Last week it snowed in New York and this Monday, the Yankees are opening the season in the Bronx against the Blue Jays. It would make more sense to probably play this three-game series in Toronto where there is a dome, but for the first time in forever there is some good weather in the forecast for Opening Day at the Stadium. Either way, baseball is back and that’s all that matters.
With the Yankees and Blue Jays opening the season in the Bronx, I did an email exchange with Tom Dakers of Bluebird Banter to talk about the Blue Jays’ powerful 3-4 combination, the new additions of Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson to the lineup and the state of the Blue Jays’ rotation with Marcus Stroman out for the season.
Keefe: It seems like for a while now it’s been common for preseason predictions to say this is the Blue Jays’ season. And once again that’s the case. The Blue Jays might have the best offense in the league. With a heart of the order that includes Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson, it’s going to be a nightmare for any pitcher to navigate through that every game and that’s not including Jose Reyes at the top of the order or the pesky and former Yankee Russell Martin, who seems to get the biggest of hits.
How excited are you for this Blue Jays lineup?
Dakers: Every spring for the past several years, we thought that the offense was going to be a “world beater”-type offense. A team that would lead the league in scoring. And each year, due to injuries and players not living up to their potential, we ended up with a good, but not great offense.
This year, we are going to have that great offense. One through five, we are better than anyone in the AL. With Donaldson taking the spot of the always-promising, but never-quite-living-up-to-that-promise Brett Lawrie, we should be so much better. Russell Martin’s ability to take a walk won’t hurt. Six through nine in the order doesn’t strike the same amount of fear in opposing teams, but I think they will be better than most imagine.
I think Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak will be helped a bunch by moving from the rather large Safeco Field to the far more offensive friendly Rogers Centre. And I think rookies Dalton Pompey and Devon Travis will do their part to get us back up to the top of the order again, quickly. I’d be very surprised if we aren’t in the Top 2 or 3 in runs scored this year.
Keefe: The Yankees haven’t had a truly formidable 3-4 combination since 2009-2010 when Mark Teixeira and A-Rod were still productive and healthy and could be counted on for their usual power numbers. The Blue Jays have 3-4 combination that every team in the league envies and dreams of in Jose Bautista and Ediwn Encarnacion and each time they don’t hit the ball a mile in an at-bat it’s a sigh of relief. It seems like both of them get their best swings in against the Yankees and both of them seem to be good for a couple of home runs each series against the Yankees.
I miss the days of having steady and reliable production from the middle of the order. How much fun is it to watch those two every day? (I ask because I forget what it’s like.)
Dakers: It’s pretty good. We know that, barring injury, we have 30-plus home runs coming from both Bautista and Encarnacion. If we can get guys on base in front of them, they should both have 100 RBIs easy. This year, for an added bonus, we have Josh Donaldson following them. Donaldson, moving from Oakland to Toronto, might end up hitting the most home runs of the three.
As a Blue Jays fan, I’ve been blessed with getting to watch some great 3-4 hitters over the years. We’ve had Carlos Delgado-Shawn Green, Delgado-Vernon Wells and George Bell and Jesse Barfield, but I think we might end up looking back Bautista and Encarnacion as the best 3-4 hitters in team history.
Keefe: On the other side of the ball, the Blue Jays aren’t set up as nicely. The devastating torn ACL to Marcus Stroman, leaves the Blue Jays without a front-end starter. They still have R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Drew Hutchison, which is better than the.
Aside from the Roy Halladay years, the Blue Jays have lacked a true ace in recent years. Maybe Dickey was supposed to be that when he went to Toronto from the Mets before the 2013 season, but he hasn’t been able to continue his 2010-2012 success over the last two years in the AL.
Does the Blue Jays’ pitching worry you?
Dakers: As the pitching sits, on Opening Day, I think we are OK. Many are picking Drew Hutchison to have a breakout season. Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey keep giving us 200-inning seasons. And Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris have tons of potential and look ready to deliver on that potential. The problem really is that, with Marcus out, forcing both Sanchez and Norris into the rotation, we are paper thin at the position. If one of the starting five were to be injured for any length of time, we would be left with hoping someone like Johan Santana or Randy Wolf can remember how to get guys out or be treated to the likes of Liam Hendriks or Marco Estrada.
Now, we can live with the odd spot start from any of those guys, but multiple starts from anyone one of them could really derail our season. So, Jays fans have to hope for something that we never seem to get, the baseball gods to bless our rotation with health. Maybe this will be the season it happens.
Keefe: Last year, when we did an email exchange for the first Yankees-Blue Jays series in April, you said you weren’t a fan of the Dickey trade and it didn’t work out, but that you were hoping he could be a good member of the rotation.
What are your feelings on Dickey after two years of watching him with the Blue Jays?
Dakers: The good part about Dickey is he takes the ball every five days and will give us six decent innings. Not great innings, but he usually will keep the team in the game. This year, with our offense, that should be enough. But, if you are expecting him to be the guy that outduels the opposition’s ace, it’s not going to happen.
If you have an understanding of what he can give you, 200 of slightly above average starting pitching innings, well, there is a value to that. Unfortunately, the Jays traded for (and gave up pieces that should have got them) the NL Cy Young winner, and what they got was an innings eater and someone that’s OK, but is definitely not ace material.
Keefe: The Blue Jays won 83 games last year, but haven’t finished higher than third place since 2006 and haven’t made the playoffs since 1993. They made what seemed to be a franchise-changing trade with the Marlins two years ago and that didn’t work out. Now they have signed Russell Martin and traded for Josh Donaldson.
The AL East is wide open with no clear favorite this season. You could make a case for any team other than the Rays to win the division this year and every team other than the Rays could win it.
What are your expectations for the Blue Jays this season?
Dakers: I expect them to contend. I think they can be win around 89-90 games, and in a fairly weak-looking AL East, that should be enough to contend. I think their offense is a couple of notches better than last year, I think the team defense is much improved and I think the pitching staff can be better (in large part because I think that Russell Martin is a far better defensive catcher and massively better at framing pitches than Dioner Navarro was).
What they need is health and lots of it. They aren’t deep at any position on the diamond, so an injury or two might have us using Munenori Kawasaki far more than any of us would want, yet again. I mean, I don’t want to knock Munenori, he’s a great guy and a cult favorite in Toronto, and if you are going to have to use a replacement level player, it might as well be a very entertaining one. But if he ends up getting 250 plate appearances again this year, it will be tough to contend.