2016 didn’t begin quite as Blue Jays’ fans had hoped. After their incredible run at the end of last season, wherein they went from a mediocre .500 team to a team 24 games above .500, many believed that the boys in blue would pick up from where they had left off last season. But that hasn’t exactly been the case. And of all the things, the offense is to blame. Guys like Russell Martin, Chris Colabello, and Troy Tulowitzki, who all played big roles in last season’s success, got off to terrible starts at the plate. Despite stellar starting pitching, the Jays just couldn’t put together any runs and they found themselves right where they were before their historic late season run last year.
Slowly but surely, however, things have begun to improve. The starting pitching remains solid, but now the bullpen is starting to find its identity and the bats are coming alive. Just as the over-reactors were about to write this season off, all of a sudden the team is three games above .500 and climbing closer and closer to the top spot in the AL East. For those who were calm enough to assess the team’s chances, this recent winning streak will come as no surprise. Even though they’re missing the likes of David Price and Ben Revere, who played vital roles in assuring that there would be baseball in October in Toronto for the first time since 1993, the team’s offense, which is largely the same, is as potent as ever.
So there’s no reason to believe that the Jays won’t put together another run for the World Series. In fact, there are 15 reasons to believe the Jays will win the World Series this year. You heard it here first, folks.
15 They Have The Best 1-2-3 In All Of Baseball
The Jays have the best back-to-back-to-back hitters in all of baseball in Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, and Edwin Encarnacion. The power and run production abilities of these three sluggers is reminiscent of the Murderers’ Row of the 1920s New York Yankees, which consisted of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and a handful of other great hitters, such as Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri. Last year, the Jays’ dynamic offensive trio combined for 120 home runs and 348 RBIs. While they’re off to a bit of a slow start this year, at least in terms of batting average, the power numbers and run production is still present, and as long as they remain healthy, they’re certain to be one of the fiercest offenses in all of baseball.
14 Their Pitching Staff Has Been Better Than Expected
If there was one weakness going into the 2016 season, it was their starting rotation. Midway through spring training there were still a lot of unanswered questions, such as who would get the 5th spot in the rotation? Aaron Sanchez ultimately won the role, with Drew Hutchison, last year’s opening day starter, getting sent down to AAA Buffalo, and since then the starting staff has been the one consistent bright spot for this team. Marco Estrada picked up right where he had left off, with a sub-3.00 ERA so far, and Marcus Stroman, despite a higher than desired ERA, has also been great. But it’s J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez who have been the real surprises. Both are pitching phenomenal, with a combined 11-4 record between them.
13 Marco Estrada Has Turned Into An Elite Pitcher
Speaking of Marco Estrada, he’s turning out to be an elite pitcher. All but written off a few years ago, former Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos decided to take a chance on Estrada, who was coming off a respectable but not nearly as impressive as he is now season with the Milwaukee Brewers. While Stroman may have been the opening day starter and the face of the Jays pitching staff, Estrada is the true ace, so far sporting a miniscule 2.41 ERA to go along with 63 strikeouts. Now, if he could only get some more run support he’d have more than 4 wins.
12 Darwin Barney Is Contributing Offensively
Who would have thought that out of all the Jays middle infielders—Troy Tulowitzki (don’t get us started on him), Ryan Goins, and Devon Travis—Darwin Barney, a last minute pickup by Anthopoulos last season, would be their best, most consistent hitter? So far this season, he’s batting .337 with 3 home runs. The 30-year-old former Gold Glover has proven to be not only a great utility fielder but also a great hitter, and he’s more than picked up the slack for Troy Tulowitzki and his offensive woes. You know you’re in good shape when you’ve got guys coming off the bench and performing at a high level.
11 They’ve Been There Before
The Jays should have gained valuable experience from their playoff run last year. For most of the players in 2015, everything was a new experience, and you could see that at times as they let their emotions get the best of them against the Rangers and the Royals. Now that they’ve gone through it already, they should be better equipped to handle the pressures of October baseball. After all, with the exception of a few new players, this is still very much the same team as last year.
10 Last Season Left A Bitter Taste In Their Mouth
Not only did they gain experience and wisdom from last year’s playoff run, but it surely also left a bitter taste in their collective mouth. After such an impressive run last year, that can’t be how they imagined things ending, with Dalton Pompey stranded on third base in the top of the ninth inning with their best hitter at the plate. No doubt they’ll want to redeem themselves from their loss to the Kansas City Royals. Close enough just isn’t good enough for fierce competitors like Donaldson and Bautista.
9 Roberto Osuna Has Developed Into An Elite Closer
Not only have the Jays found an elite starting pitcher in Marco Estrada, but they have also found an elite closer in the young Roberto Osuna. Last year, at just 20 years of age and in his first season in the big leagues, Osuna’s role was somewhat unclear until about midseason, at which point he quickly blossomed into one of the most dominant 9th inning men in the league. This year, with his role now definitively established and with a bit of experience under his belt, he’s sure to be even better. And if there’s one thing that the Kansas City Royals and last year’s playoffs taught us, it’s that bullpens win championships.
8 Michael Saunders Is One Of Their Best Hitters
Another pleasant surprise for the 2016 season is Michael Saunders, who spent most of last season on the DL. Saunders has been one of—if not the—most consistent batters in the Jays’ lineup, hovering around .300 with 9 home runs and 14 doubles. As good as they are, if the Jays want to be more than just a .500 team they’ll need to rely on more than just Bautista, Donaldson, and Encarnacion.
7 Their Lineup Is Set, Whereas Last Year It Was Uncertain
Saunders’s stellar play so far this season solves another issue from 2015: their uncertain lineup. Until late into the second half of last season, skipper John Gibbons did a lot of tinkering with the lineup, especially in left field. He tried Dalton Pompey, Danny Valencia, and Chris Colabello (the latter typically corner fielders) out in left in order to put the best offensive lineup on the field, but it wasn’t until they had a true leftfielder in Ben Revere that the team hit their stride and began winning games consistently. And with Revere gone, Saunders has done a great job of recapturing that sense of consistency.
6 This Has To Be The Year For Bautista And Encarnacion
Let's face it, the Jays aren't getting any younger. Jose Bautista is 35 years old (turning 36) and Edwin Encarnacion isn't much younger. If history is any indication, these two sluggers are in the twilight years of their careers, so it's now or never for them. As pessimistic as that may sound, it might actually turn out to be a good thing, as the sense of urgency should spark a fire under them to get things done now. They certainly haven't slowed down yet, as there's still a lot of pop in their bats, so there's no reason to believe that this won't be the year for the Dominican bash bros.
5 The Year Of Pleasant Surprises
With the surprisingly good play of Darwin Barney and Michael Saunders (and, in his limited playing time, Ezequiel Carrera), 2016 is turning out to be the year of pleasant surprises for the Blue Jays. Another name you can add to that list is Joe Biagini, a rule-5 pick from the San Francisco Giants. Biagini, the big power righty who pitches from the stretch, had never played higher than AA before this season, yet he's quickly turning into one of the team's most reliable arms out of the pen, picking up the slack for the struggling Drew Storen.
4 Kawasaki Out, Biagini In
Biagini has been a welcome addition in more ways than one. Not only has he filled an important role in the bullpen, but he's also filled an important role in the clubhouse. Last year, backup middle infielder Munenori Kawasaki was the team's unofficial cheerleader, keeping the clubhouse and dugout alive with his youthful enthusiasm and optimism (who can forget his memorable post-game interview?). With Kawasaki gone, however, there was a risk that the team's morale would take a hit. But Biagini, with his dry humor and playful interviews, has stepped up to fill the role of comedian/mascot/cheerleader that Kawasaki left behind.
3 Guys Like Martin And Tulo Haven’t Even Heated Up Yet
A lot has been made about the offensive struggles so far of Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin, two bats that the Jays were relying on this season. Before being placed on the 15-day DL, Tulo just recently cracked the Mendoza line, and Martin hit his first home run of the season not that long ago (he’s got 4 now). But there’s another, more optimistic, way of looking at this situation. That is, these guys haven’t even heated up yet. Imagine how good this lineup could be once Tulo and Martin are playing up to their potential. On top of being one of the best defending shortstops in the league, Tulo is a career .300 hitter, and Martin, who, to be sure, has been inconsistent throughout his career in terms of batting average, is almost certain to put up better power numbers as the season goes on.
2 Devon Travis Is Back
Last season’s big surprise was Devon Travis, who, before being sidelined for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury, was putting together an incredible rookie campaign, batting over .300 with power and stellar defense. Now that he’s back and able to pick up the offensive slack of Ryan Goins and Tulowitzki, the Jays are looking better than ever. All that remains to be seen is if Travis can regain his form from last year, and whether or not his shoulder will hold up.
1 The Jays Don’t Need To Worry About Boston
With about a third of the season in the books, it looks as though the biggest obstacle in the way of the Jays’ run to the World Series resides in their own division: the Boston Red Sox. With young studs like Mookie Betts, Xander Boegarts, and Jackie Bradley Jr., not to mention the always-reliable Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz (what a final seasons he’s putting together), the Red Sox are having an unprecedented season at the plate. Just about everyone in the batting order seems to be sporting a .300 batting average with a healthy amount of RBIs to go along with it. But the Jays shouldn’t be too worried about their division rival. It’s unlikely that Boston will remain at this pace offensively, and they have more than a few weaknesses in their pitching staff.