2018 Toronto Blue Jays: They can’t keep up

Next man up: Vladimir Guerrero’s career will take him into the Hall of Fame this summer; his son, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., may begin his in the majors this summer. Unlike his dad, Junior is a third baseman, and unlike his dad, he probably doesn’t hit bad pitches, if only because he rarely swings at them. Junior walked 76 times against 62 strikeouts last year. He also batted .323, including .333 in 48 games in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, and slugged .485. And he did all that at age 18. When his dad was 18, he had yet to play his first minor-league game.

What he said:  Blue Jays manager John Gibbons on lefties J.A. Happ and Jaime Garcia pitching on consecutive days: “If they’re all good, it really doesn’t matter.” What he meant: “Dave Steib isn’t walking through that clubhouse door.”

Three reasons it will be a good year: 1. Aaron Sanchez is healthy — for now. Two years ago, Sanchez led the AL in ERA (3.00) and winning percentage, won 15 games, had a .625 OPS against and was the best pitcher on a pretty good staff (Happ, 3.18 ERA, Marco Estrada, 3.48, Marcus Stroman, 204 innings pitched). Last year Sanchez pitched in eight games and the Jays’ staff ERA was 14th in MLB. Sanchez has come through 17.2 2018 spring training innings unscathed, about half the total he pitched in his entire 2017 regular season. 2. This might be the year Devon Travis is healthy. Sure. In some alternate universe. And this might be the year Curtis Granderson cuts down on his strikeouts. In Travis and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, the Jays have the most fragile double-play combination in MLB. Too bad, because when healthy it could one of the best (Tulowitzki’s play as a Jay is another issue). Travis has played just 213 games over the last three seasons and missed 273; he’s played in just 44% of the Jays’ games. When healthy, he’s hit .292 and slugged .462, but it hasn’t been often enough. 3. Josh Donaldson is still a Blue Jay, though like Sanchez’s and Travis’ health, that’s for now. In three seasons as a Blue Jay, Donaldson has a .946 OPS, an MVP, two top-five MVP finishes, and 20.9 value of WAR accumulated, which would be more but for the 49 games he missed last year. Donaldson has one year left on his contract, which means the Blue Jays will probably keep him as long as they can contend.

Three reasons it won’t: 1. Half of the most fragile DP combination is already hurt. The only upset is that it’s not Travis. Tulowitzki will miss the opener with a bone spur — the president could tell you how painful they are — and who knows how much more time. That won’t help Tulowitzki Jays’ tenure — his .727 OPS in Toronto is 158 points worse than the .885 he put up in Colorado. That couldn’t have anything to do with Coors Field? 2. The Blue Jays’ offense was bad last year. They were last in the AL in runs scored and next to last in OPS. They got rid of Jose Bautista, which will help, but they’ve added what seems like as many league-average players as they can — outfielders Randal Grichuk (.238/285/473) and Granderson (.212/323/452) and infielder Yangervis Solarte (.255/314/416). They may be improvements over the Jays of 2017, but in a division where the Red Sox added J.D. Martinez and the Yankees Giancarlo Stanton, it doesn’t feel like the Jays are keeping pace. 3. The Blue Jays did for their bullpen what they did for their lineup, adding veterans, only not as good as the position players. Depth is supposed to come from Seung Hwan Oh, who had a 4.19 ERA and .794 OPS and lost his closer’s job with the Cardinals; Jon Axford, who had a 6.43 ERA in 21 innings for the A’s; and Tyler Clippard, who had a 4.77 ERA and pitched for three teams last year, but well only for the White Sox. It sounds like setup relievers Ryan Tepera and Danny Barnes, coming off solid 2017s, will be overworked.

Team song: Tom Waits: What’s He Building

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