Photo cred - Yahoo! Sports
Ask any Toronto Blue Jays fan - "this is the year". That saying could be labeled as a running joke because of the city's bad luck with professional sports teams, but it's hard to overlook the Blue Jays' resilience. Last year's 83-79 squad were five games out of a wild card spot in Major League Baseball and that's after posting a 46-35 record at the Rogers Centre. If you're a local sports freak, then you're well aware the Jays can only do better. If you need actual proof, then you might want to read on.
Aaron Sanchez And Marcus Stroman Are No Joke
Sanchez and Stroman are only 22 and 23-years-old respectively, but they're two young hurlers who are ready to become the faces of the franchise - especially if they keep pitching with confidence. Stroman went 11-6 in 20 starts in 2014 and Sanchez recorded a 1.09 ERA in 33 innings, holding opponents to a .128 batting average.
The Rise Of Dalton Pompey
The 22-year-old Mississauga native is still refining his skill sets in the minors, but that hasn't stopped him from showing off his big league composure. The organization has been enthralled with Pompey's work ethic and maturation, and his ability to steal bases and hit doubles, triples, and homers makes him a leading candidate to be the Jays' new center fielder.
The Jays Haven't Lost Their Power...
In 2014, Toronto were third in home runs, fourth in RBI's, fifth in runs scored, seventh in total hits, and sixth in on-base percentage. In other words, their offense was dangerous and it still is. Melky Cabrera is long gone, but Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are still in Jays blue (and improving). Since 2010, the duo have homered 337 times (averaging 67.5 homers per season).
...Because They Have More Bats
Experts called Oakland's giveaway of Josh Donaldson a "sell-high smart bet", but for the Jays, it gives them another bat and glove. The former Athletic led all MLB third basemen with 20 Defensive Runs Saved last season while slugging in an additional 29 home runs and 98 RBI's (24 HR, 93 RBI in 2013).
Smoak And Saunders Add More Chemistry
Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders aren't high profile names and that's okay. GM Alex Anthopoulos acquired the two to fill a void in the outfield and solidify the first base position - letting Encarnacion DH full-time while the team gets another everyday starter. Smoak isn't a shoe-in for the infield but as Anthopoulos noted, "It's going to help to have a guy that can really pick balls in the dirt".
Russell Martin Has Finally Come Home
What can we say? Welcome home Russell Martin! The East York-born catcher is on the opposite side of 30, but he's in position to anchor the Jay's defense and be a veteran leader in the clubhouse. It also doesn't hurt that the three-time All-Star still has some pop left. Martin hit .290 with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season with 20 doubles and 67 RBI's in just 111 games.
The Starting Five Can Be Sneaky Good
As the Detroit Tigers showed in the postseason, names aren't everything when it comes to rotations. The Jays have never accepted flashy stars with open arms and it could play to their advantage as their opening day firing squad will include two veterans that need wins (R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle) and a handful of youngsters that are hungry for innings and strikes (Drew Hutchinson, Stroman, Sanchez).
The Bullpen Is Being Re-Tooled (In A Good Way)
Toronto finished with a collective ERA of 4.09 last season and with Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, and Dustin McGowan on the market, the Jays are being forced to re-tool. In this case, that's a good thing. They still have capable lefties (Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup) and middle-inning relievers (Marco Estrada, Todd Redmond), and if they're not able to score a formidable closer (i.e. Rafael Soriano), they'll be able to turn to their farms for new blood and a new direction.
Photo cred - Blue Jay Hunter
Daniel Norris Is A Positive Addition/Departure
Speaking of new blood, lefty Daniel Norris might be the Jays biggest asset. The 21-year-old is entirely capable of adopting a bullpen role (a la Aaron Sanchez in 2014), but if push comes to shove, he can be a vital trade piece that could help Toronto acquire a vet closer or fill the black hole at second base. Either way, Norris will make an impact as his 38 K's in 22.2 innings in Triple-A can't be ignored.
The AL East Is Wide Open (For Now)
With the Baltimore Orioles taking roster hits and the Sox, Rays, and Yankees rebuilding chemistry, it's hard not to see 2015 as the year of the Blue Jay. Toronto has the tools to make a serious dent in the standings and claim their first postseason berth since 1993, but they have to be immune to runs, mental errors, and injuries. It's a tall order, but the city's definitely ready for some playoff ball.