .500 mark at this writing, largely due to disappointing performances from their starting rotation. Staff ace Marcus Stroman has been inexplicably bad, averaging just five innings per start and getting absolutely hammered—for the month of April, batters hit him at a .298/.383/.452 clip—while Marco Estrada has fallen flat in his most recent three starts, posting an ERA of 9.00 over that span. Aaron Sánchez has been OK as he tries to rebound from a down year, and our old friend J.A. Happ has provided some stability, but without an effective Stroman or Estrada, it's hard to see this team going anywhere.
The lineup has had good and bad surprises, as new left fielder Curtis Granderson has been exceptional and center fielder Kevin Pillar is thus far batting 50 points above his career average. Former Mariner Justin Smoak is matching his All-Star campaign of last year and utilityman Steve Pearce has earned a lot of playing time with his performance. On the other hand, Russel Martin, Yangervis Solarte, Randal Grichuk, and Kendrys Morales are all struggling to exceed the Mendoza line and Troy Tulowitzki has yet to play a game due to yet another surgery and figures to be out until the end of May. Josh Donaldson has missed time with injury as well, but is back on the field now.
Players to Watch
Kevin Pillar: A speedy baserunner, Pillar achieved a rare feat earlier this year when he stole second, third, and home in the same inning against the Yankees' Dellin Betances. An outstanding defender in center field, Pillar has had a terrific April with the bat as well.
Marco Estrada: A key player on the 2015 AL East champion Jays and an All-Star in 2016, Estrada is generally a reliable "innings-eater" with decent control. With ace Marcus Stroman struggling mightily and Aaron Sánchez an unknown quantity returning from injury, Toronto needs Estrada to step up his game.
Curtis Granderson: The fifteen-year veteran is a long way from his salad days with the Tigers and Yankees, but in the early going is having one of his best seasons here in 2018. At 37 years old, Grandy figures to be a fourth outfielder most of the time, but if he continues to hit as he did in April, he could rack up 500+ at-bats.
John Gibbons: Despite a history of confrontation with his players, Gibbons appears to be well-liked and those he's had tiffs with often later compliment Gibbons on how he handled their situation. He can be a disciplinarian when it comes to what he perceives as a lack of effort, grousing, or the spreading of discontent.
Back in December, NBC Sports ranked Major League managers based on their "handsomeness," and Gibbons placed 30th out of 30 (Mariners manager Scott Servais placed 24th). "That kind of brought me down to my knees a little bit," Gibbons told reporters. "But, you know, hey, beauty’s only skin deep but ugly’s to the bone.”
Justin Smoak: He never gelled as a Mariner, but Smoak has finally reached some level of Major League success north of the border. The key piece the M's wanted when they traded Cliff Lee to the Rangers way back in 2010, Smoak was touted as a superstar in the making, but with Seattle only managed to bat .226 over 4½ seasons. Always a solid defensive first baseman, the switch-hitter was claimed off the waiver wire by Toronto prior to the 2015 campaign and finally put things together last year, earning an All-Star selection and posting a .270/.355/.529 line with 38 home runs.
|Toronto Blue Jays||(1977 - present)|
|World Champions:||1992, 1993|
|Division Titles:||1985, 1989, 1991, 2015|
J.A. Happ: Since being traded by Seattle in the middle of a lone, forgettable season with the M’s (4-6, 4.64 ERA in 20 starts in 2015), Happ has posted a record of 40-18 and was sixth in AL Cy Young voting in 2016.
Roberto Osuna: When Osuna recorded his 100th career save on April 10th against the Orioles, he became the youngest pitcher (23 years, 62 days) in Major League history to reach the 100-save milestone. Ten days later he recorded his 101st career save, surpassing Billy Koch for third place in franchise history. Only Duane Ward (121) and Tom Henke (217) have saved more games for the Jays.
Kendrys Morales: This switch-hitting former Mariner batted .362 (46-for-127) vs. left-handed pitchers in 2017, second-best mark in the AL, but was abysmal against right-handers, posting a .216/.280/.400 slash line while striking out 103 times in 430 at-bats.
J.A. Happ: While Happ’s overall ERA in 2017 was 3.53, he posted a stellar 2.21 ERA in nine starts against AL East opponents. Pretty impressive considering the lineups put out there by Boston, New York, and Baltimore.
Justin Smoak homered twice and knocked in six runs in a 7-4 win over the Yankees on April 1st, then went 18 games without hitting a longball, the longest homerless streak of his career since August/September of 2012, when he still called Safeco Field home.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr.: This Cuban sensation hit his first big-league homer off the Rangers’ Bartolo Colón on April 28th, making him the 33rd Blue Jay to go deep within his first seven Major League games.
Roberto Osuna led all AL relievers in BB:K ratio (9.22) in 2017, fanning 83 hitters in 64 innings, while walking just nine batters.
The Blue Jays set a Major League record for fewest triples in a season last year, when the entire team combined to hit five triples and no single Jays player hit more than one. This season the Jays had six triples before the month of April was even over and two players—Kevin Pillar and Teoscar Hernández—already had multiple triples.