A tribute to one the greatest slugger of all time, Joey Bats

Courtesy of Chris Young from Canadian Press

TORONTO- As the 2017 season is about to wrap up in about a week,  fans could see the last of Jose Bautista in a Blue Jay uniform.

The 36-year old slugger is having one of his worst offensive season of his tenure with the team with a .201 batting average and an OPS of .673. He also set a franchise record with 161 strikeouts during a season. It seems unlikely that his 2018 mutual option will get picked up. Despite the disappointing numbers, Bautista is one of the greatest Blue Jays of all-time.

Before being traded to the Blue Jays back in 2008, he was a nobody. He kept getting designated for assignments when he played for the Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. When the Blue Jays acquired Bautista, they send a minor league catcher Robinson Diaz,  who was also a nobody.

Okay at first, Bautista wasn’t impressive to start his tenure with the Blue Jays. He started off as a utility player for the team and people were like “okay why did we get this guy?”  It was September 2009 when the late bloomer became Joey Bats. He hit 11 of his 13 homes runs during that month. Since then he worked with hitting coach Dwayne Murphy and starting to use his signature leg kick to recognize pitches easier.

2010 was the year that Bautista blossomed into a superstar. He set a franchise record for the most home runs with 54 and posted 124 RBIs. He followed the 2011 season with 43 home runs, making him a two-time home run champ. Since then, Bautista was named a 6-time all star, two-time Hank Aaron Award winner and finished in the top 10 in AL MVP voting 4 times.

The greatest moment of Jose Bautista was his signature bat flip during game 5 of the 2015 ALDS playoffs game against the Texas Rangers. After a bizarre 7th inning when the Rangers took a 3-2, they made 3 straight errors that give Bautista the greatest moment since Joe Carter’s walk off home run that won the 1993 World Series.

Bautista stepped onto the plate with three men on and only one out. Rangers reliever Sam Dyson delivered his first pitch and it was a strike. Second pitch was low away making a 1-1 count. And then on the third pitch, it was a 98 mile per hour fastball in the middle. Bautista recognized it thanks with his leg kick and crush that ball deep left field, giving them a 6-3 lead. Bautista threw his bat with a lot of emotions and passion and fans rejoiced the moment as the advance to the ALCS.  Even though it cause tension with the Rangers since then, it was arguably one of the greatest moments in franchise history.

Bautista may have been a late bloomer, but he is consider one of the greatest in franchise history. As he about to play his final home game of the 2017 season, fans should recognized on how Bautista meant for the Blue Jays. He may not be liked by other teams, Blue Jays will always love and remember him from one generation to another.

Jose Bautista brought baseball back to not just the city of Toronto, but to the entire country of Canada. He made the sport fun to watch again. He will always be a Blue Jay at heart. A future Level of Excellence player to come.

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Estrada’s extension means the Blue Jays are contending in 2018

(Courtesy of Toronto Sun)

TORONTO- Marco Estrada is staying after agreeing to sign a one-year contract extension worth $13 million with the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this week.

Ever since being acquired by the Blue Jays in 2014, Estrada had found a comfort zone with the Blue Jays after being mediocre with the Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Nationals. This season wasn’t pleasant for the 34-year old right handed as he posted a 4.84 ERA. But his last 10 starts has shown some promise as he’s posted a 3.75 ERA and almost looked like the pitcher like he was in 2015 and 2016 when he posted a 3.15 and 3.48 ERA respectively.

With Estrada signing for at least one more year with the Blue Jays, this could indicate that the team are looking to contend in 2018. While it’s unlikely that the Blue Jays are going to compete in the playoffs for the first time in three years, President Mark Shapiro and general Ross Atkins believed that the team can compete next season.

Estrada fills one of the major hole in their rotation that consist with Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, and J.A. Happ. But the team must add more depth in their rotation if injuries occur like this season. Joe Biagini and Brett Anderson could fight for the last spot of the rotation and they should look at free agency or trades.

2018 is going to be critical on how the the Blue Jays shape up in the long term. If they fail to make it to the postseason, then they could look to rebuild around their top notch prospects in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, who are both having break out seasons in their farm system.

Now that Estrada signed the real work begins in the offseason, The Blue Jays still have a quality amount of talent, but their future outlook seems murky with Josh Donaldson facing free agency after 2018. The team’s payroll is now projected to be at $138 million, including their arbitration-eligible players. They could look to increase that total if they are going to add more help in the rotation, a couple of outfielders, second baseman, and bullpen arms to compete in 2018.

This offseason is not going to be easy for Shapiro and Atkins, but they should feel relieved by extending Estrada to a team friendly deal. Next year should be an important year for the Blue Jays. It could either make or break the team. Should become more interesting for the Blue Jays.

 

 

2017-2018 Toronto Maple Leafs Season Preview

(Courtesy of Bruce Bennett, Gettys Images)

TORONTO- The long overhaul rebuild may have paid off dramatically for the Toronto Maple Leafs. When Brendan Shanahan was named team president and CEO in 2014, he had a vision and that vision was to build a team by drafting and developing young and talented players. Last season the Maple Leafs opened up the season with six rookies including the 2016 overall pick and rookie of the year, Auston Matthews. And in result, the young squad did the unthinkable by clinching the playoffs. So it seems that Shanahan’s rebuild plan may have been worth the wait for die hard Maple Leafs fans.

After the youth fought a hard and gusty battle against the Washington Capitals during their playoff run, their tremendous performance proved that the Maple Leafs are for real and they could bring the Stanley Cup back to Toronto for the first time since 1967.

The signings of three veterans free agents with the likes of Patrick Marleau, Dominic Moore and Ron Hainsey should help the youth move forward to their Stanley Cup dreams.

Forwards

Auston Matthews is their new face of the franchise and number one centre that they been searching after Mats Sundin left the Maple Leafs in 2008. The twenty-years-old set a franchise record with 40 goals and 69 points. But Matthews wasn’t the only impressive rookie for the Maple Leafs. Mitch Marner and William Nylander each had 61 points as rookies and displayed their high ceiling potential last season. The Maple Leafs still have their key veterans like James Van Reimsdyk, who contributed with 29 goals and 62 points, and Nazeem Kadri, who had a career year with 32 goals and 61 points. Marleau maybe 38, but he still remains a reliable goal scorer after scoring 27 with the San Jose Sharks last season. Look for Kasperi Kapanen to fight for a spot in the fourth line after he played really well late last season and playoffs.

Defense

Jake Gardner improved his play dramatically since Mike Babcock took over as head coach two years ago. Gardiner establish a career high with 43 points and improved his defense. Nikita Zaitsev was so impressive during his rookie season that he signed a long term contract for the next seven years. Morgan Reilly still have the potential to be a top pairing and mobile defenseman. Ron Hainsey should play a major role for this youthful blue line. The 36-years-old should help by sharing his Stanley Cup experience with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen played a career high 66 games during his first full season with the Maple Leafs. He had a save percentage at .918 and four shutouts. Andresen proved that he can be a number one goaltender on any team. Backup Curtis McElhinney should be reliable if Andersen needs a day off once in awhile.

Special Teams

The improved power play made strides after finishing second in the NHL in power play goals. Nylander led the team with 26 power play points while Matthews and Marner each had 21 points. Their penalty killing got significantly better with Zach Hyman leading the way with the most shorthanded goals. Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick logged a tons of PK minutes. While Polak could be back with the team after signing a tryout contract, Hainsey should look to take over in the PK unit.

Coaching and Management

There’s nothing to complain about the job the the Maple Leafs front office done over the last few years. Shanahan was probably the best thing that ever happen for Leafs Nation. He brought in one of the NHL’s greatest head coach in Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello is one tough negotiator as their general manager. Babcock just transformed his team to the absolute worst into the absolute threats in the NHL.

Summary

The Maple Leafs are set up to contend for the next decade. While there will be questions as to whether or not Matthews, Marner or Nylander could hit the sophomore slumps. They should come into their second seasons with even higher expectations. Leafs nation saw a glimpse of their potential during their playoff run last year. Now it should be interested to see how far they can reach their potential.

Prediction: Finished 2nd in the Atlantic Division and make it to the Eastern Conference Semi-finals.

 

 

Ibaka trade fills a glaring need for the Raptors

(Courtesy of USA Today)

(Courtesy of USA Today)

TORONTO- The Toronto Raptors have finally made a big splash prior to the NBA Trade Deadline. The Raptors acquired power forward Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic in exchange for SG Terrence Ross and a 2017 1st round pick.

The Raptors struggled mightily, losing ten of the last fourteen games and slipped to the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference.

Ibaka averaged 11.9 points 7.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks throughout his career. The 27-year old played his first six seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder and played very well behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Ibaka was traded to the Magic for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis during the NBA Draft last June. He is averaging 15.1 points 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks this season.

Raptors President Masai Ujiri and general manager Jeff Weltman coveted on Ibaka for quite a while and finally they get the player that they wanted all along. This trade fills a huge and glaring need for the team that is trying to catch up with the Cleveland Cavaliers. All year long the Raptors had been looking to upgrade at the power forward position. With the addition of Ibaka, the Raptors get an athletic big man who can rebound, block shots and be more effective on offense to take pressure off of Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Ibaka can stretch the floor and is a very good three-point shooter. He shot a career 36.5 percent from downtown.

Ross has been inconsistent throughout his career. However, the twenty-six year old is shooting a career best at 44.1 percent on the floor and 38 percent behind the three. With Ross gone, this gives the opportunity for Norman Powell to extend his minutes. Powell is a better two-way player than Ross and can provide athleticism and potential to be an impact player.

Keep in mind that Ibaka is a free agent to be. However the Raptors also acquired the Early Birds Rights for Ibaka, which give the Raptors an advantage to resign their recent acquired big man. This means that it is possible that the Raptors could resign both Ibaka and Lowry without hurting their salary cap.

Right now, the Raptors are a much better team than they were twenty-four hours ago. Now it is up to the Raptors to build a momentum going forward. Look for them to make a big push for the 2017 NBA Championship.

 

Blue Jays and Bautista a perfect match

Courtesy of Chris Young from Canadian Press

Courtesy of Chris Young from Canadian Press

TORONTO- Last week, the Blue Jays officially signed their franchise player Jose Bautista on a one-year contract worth $18 million. The deal also includes a 2018 mutual option worth $17 million and a 2019 vesting option worth $20 million. So potentially, this deal could be for three years worth $55 million.

Blue Jays had a huge void in the outfield and general manager Ross Atkins tried multiple scenarios to improve that. He offered Dexter Fowler to a 4-year deal worth $60. That did not work as Fowler signed for more money with the St. Louis Cardinals. He tried to make a trade for Andrew McCutchen, Charlie Blackmon, and Jay Bruce. That did not work as the asking price was really high.

The Blue Jays were so desperate to add an outfielder, they decided to go for the best available free agent and that player happens to be Bautista. The 6-time all star outfielder may not get a contract that he wanted (5 years $150 million), but he get what he always wants and that is to go back to Toronto to play for the Blue Jays.

The market for Bautista wasn’t easy given that fact that he 36 years of age. His defence declined over the pass few years. Plus he is also attached a draft pick compensation after rejecting the qualifying offer. The way free agency work in baseball, many teams are not willing to part ways with a draft pick to sign a player for the short term. Even Baltimore Orioles GM Dan Duquette admitted that he would sign Bautista because the fans don’t like him. The Texas Rangers would also be a bad fit for the 2-time home run leader since the Rangers had issue with the “Bat Flip” during the 2015 ALDS.

After turning down offers with longer terms and years, Bautista decided to stay loyal and continue is tenure with the Blue Jays. Bautista spent the last 10 season with the organization and has the 2nd most home runs in franchise history with 265. Bautista became an icon since joining the Blue Jays. With endorsement deals with Booster Juice and has been part of the community with the Jays Care Foundation.

Overall the Blue Jays have done an outstanding job by bringing back their franchise player. Bautista contract could possibly be a pretty good bargain for a guy that is a legit all star and produce a tremendous amount of power with a high on-base percentage. Bautista needed the Blue Jays and the Blue Jays needed Bautista. The signing doesn’t necessarily cope the loss of Bautista’s close friend Edwin Encarnacion, but it does satisfied the fans by bringing back a fan favourite. Bautista may not be an athletic as he was, but he does fill a huge need in the outfield. This team cannot enter the season with Kevin Pillar, Ezequiel Carrera and Melvin Upton Jr. being the starting outfielders. That’s clearly not good enough.

Now that Bautista is back, the Blue Jays can now focus on adding a backup catcher and bullpen arms.

Blue Jays hope to fill their needs during the Winter Meetings

 (Will Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion be back with the Blue Jays Courtesy of REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

(Will Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion be back with the Blue Jays? Courtesy of REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

TORONTO- It may not be exactly Christmas shopping, but the Toronto Blue Jays are looking to be aggressive buyers during the 2016 Winter Meeting in Washington D.C. This event present a great opportunity many baseball executives to improve their respective ball clubs whether is having dialog to other general managers about making trades or talking to free agents about contract negotiations. Look for Ross Atkins to have a busy week at the Winter Meeting.

TORONTO- It may not be exactly Christmas shopping, but the Toronto Blue Jays are looking to be aggressive buyers during the 2016 Winter Meeting in Washington D.C. This event present a great opportunity many baseball executives to improve their respective ball clubs whether is having dialog to other general managers about making trades or talking to free agents about contract negotiations. Look for Ross Atkins to have a busy week at the Winter Meeting.

The Blue Jays are expecting to compete for the World Series next season and they have the pieces to do so. They team still have great players surrounding Josh Donaldson and their pitching staff have been one of the best in the American League. On the other hand, the team are in position to lose Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders to free agency and Brett Cecil already signed with the St. Louis Cardinals on a 4-year deal worth $30.5 million. The Blue Jays have many holes that they need to fill this offseason. They have to be very active in order to satisfy their fan base.

Here what they need to accomplished during the Winter Meeting:

1) Corner Outfielders

This is a huge hole that the Blue Jays need to fill out with Bautista and Saunders both testing the market. So far the projected outfielders are Melvin Upton Jr. in left, Kevin Pillar in centre and Ezequiel Carrera in right. That’s not going to pan out for the Blue Jays to stay competitive.

The Blue Jays are reported to be “strongly interested” in Dexter Fowler. Fowler is a switch hitter who gets on base consistently and has the speed on the base paths and on the field. The Blue Jays will have to forfeit their first round pick to sign Fowler, but that might be a good considerations in order to fill one of the corner outfield spots.

They can look for some mid-tier free agents like Steve Pearce, who hits well against lefties, Rajai Davis and Carlos Gomez could be intriguing for the Blue Jays. It is also possible for a reunion with Ben Revere, who was non-tendered with the Washington Nationals.

The Blue Jays could also be looking to address the outfield in trades. Andrew McCutchen and Adam Eaton are both intriguing for the Blue Jays, but the asking price is going to be very significant for both of these players as they don’t want to give up too much of their prospect capital. The Jay Bruce rumors just won’t go away, but Bruce does present a lefty power bat to replace Bautista. Also possibility includes Charle Blackman, Curtis Granderson and Jarrod Dyson.

The Blue Jays also have some internal options with Dalton Pompey, who won the job back in 2015 but was sent in the minors to work on his hitting. Pompey has speed and range in the outfield, but need to prove that he can hit at the big league level. Their best OF prospect Anthony Alford has the tools and potential to be a elite 5-tool player. But after dealing with injuries, the Blue Jays may not want to rush his development. The Blue Jays signed Lourdes Gurriel Jr. earlier this season to add some versatility. The 23-year old Cuban prospect could make an impact at some point in 2017.

2) Bullpen

Losing Cecil is a huge loss for the Blue Jays. Cecil was their most reliable lefty reliever over the past six seasons. The Blue Jays need to add another lefty to replace Cecil. Aaron Loup has been inconsistent over the last two season and Chad Girodo is not going to pan out. Roberto Osuna, Jason Grilli are their most reliable guys in the back end, but it would be nice to add another righty to replace Joaquin Benoit, who’s also a free agent.

It’s unlikely that the Blue Jays are going after the elite free agent relievers like Aroldis Chapman, Kenly Jansen and Mark Melancon. They can look at the mid-tier free agents such as Boone Logan and Jerry Blevins to fill their needs in the bullpen.

3) Backup Catcher

Russell Martin cannot be playing every single day. The Blue Jays will need their 33-year old Canadian catcher to be fresh all season long next year. It is possible that the Blue Jays could look to bring back Dioner Navarro to fill that spot. But the Blue Jays may want to look at a younger and more defensive minded catcher on the market. Kurt Suzuki and Wellington Castillo are both good defenders, but may want to look for an everyday role. Geovany Soto and Nick Hundley can also be in the mix.

4) First Baseman

The Blue Jays want Edwin Encarnacion back. But with the signing of Kendrys Morales, it may be difficult to bring back their longtime slugger to make 140 starts at first. If Encarnacion sign else, then Justin Smoak may have to take on the responsibility as their everyday first basemen. That’s the worst case scenario for the Blue Jays to have.

Every Blue Jays fans’ fantasy is Joey Votto playing for his hometown team. However, there are reports indicating that Votto is not willing to waive his no-trade clause and wants to remain with the Cincinnati Reds. It is possible that the Blue Jays could talk again about Votto, but it’s unlikely to Votto in a Blue Jays uniform.

There are some interest in Mike Napoli and Mitch Moreland to fill in at first. The Jays also could look for some versatility with Steve Pearce, who can platoon at first with Smoak. He can also play in the outfield as well.

With a payroll budget at around $160-165 million range, the Blue Jays should have enough wiggle to take full advantage of this year free agency. Not saying they should spending it all on just bringing the best player on the market. but The Blue Jays should spread their wealth by acquiring high character players that fits their needs and can work cohesively as a team. Look for Ross Atkins to maximize the team’s budget and spend wisely on filling out the teams’ needs.

Does the Morales signing means the end of Edwin Encarnacion as a Blue Jay?

(Courtesy of Denny Medley of USA Today Sports)

(Courtesy of Denny Medley of USA Today Sports)

TORONTO- The Toronto Blue Jays found their new designated hitter as they officially signed DH Kendrys Morales to a three-year contract worth $33 million last Friday.

The 33-year old spend 10 years in the big leagues with the L.A. Angels of Anaheim, Seattle Mariners, Minnesota Twins and Kanas City Royals before signing with the Blue Jays. He hit .263 with 30 home runs and 93 RBIs last season with the Royals.

It looks like the Blue Jays decided to strike early to find a some balance in their lineup. Morales is a switch hitter with tremendous power on both sides and can bit for contact with a career batting line of .273/.331/.465. Look for his home runs total to increase with him hitting in the middle of the Blue Jays’ lineup at the the Rogers Centre 81 times.

Now keep in mind that the signing of Morales doesn’t necessarily ended the era of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. However, general manager Ross Atkins mention that it’s “less likely” that Encarnacion will be back with the Blue Jays, according to general manager Ross Atkins. He also pointed out that this move doesn’t have any effect on Bautista.

Even though both Encarnacion’s camp and Atkins are still talking about the possibility of Encarnacion resigning with the Blue Jays, it is hard to imagine both Encarnacion and Morales on the same team.

According to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, Encarnacion is demanding at least 5 years and $125 million. However the Blue Jays only made a 4-year offer worth $80 million. That’s a lot of money to lock up since the Blue Jays already have long term commitments with Troy Tulowitzku and Russell Martin at $40 million after 2017 season. They also have to consider about resigning Josh Donaldson to a contract extension after 2018.

Signing Morales at $11 million per season seems like a pretty good bargain for the Blue Jays. Rather than spending $25 million on one player, the Jays doe have some wiggle room with their payroll budget to address some other needs like the bullpen and corner outfielders.

This move is pretty similar to what the Blue Jays did last offseason when they signed J.A. Happ to replace David Price. Happ signed for 3 years worth $36 million and Price signed for 7 years worth $217 million with the Boston Red Sox. If you compare the two lefties, Happ showed his value worth when he finished the 2016 campaign with 21 wins and a 3.18 ERA while Price only had a 3.99 ERA and struggled during the postseason. This shows that good teams can’t buy players to win championships. Let’s not forget that the Blue Jays went further in the postseason than the Red Sox.

If Encarnacion ends up returning with the Blue Jays, he may have to make at least 140 starts at first base, which is something that he has never done before. Atkins did mention that Morales can get some playing time at first base or possible in the corner outfield, but his durability is a huge question marks.

In the end, it seems unlikely that Encarnacion comes back now that the Blue Jays just added Morales. Fans may be prepare to see the end of the parrot trot, but they should also be pleased that they are getting a solid hitter at a pretty good value. Blue Jays’ offense should be good. We’ll just see how good they can be in 2017.

2016 Toronto Blue Jays Season Review

(Courtesy of Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

(Courtesy of Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

TORONTO- Disappointed! Heart Broken! Stunned! Those are the three words that sums up the Toronto Blue Jays’ performance during the ALCS. After the Cleveland Indians advance to the World Series last Wednesday night, the Blue Jays will head the offseason with so many uncertainty.

Give the Indians a lot credit, they deserve their trip to the championship round. Terry Francona done a magnificent job in managing his bullpen as Andrew Miller won the ALCS MVP. The Indians’ pitching staff manage to shutdown the Blue Jays’ bats, limited them to score eight runs during the ALCS after scoring 28 runs during the wild card game and ALDS.

Now that the Blue Jays are going home, here is a position-by-position review:

Catcher:

Russell Martin did maintain his offensive production with 20 home runs and 70 RBIs. However the 33-year-old Canadian backstop took a step backward defensively, caught only 15% of base stealers this season (44% last season). He struggled to hit during the postseason, hitting .091. Dioner Navarro was brought back late last season. Navarro shown some good at-bats and prove to be a better backup over Josh Thole.

1st Baseman/DH:

Edwin Encarnacion had a monster year during his contract year. The 33-year-old Dominican slugger hit 42 home runs and 127 RBIs. Although Encarnacion spend most of the time at DH, Encarnacion shown some flashes playing first base, only committed 2 errors in over 638.1 innings. Justin Smoak showed some power and solid defence at first base. However he continues to struggle to hit for contact as he only had a .217 batting average and struck out 112 times.

2nd Baseman:

Devon Travis became a hitting machine batting nearing .300. However, Travis struggled to make routine plays with 11 errors in limited action. Travis’ durability is a bit of concern for the Blue Jays. But when healthy, Travis could be one of the best offensive second baseman in the league. Darwin Barney done an outstanding job filling in for the injured Travis earlier this season. Barney is a terrific defender and shown some production at the plate with a career high .269 batting average. Ryan Goins has always been a terrific defender, but need to hit to find a role on the roster.

3rd Baseman:

Josh Donaldson was on pace to have a better season than he did last year when he won the AL MVP. However he did suffer a minor hip in September. His 37 dingers and 99 RBIs were impressive but his .404 on base percentage was one of his best of his career. Once again Donaldson is a worthy candidate to repeat as AL MVP and the Blue Jays are fortunate to have him.

Shortstop:

Troy Tulowitzki started off slow but finished strong during his first full season with the Blue Jays with 24 home runs and 79 RBIs. His range and arm at shortstop is one of the best in the league. Tulowitzki is going to be a major impact player for the Blue Jays over the next few years.

Outfield:

It wasn’t the year that Jose Bautista envision heading to his final year of his contract. Bautista missed 46 games with turf toe and sprained left knee, but he did managed to hit 20 or more home runs for seven consecutive season. His range in right field was so bad that he need to make 26 starts at DH. He won’t sign a 5 year contract worth $150 million, but when healthy, Bautista is still one of the most fearsome power hitter. Kevin Pillar was Superman in center field, but too a major step back with his bat with a .267 batting average and 7 home runs. Pillar needs to improve his plate discipline. Michael Saunders’ terrific first half performance earned him an All Star nod. However the 30-year-old Canadian only hit .191 in the second half. Ezequiel Carrera did an outstanding job filling in for the injured Jose Bautista. Melvin Upton Jr. provided some pop, speed and defence in the outfield.

Starting Pitching:

The Blue Jays’ starting rotation was one of the biggest surprise last season. Aaron Sanchez won the battle for the 5th and final spot in the rotation. Turns out he’s been the best pitcher for the Blue Jays this season. The 24-year-old led the American League with 3.00 ERA over 192 innings and made his first All Star appearance. J.A. Happ was also outstanding with 20 wins and 3.18 ERA. Marco Estrada was lights out during the first half of the season, but suffered a back injury during the 2nd half. Marcus Stroman was inconsistent during last season with a 4.37 ERA, but shown some flashes during the 2nd half of the season. R.A. Dickey only managed to pitched 169 innings, the lowest during his time with the Blue Jays. Francisco Liriano was terrible with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but pitched really well with a 2.92 ERA with Martin behind the plate.

Bullpen:

Roberto Osuna may be 21 years old, but he pitched like a 31-year-old stud. He was outstanding for the Blue Jays with 36 saves. Need to cut down his home runs total, but Osuna is one of the best relievers out there. Jason Grilli has been a great veteran presence in the back end of the bullpen. The 39-year old struck out 58 batters over 42 innings during his time with the Blue Jays. Brett Cecil struggled in the first half but was better in the 2nd half of the season. Rule 5 draft pick Joe Biagini was solid during his rookie season with a 3.06 ERA. Joaquin Benoit was a great late additions with a 0.38 ERA since being traded to the Blue Jays. The Bullpen needs to improve as they lost a lot of close ball games.

Management/Front Office:

There were a lot of changes within the front office as Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins took over baseball operations. Although a lot of fans were still bitter about the changes and Alex Anthopoulos’ departure, the front office have done an outstanding job in bringing veterans impact players. It wasn’t perfect for John Gibbons, but there were more highs than lows for the long time manager. But need to do a better job in utilizing the small ball and winning more close ball games.

Summary:

It was a disappointing ending for the Blue Jays, but it wasn’t a failure as well.  They made the wild card spot and put on a show during the ALDS. But they need better execution if they want to bring the World Series back in Toronto. There are some question surrounding the future of Bautista and Encarnacion. But as long as they still have Donaldson, Tulowitzki and their young pitching staff, they are still a contending team heading to the 2017 season.

2016-2017 Toronto Maple Leafs Season Preview

(Courtesy of Bruce Bennett, Gettys Images)

(Courtesy of Bruce Bennett, Gettys Images)

TORONTO- The Toronto Maple Leafs may have been the worst team in the NHL last season, but Leafs Nation was okay with that. Tank Nation may have paid off for the Maple Leafs as they won the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery and drafted Auston Matthews with the first overall pick. The Maple Leafs may have found their new one centre and face of the franchise since Mats Sundin. But that wasn’t the only bold move that general manager Lou Lameriello made during the offseason. Frederick Andersen came from the Anaheim Ducks to reach his potential as a number one goaltender. With a new goaltender, a new superstar in the making and a nucleus of young highly skilled player, the Maple Leafs are heading in the right direction. Head Coach Mike Babcock should be pleased as his team is heading in the right direction.

Offense:

The Maple Leafs struggled to score goals last season. P.A. Perenteau was their lone 20-goal scorer and now he’s no longer with the team. James Van Reimsdyk was on pace to have a career year with 14 goals in 40 games, however his season was cut short due to a broken leg. Nazem Kadri continues to struggled to find some consistency. Tyler Bozak is clearly not a number one centre. And Jeoffrey Lupul’s injury bug just can’t seem to be going away.

On the bright side, the Maple Leafs may have found their next “Big Three” on their offensive side. Over their last three years, the Maple Leafs have spend their last three first round picks to draft highly skilled players with William Nylander in 2014, Mitch Marner in 2015 and Auston Matthews last June. Nylander led the Toronto Marlies in scoring last season as saw little NHL season as a call up in April. Marner was the CHL’s most valuable player last season with 123 points. Matthews However, they all have little or no experience in the NHL and will all go through some growing pains. Leafs Nations should be excited about all of the young kids that are entering this season. It would be fun to watch.

Defense:

Like their offense, their defense struggled to prevent opposing teams’ scoring opportunities. On the other hand, Dion Phanuef is gone and Morgan Rielly showed the potential to be a very skillful defensemen in the NHL right now. Rielly led all Leafs defeneemen with 36 goals last year and will look to be the elite blue liner that they were hoping for. Babcock helped Jake Gardiner to have a solid production season 31points. There are some concerns as to who will be a top paring defensive to play along side with Rielly. They did brought back Roman Polak to be a veteran presence. Nikita Zaitsev was signed during the offseason and presents a potential to help the blue line.

Goaltenders:

Frederick Andersen have shown flashes with the Anahiem Ducks before the Ducks decided to go with John Gibson to be their number one goalie. The Ducks were willing to part ways with Andersen and the Maple Leafs took full advantage. Andersen allowed 2.30 goals per game with a .920 save percentage. Seems that the Maple Leafs have upgraded their goaltender over the inconsistent Jonathan Bernier, who was traded to the Ducks. The question is who will be Andersen’s backup? Jhonas Enroth will be the backup for now, but look for Garret Sparks and Antione Bibeau to see some action in case there is an injury.

Coaching:

Mike Babock should be pleased with all of the young players he has on his roster. The team has speed, size and the intangibles. The question is can Babcock lead his team to the postseason with so many youth on his roster? He may have won the Stanley Cup with proven veterans, but he will have a workload coaching kids.

Management:

Leafs Nations should be please on how president Brendan Shanahan and Lamoriello turn their franchise around. Drafting highly skilled players, clearing cap space and development. It seems that the management may have speed up their rebuild just a little. But both have done a great job in implementing of their overhaul rebuild plans.

Overall:

As exciting to see Matthew, Marner and Nylander playing together, the team are just not ready to be a major contenders to compete for the Stanley Cup. Its going to take some time and development to get the young players acclimated into Babcock’s system. But there are no questions that the Leafs are heading in the right direction. It will be curious to see how this youthful team builds their chemistry. They have the potential to be the next Chicago Blackhawks, but there are just not their yet. Leaf Nations need to be patient, but it will paid off eventually.

Prediction: 8th in Atlantic Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference.

Blue Jays pick perfect time to succeed in the postseason.

(Courtesy of Mark Blinch/ The Canadian Press)

(Courtesy of Mark Blinch/ The Canadian Press)

TORONTO- For the second straight playoff series, the Toronto Blue Jays swept the Texas Rangers in the ALDS in a walk-off fashion during Sunday night’s dramatic 7-6 victory in ten innings.

Looks like the Blue Jays would rather to take punch in May than to get knocked out in October.

In a rematch rife with emotions and tempers flare from last year’s ALDS ended with Jose Bautista’s historic bat flip to the May 15 regular season finale when Rougned Odor punching him in the face, the Blue Jays kept their composure and demolished the AL West Champs. It is quite ironic that the series ended on Odor’s throwing error. Looks like he will be having nightmares as the Rangers are going home feeling gutted that the Blue Jays won the ALDS against them for the second consecutive year.

The Blue Jays’ offense struggled mightily in September and their playoff hope was in jeopardy. But now it seems that everything is coming together in October as they found their mojo with their potent offense. So far, the Blue Jays have hit the most home runs during the postseason with 10.

Once again, Josh Donaldson delivered in a huge way. The 2015 AL MVP was nursing a hip injury since September. But that didn’t let that bother him as his hustling display was the biggest reason why the Blue Jays won the ALDS finale. He definitely led by example with his outstanding baseball IQ.

Their pitching have been outstanding limited the Baltimore Orioles and the Rangers with a 2.77 ERA, fourth best in the postseason. While Aaron Sanchez didn’t have his best stuff, the bullpen managed to pitch 4.1 shutout innings with Roberto Osuna pitching in two of those innings.

On paper, it seems that the Blue Jays may have the most completed team in the American League. But they have to keep their momentum going the going will get tougher during the postseason.

While the Blue Jays wait to see if they are playing the Boston Red Sox or Cleveland Indians in the ALCS, it won’t matter. All it matters is that they will be ready and rested for Game 1 in about a week or so.

Everything is coming together and the timing couldn’t have been better. With great offense and pitching execution during the postseason, the Blue Jays quest continues as the will be looking to bring the World Series back to Toronto for the first time since 1993. Now that would be great to witness for all Blue Jays fans around the world.