2015-2016 Toronto Raptors Season Preview

(Courtesy of Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports)

(Courtesy of Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports)

2015-2016 Season Record:

Season Record: 49-33 (1st in the Atlantic Division and 3rd in the Eastern Conference)

Additions:

DaMarre Carroll (Free Agent, Atlanta Hawks)

Bismack Biyombo (Free Agent, Charlotte Hornets)

Cory Joseph (Free Agent, San Antonio Spurs)

Anthony Bennett (Free Agent, Minnesota Timberwolves)

Delon Wright (Draft)

Norman Powell (Draft)

Subtractions:

Amir Johnson (Free Agent, Boston Celtics)

Landry Fields (Free Agent)

Lou Williams (Free Agent, L.A. Lakers)

Chuck Hayes (Free Agent)

Tyler Hansbrough (Free Agent)

Greg Stiemsma (Free Agent)

Luke Ridnour (Free Agent)

Season Review:

Over the past two seasons, the Toronto Raptors netted two Atlantic Division titles and two-franchise record win totals (48 and 49 respectfully). However, they also failed to make it out of the first round as well.

The Raptors were the third best in offensive efficiency, but they were 23rdon defense efficiency. But defense wasn’t only reason that for the Raptors’ disappointing finish. After started the season 24-8, the team wasn’t the same when Kyle Lowry was sideline with a back injury and struggled after the all-star break. The Raptors finished the season 19-21 over the last 40 games of the regular season. Their first round exit last postseason wasn’t shocking but it did leave a sour taste to their bitter end.

After being swept by the Washington Wizards in the first round of last postseason, Raptors GM Masai Ujiri emphasized on the importance of defense.

Here is a position by position breakdown for the 2015-2016 Toronto Raptors:

Point Guards:

Prior to the All Star Break, Kyle Lowry made a case for being one of the best players in the eastern conference. The 29-year old point guard averaged 18.2 points and 7.2 assists per game, while being named as a starter for the Eastern Conference All Star Team. Shortly after the all-star break, Lowry missed 11 games with a lower back injury and his production dropped dramatically. Lowry struggled during the playoffs as he shot 32 percent on the field.

Canadian Cory Joseph was brought in as a free agent to be Lowry’s back up. During his 14 starts with the San Antonio Spurs, Joseph averaged 13.2 points a game. He can attack the rim, find open teammates and shoot the mid range jumper at a high percentage.

Delon Wright was the team’s first round pick of the 2015 NBA Draft. Look for him to learn from the two veterans.

Shooting Guards:

When Demar Derozan made his first all star appearance two seasons ago, many believed that the 26-year old athletic shooting guard will take the next step forward. However, Derozan missed 21 games with a groin injury and never really captured his all star form. Still, Derozan led the Raptors in scoring, averaged 20.1 points a game, but his field goal percentage was the worst of his career at 41.3 percent.

Terrence Ross had every opportunity to step up at the starting three for the Raptors. However, Ross was very inconsistent all season long. Ross had offseason ankle surgery and hope to be more healthier. When Ross is right, he’s very athletic with the ability to shoot the three. He will come off the bench to back up Derozan.

Norman Powell was a second round choice during last summer’s draft. He was a standout at the Las Vegas summer league averaging 18.3 points.

Small Forwards:

Demare Carroll was the Raptors’ biggest offseason acquisitions. The 29-year old signed a 4-year deal worth $60 million after being the starting small forward for the Atlanta Hawks last season. Carroll was brought for his perimeter and ability to knock down the three ball. He shot 39.5 percent from downtown, which should help the Raptors’ offence.

James Johnson returned to the Raptors last season. Johnson is also known for his defense and made on highlight reel dunks. Look for him to be the X-factor for the Raptors.

It was a shock when the Raptors selected Bruno Caboclo in the 2014 NBA Draft. He may have to be a spectator for another year to continue to learn the game.

Power Forwards:

Fan Favourite Amir Johnson left the Raptors to join the Boston Celtics during the offseason. Which means that Patrick Patterson will start at the power forward spot. Patterson has been a key role player. Look for the Raptors to use him at a stretch four since Patterson can shoot the three.

Luis Scola was brought in to be a crafty low-post presence. Though he is 35 years of age, he could be a reliable reserve behind Patterson.

Raptors signed Canadian Anthony Bennett to provide some depth at the power foward spot. He could be an intriguing pick up after struggling to find some playing time with Cleveland and Minnesota over the last two seasons.

Centers:

The Raptors are hoping that Jonas Valanciunas will take that next step forward. The fourth-year center shot a high percent on the floor at 57.2 percent and continued to improve as his career went on. The Lithuanian average career highs in points (12.0) and rebounds (8.7). With Valanciunas locked up for 4 years worth $64 million, the Raptors will need more from Valanciunas than to simply justify his contract extension.

Bismack Biyombo was added to the Raptors to be the rim protector and rebounder.

Lucas Nogueria showed some promise during the summer league, displaying solid interior defense.

Coaching:

When the Raptors hired Dwane Casey back in 2012, Casey was known for being a defensive-minded coach. Instead, the Raptors shown the lack of effort on the defensive side of the ball. After an early exit in the playoffs, there were many speculation that Casey could be on the hot seat. Now that Masai used this offseason to address their overall defence, Casey is looking for his players to be fully committed on shutting down their opponents.

Overall:

The Raptors strategy will be more focus on defense and ball movement.

The Raptors’ offensive attack should remain versatile. Lowry and DeRozanare both capable of finding buckets in isolation. Valanciunas can be a threat in the post. Carroll, Joseph, Patterson and Luis Scola should all help on offence as well.

But the key for the Raptors’ success will be on defence. Look for Carroll to guard other team’s best perimeter players. Keep an eye on their help defence as well.

Barring any injury, this new looked Raptors should be a playoff team for the third straight year. They will have to bring their “A” game to compete in the East.

Predictions: Raptors finished 50-32, 4th in the Eastern Conference

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Blue Jays’ Offseason Shopping List

(Courtesy of Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press)

(Courtesy of Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press)

TORONTO- Now that the 2015 season is over for the Toronto Blue Jays, the offseason drama is about to begin once the World Series concluded. From contract options to roster decisions to free agency, the Blue Jays’ front office has plenty of decisions to make in order for the club to contend for the World Series in 2016.

Here’s a breakdown of the club’s off-season-to-do list:

1. Alex Anthopoulos’ contract status

When Mark Shapiro become the club’s next president, his first order of business will involve the future of general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who’s contract expired on Oct. 31. In the past calendar year, Anthopoulos brought in many talented players with high characteristic. Signing Russell Martin and trading for Josh Donaldson during the offseason- and pulled off a very active trade deadline moves with Troy Tulowitzki and David Price. The acquisition paid off as the Blue Jays ended their 22-year playoff drought. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Anthopoulos capture the MLB’s Executive of the Year honors.

It should be a no brainer that Anthopoulos should be back with the Blue Jays for the next couple of years. But keep in mind too that Shapiro may want to run the organization different than Paul Beeston. Anthopoulos may want to have a sense of what kind of working relationship would he like to have with Shapiro before making any commitment to a long term deal. Shapiro was a former GM and the baseball operations for the Cleveland Indians, allowing GM Chris Antonetti to handle trades and all baseball decision-making. But there are no guarantees that Shapiro could afford the same kind of latitude to Anthopoulos. Both Anthopoulos and Shapiro will have act quickly to see if they see eye to eye.

2. Decide on Player Options

Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, R.A Dickey and the forgotten Macier Izturis all have team options for 2016 season. This means that they could all have guaranteed money for at least one more year, making them free agents after the 2016 campaign.

Bautista and Encarnacion both had monster season at the plate. Both options are valued at $14 million and $10 million respectfully, so it is a no brainer that both sluggers’ team-friendly options will be exercised.

R.A. Dickey’s is an intriguing case. This decision may be less of a slam dunk but probably still worth it to pick up the $12-million option Some fans may be inclined to let the 40-year-old knuckleballer walk, especially with his poor performance during the ALCS. But he can guarantee 200 innings, especially if the Blue Jays are to move forward with Marcus Stroman may be the only lock in the rotation next season.

Maicer Izturis also has a club option for 2016 worth $3 million, which will certainly be decline and bought out at a cost of $1 million.

3. Deal With Own Free Agents

David Price will be the most coveted free agent available on the open market. Despite his postseason record, the 2012 Al Cy Young Award winner will likely command a similar contract to what Max Scherzer signed last offseason with the Washington Nationals (7 years worth $210 million). Since Price was traded during the offseason, the Blue Jays aren’t eligible to give Price a qualifying offer, so no draft pick will be attach to him. Anthopoulos said that the Blue Jays have a “strong interest” in resigning Price and will definitely be in the game to bring back their lefty ace. However, Price will be getting a lot of offers from teams eyeing for a frontline starter. Look for the Chicago Cubs, L.A. Dodgers and Boston Red Sox to join the bidding war with the Blue Jays.

Marco Estrada is coming off a career year and may have pick the perfect time for him to be a free agent. Estrada pitched wonderfully during the 2015 season with a 3.13 ERA and performed extremely well in the playoffs. Estrada has been the Blue Jays’ most reliable starter and could look for a multi year deal. The Blue Jays could also make a qualifying offer for Estrada. With the Blue Jays could potentially be without Price, it would be wise to bring Estrada back.

Mark Buehrle, the 36-year-old lefty, is mulling retirement or sign a one-year deal. If he does choose to continue pitching, it will be with a team closer to his home in Missouri, such as the St. Louis Cardinals.

Other pending free agents include reliever Mark Lowe and backup catcher Dioner Navarro. LaTroy Hawkins retired from baseball for good.

4. Other Roster Decisions

The Blue Jays have eight players, including Josh Donaldson, Justin Smoak and Ben Revere, eligible for salary arbitration this off-season. This means that they under control for multiple years but can appeal to an arbitrator to set their salary if they don’t like what the team has offered. The club could also non-tender players if they are having subpar seasons. The Blue Jays could go with Chris Colabello as their full-time first baseman and are expecting Michael Saunders, who missed almost the entire season due to a spring-training knee injury, to be compete for the left field spot. They also have a very young and athletic outfielder Dalton Pompey, who has a tremendous potential.

2015 Toronto Blue Jays Season Review: The Return of The Glory Days

(Courtesy of Toronto Star)

(Courtesy of Toronto Star)

TORONTO- After the disappointing loss to Kansas City in the American League Championship Series, the Toronto Blue Jays can reflect on their Cinderella story during the 2015 season.

The Blue Jays finally ended their 22-year playoff drought, selling out almost every game during the second half of the season, and TV ratings and attendance increased by forty percent. For the first time since 1993, Torontonians got to experience what they been waiting for – watching the MLB’s only Canadian team play meaningful baseball. The Blue Jays’ glory days returned to not only Toronto, but to Canada as well.

At one point the team was 50-51 and were way out of playoff standing. But thanks to the acquisitions of the MLB Non-waiver Trade Deadline, including Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, the Blue Jays were the team during the 2nd half of the season and won the American League East Division.

Here’s a look at the position breakdown when the Blue Jays brought Canada back onto the map of baseball:

Season Record: 93-69 (1st in AL East, lost to Kansas City during the ALCS 4-2)

Catcher: Last offseason began when Russell Martin signed a 5-year deal worth $82 million, which was the largest contract during Alex Anthopoulos’ era as general manager for the Blue Jays. The 32-year old Canadian hit .240 with a career high 23 home runs and driven in 77 runs, and threw out 44% of base runners attempting to steal a base. The 4-time All Star catcher has done an outstanding job working with the young pitching staff and managed to catch R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball. Dioner Navarro was a reliable backup behind the plate, even though he was eyeing to get more playing time elsewhere. The 31-year old was a huge reason why Marco Estrada had a career year with a 3.13 ERA. Navarro appeared in 54 games in the 2015 and hit .246 with 5 home runs and 20 RBI.

1st Base: Chris Colabello and Justin Smoak provided a solid platoon at first base. Colabello, a waiver claim from the Minnesota Twins, came out of nowhere, appearing in 101 games and hit .321 with 15 homeruns and 54 RBIs. Smoak showed some flashes at the plate and on the field. Though Smoak didn’t hit for a high batting average with .226, he managed to hit 18 home runs and 59 RBIs.

2nd Base: The Blue Jays picked up Devon Travis during last offseason. Missing 100 games due to a shoulder injury, the 25-year old rookie hit .304 with 8 homers and 35 RBIs. Ryan Goins stepped up filling in for Travis. Known for his outstanding defence, Goins improved his hitting with a .250 batting average with 5 home runs and 45 RBIs.

3rd Base: Anthopoulos shocked the baseball world when he acquired 2-time All Star Josh Donaldson from the Oakland Athletics last offseason. Donaldson made an immediate impact during his first full season with the Blue Jays. Leading the AL with 123 RBI and 122 runs scored, while hitting a career high with 41 home runs. Donaldson posted a 8.8 WAR for his ability with his bat and his glove and is a clear front runner for AL MVP.

Shortstop: With Jose Reyes declining, Anthopoulos replaced Reyes with a better all-around player in Tulowitzki from Colorado Rockies. Tulowitzki had to adapt to a new environment after being traded for the first time of his career. Though he struggled at the plate with a .239 batting average with 5 home runs and 19 RBIs, his impact helped the Blue Jays during the 2nd half of the season both offensively and defensively. Cliff Pennington was brought in last August to provide depth in the infield.

Outfield: Jose Bautista has another monster year with 40 home runs and 114 RBI. The 6-time all star had the best eye at the plate with 110 walks and led the AL. Bautista hit a clutch 3-run homer to help the Blue Jays during Game 5 of the ALDS. He followed a 2-homer game during Game 6 of the ALCS. Kevin Pillar proved himself to be a gold glove caliber center fielder whild providing a solid year at the plate hitting .278 with 12 home runs. Ben Revere was perhaps the most underrated pickup for the Blue Jays at the trade deadline. Revere provided speed and hard contact at the top of the order for the Blue Jays’ potent line up while showing his range in left field. Michael Saunders missed most of the year with a meniscus tear in his knee. Dalton Pompey spent most of the year in the minor leagues to refine his bat, but the young outfielder from Mississauga still has high potential.

Designated Hitter: Edwin Encarnacion woke up in the 2nd half to bring his overall numbers up to a .277 batting average with 39 homers and 110 RBI. The Blue Jays have three hitters posting more than 30 homers and 100 RBIs with Encarnacion, Donaldson and Bautista.

Starting Pitching: Acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for Adam Lind, Marco Estrada has been the Blue Jays’ most reliable starter all season long with a 3.13 ERA and pitched a career high 180 innings. David Price was a huge boost to the rotation after being acquired from the Detroit Tigers at the deadline. Marcus Stroman has been another great story. After tearing his ACL in spring training, Stroman made a quick recovery and shown “Height Doesn’t Measure Heart.” Stroman made four starts during the regular season with a 1.80 ERA. He also pitched well during the playoffs. The 2012 Cy Young Award Winner went 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA with the Blue Jays. R.A. Dickey shown his ability to pitch more than 200 innings. Mark Beuhrle was decent once again with a 3.81 ERA and was a shy short to pitch 200 inning which would have been 15 straight years. It’s been a struggle for Drew Hutchison with a 5.57 ERA.

Bullpen: Roberto Osuna had never pitched higher than High A prior this season. Nevertheless the 20-year old righty has been the Blue Jays’ most reliable reliever. Since he became the closer last June, Osuna finished the season with 2.58 ERA and 20 saves. Aaron Sanchez started the season as the starter but was sent back to the bullpen during the middle of the season. Since being back to the bullpen, Sanchez posted a 2.39 ERA in 26.1 innings. Lefty Brett Cecil had another great year with a career low of 2.48 ERA. Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins were picked up at the Trade Deadline for their veteran leadership and presence in the bullpen. Aaron Loup didn’t have a great season overall, but still proved to be a lefty specialist. Liam Hendriks was solid as a long-relief pitcher with a career low of 2.92 ERA in over 64.2 innings.

Management: John Gibbons led the Blue Jays to their playoff spot for the first time of his career as manager. Though there were some questionable decision with the bullpen and misuse of Price during the postseason, Gibbons did a decent job managing his players and making tough decisions. Alex Anthopoulos is a high candidate for Executive of the Year thanks to the offseason moves of Donaldson and Martin. As well as being active at the trade deadline to bring in Price and Tulowitzki. Mark Shapiro will replace Paul Beeston to be the Blue Jays’ next president and CEO.

Overall, the Blue Jays are in a great position to compete for 2016. They are looking to be even more hungry for a chance to earn a spot for the World Series. The entire core on offence will be back next season. There are a lot of question marks on the pitching staff, with Price, Estrada, Buehrle and Lowe being free agents and Hawkins retiring. The club has a lot of work to do this offseason to fill the starting rotation and bullpen, but their offence alone will still make the Blue Jays competitive next year.

ALCS Preview: Blue Jays vs. Royals

(Courtesy of National Post)

(Courtesy of National Post)

TORONTO- It’s the rematch of the 1985 ALCS when the Toronto Blue Jays match up against the last year’s AL Champs Kansas City Royals. The Blue Jays are hoping to carry their momentum after they came back from an 0-2 deficient to win the ALDS over the Texas Rangers in five games.

The ALCS is a very crucial series. The winning team will be one step closer to the World Series Championship.

Here is a position by position breakdown for both teams.

Catcher: Blue Jays made a splash in free agency with the signing of Russell Martin. All season long, the Canadian back stopper made a significant impact with the pitching staff. Martin posted a career high with 23 homers and 77 RBI. Meanwhile, Salvador Perez may be the best all around catcher. Perez hit a career high 21 home runs, but doesn’t get on-base as much as Martin does. Advantage: Tough call but leaning towards the Blue Jays by a small margin.

1st Base: The most underrated move that the Blue Jays made was picking off both Justin Smoak and Chris Colabello off waivers. Smoak provides great defence and a bit of power, but Colabello has been the most surprising story for the Blue Jays with his .312 batting average and 15 dingers. Colabello played in the last three games during the ALDS. Look for the Blue Jays to platoon at first base. Eric Hosmer is one of the best all-around first baseman. Hosmer has 18 homers and 93 RBI. He is also been one of the best hitters during the postseason posting a .966 OPS. Advantage: Has great has Colabello been, the Royals has the edge because of Hosmer.

2nd Base: When Devon Travis was shut down because of the shoulder injury, Ryan Goins had been pretty solid for the Blue Jays, especially with his glove. Ben Zobrist has been the most underrated pickup at the trade deadline for the Royals, hitting .284 with 16 doubles and 7 home runs for the Royals. Advantage: Goins has done an outstanding job, but Zobrist is still a better player overall. Royals take this battle.

3rd Base: Josh Donaldson is a clear front runner for AL MVP. Leading the AL with 123 RBI and 122 runs scored. Donaldson posted a 8.8 WAR for his ability with his bat and his glove. After spending much of the 2013 and 2014 season in the minors, Mike Moustakas had a breakout year for the Royals with 22 homers and 82 RBI. Advantage: Though give props for Moose for his career year. However Donaldson is the best third baseman in the league. Huge advantage for the Blue Jays.

Shortstop: Even though Troy Tulowitzki is having some trouble at the plate, his impact helped the Blue Jays in the 2nd half of the season. It may not have been his best season, but still Tulowitzki’s impact alone sparks the Blue Jays both offensively and defensively. Alcides Escobar sparks the Royals at the leadoff spot with great speed and defence. Though his bat decline this season with a .257 batting average. Advantage: Both players had down years, but Tulowizki is still a better overall player. Edge for the Blue Jays.

Left Field: Ben Revere is perhaps one the most underrated pickup for the Blue Jays at the deadline. For a guy who doesn’t hit for power or get one base, Revere provides speed and hard contact at the top of the order for the Blue Jays’ potent line up. Alex Gordon missed most of the 2nd half with a groin injury but Gordon provides gold glove defense and another left handed bat for the Royals. Advantage: Revere remains the catalyst for the Blue Jays, but Gordon remains as one of the best left fielders in the game. Royals take the edge.

Centre Field: Kevin Pillar is a superhero in the outfield thanks for his defence. Though a free swinger, Pillar are a solid year at the plate with 12 homers. Lorenzo Cain took another step forward for the Royals. The all star center fielder has careers highs in almost in every statistics and is the Royals’ best five-tool player. Advantage: Pillar has been the most improved Blue Jays this season, but Cain is a great player. Royals has the advantage there.

Right Field: Jose Bautista has another monster year with 40 home runs and 114 RBI. Bautista hit a cluch 3-run homer to help the Blue Jays advance the ALCS during Game 5 over the Rangers. Former Blue Jays Alex Rios had a down year for the Royals, but still present another right handed bat in the lineup. Advantage: The Blue Jays clearly have the edge with Bautista.

Designated Hitter: Edwin Encarnacion woke up in the 2nd half to bring his overall numbers up to a .277 batting average with 39 homers and 110 RBI. The Blue Jays have three hitters posting more than 30 homers and 100 RBIs with Encarnacion, Donaldson and Bautista. However Kendrys Morales had a great year for them with 22 homers and 106 batting average and could be a candidate for comeback player of the year. Advantage: Tough call here, but Encarnacion has been the most consistent hitter so Blue Jays has the edge there.

Starting Rotation: Marco Estrada will take the mound for Game 1 for the Blue Jays. Acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for Adam Lind, Estrada has been the most reliable starter all season long for the Blue Jays with a 3.13 ERA. Edison Volquez had a solid year during his first season with the Royals with a 3.55 ERA. However, look for Donaldson to have some revenge after he and Volquez had some tension during the regular season which led the benches clearing. Both David Price and Johnny Cueto were both pick up to be their ace for their respected teams. Price made the most impact with the Blue Jays, however Price struggles continues during the postseason. Cueto struggled since being traded to the Royals. Marcus Stroman has been a great storyline for the Blue Jays after he came back from a torn ACL. Stroman pitched well in Game 5 going 6 strong innings and gave up 3 runs. Yordano Ventura has very talent but lack the command with his upper 90s fastball. R.A Dickey could get some work after a solid outing during Game 4 in the ALDS. Advantage: Blue Jays have the edge with their much improved rotation.

Bullpen: The Royals may have one of the best bullpen in the league Wade Davis took over as the closer after Greg Holland underwent Tommy John Surgery. Davis is one dominant reliever with his 0.94 ERA. Kelvin Herrera and Ryan Madson are both quality set up relievers behind Davis. The Blue Jays have also been a most improved aspect of their game. Led by a 20 year old Roberto Osuna and 23 year old Aaron Sanchez. LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe provide veteran leadership in the Blue Jays’ pen. After losing Brett Cecil with a torn calf, look for Aaron Loup to be their lefty specialist. Advantage: Both bullpens are good, but the Royals may have one of the best bullpen in the game.

Overall, both teams are evenly match up. The ALCS is going to be an intense series and a trip to the World Series is pretty much up for grab. Look for a lot of tensions and drams throughout this entire series. There could be some bad bloods and emotions get into the players. In the end, this is going to be one of the most intense, excited and terrifying match up in MLB history.

Touch ‘Em All Jose: Blue Jays Advance to ALCS

(Courtesy of NY Daily News)

(Courtesy of NY Daily News)

TORONTO- Surpassing a deciding game filled with many controversy, emotions, drama and just plain craziness, Jose Bautista’s three-run homer led the Blue Jays into the ALCS as baseball god delivered them an unforgettable 6-3 win over the Texas Rangers on Wednesday.

Game 5 of the ALDS was filled with drama and emotions. It was the game that would probably the most talk about for the next generations.

The game was tied 2-2 and all heads turned in the top of the seventh. With Rougned Odor on third and Shin Soo-Choo at the plate with two outs, Russell Martin threw the ball and hit Choo’s bat and flew off into the distance on the astro turf.

Odor raced home and back to the Rangers’ dugout, while the Blue Jays players held their arms up in disbelief. Home plate umpire Dale Scott awarded the Rangers the go-ahead run. This controversial play put the sold out crowd in outrage as beer and garbage flew out of the stands.

The ruling on the play stood as Choo had not intentionally interfered so the ball was in play. Martin was given a throwing error and the frustrated Blue Jays trailed 3-2 and filed a protest.

Martin got a chance to redeem himself as he opened the bottom of the seventh. Baseball karma kicked in with three straight Texas errors, allowing Martin, Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins to load the bases with none out. After Ben Revere reached on a fielder’s choice with one out, Josh Donaldson hit a loop RBI single to tied the game 3-3.

With runners at the corner with one out, Bautista showed the world of baseball why his nickname is Joey Bats as he smoked a 98 mph fastball off of Sam Dyson to left field to give the Blue Jays the go ahead lead. The highly animated Bautista hit arguably one of the greatest home runs in franchise history. Joining Joe Carter’s walk off home to help win the World Series in 1993 and Roberto Alomar’s game tying dinger during the 1992 ALCS.

Dyson took an umbrage at Bautista’s actions with his bat flip and jawed at Edwin Encarnacion, who was next up to bat and attempted to calm the fans down. The benches and bullpen emptied, although nothing came of it. The benches emptied again after the 53-minute inning was finally over after Dyson made contact to Troy Tulowitzki.

The pitching for the Blue Jays were led by their homegrown talents. Marcus Stroman stood out the moment when he was needed. The 24-year old right handed starter pitched in 6 innings and only gave up three earned runs. Stroman managed to keep his team in the ball game, especially when Cole Hamels pitched a beauty of a ball game.

Aaron Sanchez came out throwing some heat. The 22-year old went a inning and a third and hit in the upper 90’s on the gun.

An then 20-year old Roberto Osuna came out and pitch 1.2 innings to complete a 5-out save, became the youngest player to record a save in a elimination game. The young guns stood out as one of the greatest performance of their lives.

This was a game that has almost everything. Powerful offense and solid pitching matchup with a little bit of misplays, benches clearing, and emotions. This is perhaps one of the craziest and emotional postseason ever. This game will probably be one of the greatest memory that will go down in history for not just the Blue Jays, but for all of Toronto sports.

Game 5: Win or Go Home Blue Jays

Courtesy of Toronto Star

Courtesy of Toronto Star

TORONTO- After trailing the Texas Rangers 0-2, the Toronto Blue Jays managed to even the series on the road to force a Game 5 at the Rogers Centre. For the Blue Jays, this is the most important game. A win will send them to the ALCS, lose they will go home.

The Blue Jays will send Marcus Stroman to avoid elimination. For Stroman, this may be the biggest start of his career. Since the 24-year old right hander came back from a torn ACL, he made 4 starts while posting a 1.67 ERA over 27 innings. Stroman had a solid outing during his first postseason debut, pitching in seven innings, gave up four runs (three earned) and struck out 5 Rangers’ batters. The Blue Jays are confident that Stroman can handle the pressure and live for this huge moment.

Sending Stroman on the mound is the right move given the fact that David Price struggles against the Rangers throughout his career. Despite earning his second postseason win, Price pitched in three inning and gave up six hits and three earned runs out of the bullpen. Price isn’t available for Game 5, but given the fact that Aaron Loup wasn’t available for Game 4, the Blue Jays may not have any lefty relievers out of the bullpen.

After only hitting .171 during Games 1 and 2, the Blue Jays’ bats came alive during Games 3 and 4 at Arlington Park. The Blue Jays hit .309 and scored 13 runs and hit 4 home runs during that two-game span. They were more patience and discipline at the plate and managed to take full advantage against lefties Martin Perez and Derrek Holland. The Rangers will send southpaw Cole Hamels to match up against the team. Hamels pitched in Game 2, giving up 4 runs (2 earned) over 7 innings. With Hamels starting, this means that the Rangers will start with four consecutive lefties. All season long, the Blue Jays hit well against lefties, but Hamels will be a tough match up with his fastball-changeup combo. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Yovani Gallardo out of the bullpen, who dominate the Blue Jays this season.

There’s no doubt that Game 5 is the most important game for the Blue Jays. Win this game, they will face either the Houston Astros or Kansas City Royals in the ALCS. Lose this game, they will be sent home packing. Look for the Jays to be more selective at the plate. For Stroman, look for him to use rely on his 2-seam fastball and slider combo to worn out the rangers.

Game 5 will be the defining moment for the 2015 Blue Jays. The question now is “Are they ready for this moment?”

MLB Playoff Preview: Blue Jays vs. Rangers

(Courtesy of THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese)

(Courtesy of THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese)

TORONTO- The Toronto Blue Jays ended their 22-year playoff drought and sealed the AL East Division title. Now the real work begins this Thursday when the Blue Jays match up against the Texas Rangers Thursday for the ALDS at the Rogers Centre.

Both the Blue Jays and Rangers were out of the playoffs last year and under .500 on July 28, yet here they are in the ALDS. The Blue Jays finished the season with a 93-69 record and are considered one of the favourites to win the World Series. But it won’t be an easy series: like the Blue Jays, the Rangers started the season poorly, but quietly emerged as one of the hottest teams in the second half, finishing the season 88-74 to claim the AL West Division. However, the Rangers seemed to be under-shadowed by the Blue Jays’ recent success.

The Blue Jays will send David Price to start the series opener. Price has been outstanding since his acquisition from the Tigers on July 30, as he has pitched in 74.1 innings with a 2.30 ERA. However, his career numbers in the postseason don’t look promising with a 4.50 ERA. Despite this, Price remains as one of the top starting pitchers in the game. He has reached the postseason in four of the last five years and will be eager to showcase his dominance in the weeks leading up to free agency. His success will go a long way in determining how the Blue Jays fare in this crucial time.

Rangers ace Cole Hamels pitched in Sunday’s season finale, which could indicate the use of Yovani Gallardo to pitch the opener, saving Hamels for the Friday. Gallardo dominated the Blue Jays this season, pitching in 13.2 scoreless innings in two starts versus the Blue Jays this season.

The Blue Jays will be looking to rely on their powerful offence to outscore their opponent. The Blue Jays led the league in runs scored (891) and home runs (232). The Blue Jays are the only team to feature three players with 35 or more home runs and 100 or more RBI: Josh Donaldson with 41, Jose Bautista with 40 and Edwin Encarnacion with 39. In past history, offence usually drops off across the board in October, when better defence and pitching staff play and the weather cools down. However, the Blue Jays should have the advantage with their powerful bats. 

The Rangers have been very good at hitting ball. They have power and speed to score runs, ranking 3rd in runs scored (751), 11th in HR (172) and 6th in SB (101). The feature a lot of left-handed hitters such as Prince Fielder, Shin Soo Choo, Josh Hamilton, Mitch Moreland and Joey Gallo. Look for the Jays to use Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup to shut down these lefties.

The Blue Jays are expected to use a four-man rotation, a seven-man bullpen and a five-man bench in the ALDS. While most of the spots are spoken for, there’s some uncertainty in the back of the bullpen and with the final bench spot. Here’s a guess at how the Blue Jays could set things up:

Projected Starting Lineup:

Ben Revere, LF

Josh Donaldson, 3B

Jose Bautista, RF

Edwin Encarnacion, DH

Justin Smoak, 1B

Russell Martin, C

Troy Tulowitzki, SS

Kevin Pillar, CF

Ryan Goins, 2B

Bench:

Ezequiel Carrera, OF

Chris Colabello, 1B/OF

Dioner Navarro, C

Cliff Pennington, 2B/SS

Dalton Pompey, CF

Starting Rotation:

David Price, LHP

Marcus Stroman, RHP

Marco Estrada, RHP

R.A. Dickey, RHP

Bullpen:

Brett Cecil, LHP

LaTroy Hawkins, RHP

Liam Hendricks, RHP

Mike Lowe, RHP

Aaron Loup, LHP

Roberto Osuna, RHP (closer)

Aaron Sanchez, RHP

It’s going to be a tough challenge for the Blue Jays, but fans should embrace what they’ve been waiting for the last 22 years. The Blue Jays are in the postseason. Now their quest to win the world series is about to begin.