A.L. East Prediction: Toronto Blue Jays
What does a couple of mashers and one really good pitcher get you?
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has barely played enough games to count for a full season and he’s already well on his way to becoming one of the best young players in major-league baseball. Once he develops his eye at the plate and is able to work pitchers for more walks and for better pitches, he’ll be looking at a long and prosperous career. Is this the year that happens? It could be. For his sake, I hope Toronto bats him third. That will allow him to see more fastballs and continue to learn his craft. The second generation of a couple former major-league players look like they might be ready to crack the lineup full-time and bat ahead of him.
Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette have shown signs. Bichette came into the season with a .305 career average in about 1/3 of a season of work. And although he was able to deliver more than a hit a game in 2020 he was also on pace to strike out 150 times over the course of a full season. That and his five-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio leaves me with more than a couple of questions. The only way those numbers work is if he is supernatural at hitting a pitch he’s looking for. Swinging and missing a pinch after you’ve guessed incorrectly will happen. Will he be able to adjust once opposing pitchers figure out he’s guessing?
Biggio last year posted a three-to-two strikeout-to-walk ratio, had almost a hit her game had more home runs than Bichette. The big difference between the two? Biggio‘s batting average on balls in play is 50 points lower, which is really just astonishing. Anybody have any ideas how that happens?
Outfielder Randal Grichuk can get you 25 homers but he’s the kind of guy you challenge. He’s not the guy you fear. (.248 career average). How does a guy play center field when he only has 25 career stolen bases?
Question: who’s gong to bat after Guerrero? Shortstop Marcus Semien was a nice pick up. This is the guy who turned himself from a skillet mitt into a Gold Glover. He also hit 120 home runs in the cavernous Oakland Coliseum. Josh Donaldson‘s production had a marked uptick when he went from Oakland to Toronto. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Semien’s do the same. They aren’t the answer.
The answer should be obvious. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has 42 home runs in 571 career at bats. In fact you could make the argument that Guerrero should be hitting behind Gurriel. He hits left-handers and right-handers almost equally well. Center fielder Jonathan Davis is getting a shot, I guess, because he’s gone as far as he can in the minors. Hopefully he’s the rare guy who blossoms in the big leagues after struggling to hit .250 in the lower levels. The Jays are hoping to find somebody to replace Teoscar Hernandez, who has the ability to hit 22 home runs per season and who also has the ability to strike out 160 times. How many more runs batted-in would he have if he made contact in half of those at-bats? 30? 40? And will this be the year catcher Reese McGuire gets a full-time shot? He’s produced in minimal duty, except last year.
On the mound, the Blue Jays picked up Stephen Matz who has spent his entire career as a fourth or fifth starter with the Mets. As a fifth starter you could do worse than a guy with a 4.35 ERA. Ryan Borucki is intriguing. He missed almost all of 2019 but sandwiched that year between a really good rookie campaign (3.89 ERA in 17 starts) and 21 games as a reliever last year (2.70 ERA). Same goes for Robbie Ray (4.22 ERA since 2015). Ross Stripling would be on the list of solid number-three starters, but something happened to his neck two years ago before the Dodgers traded him to Toronto. He hasn’t been the same since with and ERA over 5.00. His numbers are just as bad as Anthony Kay‘s, a left-hander, who the Jays are hoping becomes the next Ryu. Tommy Milone is on the staff, but he’s bullpen bound. The bullpen is anybody’s guess. Everybody on the staff has a good year in the past and a rotten one. Who will show up? Who won’t?
That leaves Hyun Jin Ryu as the staff ace. What I love about Ryu is his ability to get outs without relying on the strikeout. He’s becoming a master at it (2.69 ERA in 2020, 2.32 ERA in 2019, 1.97 ERA in 2018). He seems like the one guy you can count on.
The Blue Jays have a one, a three, two number fives and a bag of bolts for their starting staff which means they need to generate runs. They have a bona fide star in Guerrero and four or five decent supporting pieces. Is that enough to win the American League East? Does it sound like enough?