Sports Baseball

Blue Jays nation anticipating new season with mixed emotions

By Torben Rolfsen

Rumblings are growing that this might be the last season in Toronto for Jays stars Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.

Rumblings are growing that this might be the last season in Toronto for Jays stars Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.

“Spring starts when a heartbeat’s pounding, when the birds can be heard above the reckoning carts.” – The Tragically Hip

After a psychological roller coaster of an offseason, Blue Jay Nation is nervous with anticipation as Toronto heads south (literally, not metaphorically) this week to spring training.

Pitchers and catchers report to Dunedin, Florida this Wednesday, with position players following on Saturday.

The Jays had clear and stated goals this winter of what areas they wanted to improve in, namely speed, defence and left-handed hitting, under a general guise of better balance and youth.

Did they achieve them?

Not really, and that, combined with the loss of fan favourite Edwin Encarnacion (and his 42 home runs and 127 runs batted in) is why Blue Jays fans are anticipating the new season with mixed emotions.

Their speed and defence is no better, their two new free agent acquisitions both turn 34 this spring, and the bullpen still features too many questions and not enough answers.

There’s a gnawing feeling that the Jays have plateaued while their chief rivals for the playoffs have improved.

The Red Sox losing David Ortiz to retirement is basically equal to the Encarnacion loss, but Boston added Chris Sale in a huge trade, giving them three ace starters (Rick Porcello, David Price).

The Orioles lost a lot of hitting and could be entering the season in a similar boat to Toronto.

The Yankees re-acquired Aroldis Chapman through free agency, which means their games when leading now end after eight innings. But New York has a so-so rotation that needs to stay healthy, and the roster as a whole is much younger and less experienced than usual.

Beyond the American League East, the Indians are young and here to stay in the playoffs. They lost slugger Mike Napoli, but will have the services of star lefty reliever Andrew Miller all season.

The bad blood feud Texas Rangers added Napoli, but will get pushed by in-state (and division) rivals the Houston Astros.

Kendrys Morales, the Jays replacement for Edwin, and new backup catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, are both switch-hitters, so that helps address the left-handed bat need a bit.

Despite the bullpen having the fourth-worst ERA in the league, closer Roberto Osuna is young and capable, while setup man Joe Biagini hopes to continue his great 2016 campaign in any variety of possible roles.

The good news for the Blue Jays, and why they should be right in the thick of things all summer, is their strength is at the most important position in baseball: starting pitching.

They should be able to match Boston’s stable of stars start-for-start, and keep the two clubs battling for the AL East crown in the long grasses over time.