The Blue Jays, more than anybody else, made the American League East an interesting division last year with it's light-tower-power lineups and a rotation topped by none other than David Price. Price is obviously with the Red Sox now, but anchored by Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, the Jays present the toughest team to topple in the American League East, according to many pundits.
But how do they actually stack up against the Red Sox?
More than any other area of their team, the Blue Jays lineup, on paper, is absolutely stacked. Reigning American League MVP Josh Donaldson anchors the lineup after batting .297/.371/.568 with 41 home runs, 123 RBI and 122 runs scored in 2015. Everyone certainly expected an uptick in Donaldson's performance after he moved from O.Co Coliseum to the Rogers Centre, but I don't think anyone expected the third baseman to put up numbers that would've jumped off the page even in the Steroid Era.
Donaldson is followed by Bautista, Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki, all of whom would be hitting third or cleanup for just about any other team in baseball. Bautista is 35 years old and in a contract year, looking to cash in for what will likely be the last time in his career. And given his track record over the last few years, there isn't any reason to expect anything less from Joey Bats. (Side note: I just want to have one glimpse at how fast everything flies by on his Twitter timeline given that he follows 682,000+.)
Encarnacion and his parrot can still rake with the best of them, and the fact that he's no longer playing defense on a regular basis will likely keep him healthier. Encarnacion has hit at least 34 home runs in each of the last four years, providing remarkably consistent production in a league where home run power is an increasingly precious commodity. Of Toronto's four big guns, I'm most curious to see how Tulowitzki does this season; if he's able to stay healthy (and that's a big if), he could turn this lineup into an absolute nightmare.
On the Red Sox, currently David Ortiz is the only power threat that even comes close to touching Donaldson, Bautista or Encarnacion. And while Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia certainly make up a strong core group for the Red Sox, it's hard for anyone to stack up to the crew that the Blue Jays roll out.
The rotation is on much shakier ground after the loss of Price. Marcus Stroman provides the new anchor for the unit, and while I absolutely adore him as a pitcher given his pure stuff and stature, he will certainly be someone to watch given that he's coming off an ACL tear. And though he looks like a clown out there on the mound with a single-digit number on his back (although that's partially forgiven when considering he's honoring his grandma), Stroman is one of the best young pitchers in baseball and could be huge for Toronto if he makes the jump to legitimate ace.
Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski
The rest of the rotation beyond the ace spot is questionable, similar to the Red Sox'. There's R.A. Dickey, who's hit-or-miss in any given start, J.A. Happ (how often does a team has had two pitchers with double initials in a rotation?), Marco Estrada and Jesse Chavez. That seems like a whole lot of question marks, although Happ finally put together a solid year between Pittsburgh and Seattle in 2015. Chavez isn't much to get excited about, and is competing with former top prospect Aaron Sanchez for a spot in the rotation. Additionally, whether or not Estrada can match his career year from 2015 is certainly up for debate, considering the highest rWAR he posted before last season (3.6) was the 1.5 he put up in 2013 with the Milwaukee Brewers.
But as mentioned before, that's not too dissimilar from Boston, given that Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, and Joe Kelly are all wild cards in terms of health or ability. Eduardo Rodriguez will start the year on the disabled list and the team is looking at Roenis Elias, Brian Johnson, Steven Wright and Henry Owens as potential fill-ins for Rodriguez while he recovers from his knee injury. While the Red Sox have enviable depth, and Rodriguez will likely not be gone for too long, there's just little in the way of certainty past Price.
The Blue Jays made a relatively flashy acquisition this offseason in picking up Drew Storen, who undeservedly lost his closing job in Washington when the team traded for old Red Sox friend Jonathan Papelbon. Combined with Roberto Osuna, who quietly put together a really, really strong relief season last year with a 2.58 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 75 strikeouts, 16 walks and 20 saves in 69.2 innings pitched, Toronto has a strong backend of the bullpen. Brett Cecil, who posted a 2.48 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 70 strikeouts and 13 walks in 54.1 innings last year, wraps up an intimidating late-inning crew for the Jays.
Let's simulate the Red Sox season with Out of the Park Baseball
Out of the Park Baseball came out this weekend, so let's see what their simulation system will say about the Red sox.
It gets much cloudier after that. Two of Sanchez, Chavez and Gavin Floyd will be in the bullpen with two spots open for a job to be claimed in camp. With Aaron Loup out with a flexor strain in his elbow, several players, including Pat Venditte, Ryan Tepera, Ben Royan, Chad Girodo, Steve Delabar, Arnold Leon, Joe Biagini, Randy Choate and David Aardsma, are competing to fill out the crew.
As it currently stands, the Red Sox have, at the very least, a more solidified crew. Kimbrel, Smith, Uehara and Tazawa can definitely go head-to-head with Osuna, Storen and Cecil, while the rest of the Boston bullpen is significantly more locked in, with Robbie Ross Jr. and Tommy Layne considered relative locks and the last spot in the group up for grabs between Matt Barnes (the favorite), Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman and Noe Ramirez, assuming Steven Wright is called upon to fill in for Eduardo Rodriguez. If not, the knuckleballer will likely be given the spot as a swingman given his lack of options.
Anchored by Kevin Pillar, Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin, the Blue Jays, on paper, have a really solid defensive team. Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Goins are reliable up the middle, while guys like Jose Bautista and his cannon of an arm round out the team here. According to Jayson Stark of ESPN, the Blue Jays had the top DRS up the middle last season with 36, topping the Royals group of Salvador Perez, Omar Infante, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain with 25.
The Red Sox defense certainly has its studs, with Jackie Bradley, Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia, but the team certainly has a lot of question marks as well in Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, and a few others.
On paper, the Blue Jays project to be the Red Sox's biggest obstacle to a division title. With an absolute standout lineup, a strong bullpen and a great defense, Toronto will certainly be a formidable foe, especially coming off an appearance in the American League Championship series. What stands between the Blue Jays and another strong run into the playoffs are questions in the rotation that have a chance to swing their season, which is very much true of the Red Sox as well.