Blue Jays real contenders?

By Matt Verderame

The Toronto Blue Jays were the hot pick of many experts before the 2016 Major League Baseball season to reach if not to win the World Series come October.

Toronto has perhaps the deepest lineup in all of baseball with a trio of perennial Most Valuable Player candidates in Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Factor in the bats of Russell Martin and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, and the Blue Jays stack up with any team in the sport.

However, things have not gone according to plan for Canada’s bunch. After reaching the playoffs and the American League Championship Series last year for the first time since 1993, Toronto stumbled out of the gate while the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox got off the sizzling starts. Yet things have been starting to normalize, with the Blue Jays winning seven of their last 10 contests to crawl within two games of first-place Baltimore.

The real question isn’t whether or not Toronto can make the playoffs – the American League is awful and the East is certainly no exception to the rule. It’s whether or not the Blue Jays can be a true contender well into the autumn.

Offensively, the production is there despite the 80-game suspension of outfielder/first baseman Chris Collabello. Toronto has gotten a huge career season out of journeyman Michael Saunders, who is leading the team with a .314 average to go with 15 home runs and 32 RBI.

The trio of Donaldson, Encarnacion and Bautista continues to mash as well. Donaldson, coming off an MVP season, is hitting .278 with 17 homers and 46 runs batted in, while Encarnacion has an absurd 18 homers and 61 RBI, leading the team in both categories. Bautista is experiencing a rough start with a .230 average, but does have 12 blasts and 41 RBI.

The only real blight on the lineup has been Tulowitzki, who is hitting an absurdly bad .199 with just eight home runs. Tulowitzki has been a massive bust for the Blue Jays, who at some point might have to consider moving on from the one-time great shortstop.

Overall, the biggest problem has been the starting pitching. Marcus Stroman was supposed to be the ace of the staff and yet has the worst ERA of the group at 4.76. Former Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey has fared little better, holding a 4-8 record with a 4.08 ERA. Marco Estrada has been the best of the bunch with 10 quality starts in 13 appearances, giving him a starter-best 2.58 ERA.

Ultimately, Toronto will hit enough but won’t pitch decently when the playoffs roll around. In the postseason, you have to win games 2-1 and 3-2, something the Blue Jays won’t do with this rotation. Unless Stroman becomes dominant and Dickey dazzles with his knuckleball, this team is a non-factor come October.