The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays get their season off and running tomorrow after a tremendously successful weekend set in Montreal. Despite a pair of wins against the New York Mets and a great environment that have people feeling optimistic, there are many questions (like last year) that the Blue Jays are going to have to face before they can have any sort of success in the regular season. This year, I’m going to limit it to five.
Question 1: The Starting Rotation
There are a lot of little questions in here but this is the biggest item that will make or break the Jays’ season this year. For the past two years, the starting rotation has been decimated by injuries and if 2014 is going to set a new trend, the pitchers are going to have to get out there and start 25+ games each. If the guys penciled into the rotation to start the season are good enough and healthy enough to keep getting starts for most of the season then there’s a good chance that this is an 85+ win team (which, unfortunately, doesn’t get you very far in the AL East).
Question 1a: Can R.A. Dickey carry over what he did in the second half of 2013 into 2014?
This is a big key to what the Blue Jays are going to be able to do. If Dickey can recapture some of his 2012 effectiveness and be the true ace of the rotation, then the club will take some big steps forward.
Question 1b: Who is Brandon Morrow really?
He looked very good in the game in Montreal (although he was leaving a lot of pitches up) and could very well be a second ace . . . but he could also get hurt and not be effective.
Question 1c: Are Drew Hutchison and Dustin McGowan for real?
I actually think that Hutchison is. By all reports, his velocity is up since coming back from Tommy John surgery and the movement on his pitches is just nasty. He also throws strikes which is something that a lot of the other pitchers who competed for the fourth and fifth starter positions can’t say.
McGowan, on the other hand, is harder to figure out. I think the Blue Jays hope that he can serve as a bridge until either a) J.A. Happ is healthy and “right,” or b) One of Stroman or Sanchez forces his way onto the big league squad.
Question 1d: Are Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez have what it takes to contribute like Sonny Gray, Michael Wacha, Jose Fernandez and Gerrit Cole?
Several young pitchers made big impacts in 2013 including the NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez. While some have mentioned Sanchez and Fernandez in the same breath, I know that the Blue Jays aren’t going to be nearly as aggressive with their prospect as the Marlins were with theirs. Even though Sanchez has shown that he can tame near-big-league-quality hitters with his filthy stuff, the Blue Jays are being wise in making sure that he gets some more minor league experience under his belt. Sanchez is looking better and better in each start and I’m hoping to get to see him in New Hampshire soon.
Stroman, on the other hand, hopefully has learned from his time in big league spring training that he can’t get by on pure stuff the way Sanchez can. When Stroman keeps the ball down and locates well, he has good enough movement and deception to be very effective but if he starts to leave pitches up in the strike zone, batters seem to be able to hit the ball a long way.
The big question here is not if they’ll come up to help the Blue Jays but when. Both Stroman and Sanchez are young and have excellent upside. They just have some polishing to do and I would bet that we’ll see one, if not both, of them in Toronto by the All-Star Break.
Question 2: How much better is Dioner Navarro?
The Blue Jays made one move this offseason and I’m hoping it pays off. Navarro is certainly a more well-rounded player than Arencibia is and I’ve heard that pitchers love to throw to him. I heard Bob McCown talking on the radio the other day, saying that it catchers make a difference to a team’s pitching but he doesn’t know how much. We can’t quantify the effect that a different catcher and game-caller has on the pitching staff but if the staff is better as a whole in 2014 can we attribute some of that to the new catcher?
Question 3: Will Brett Lawrie stay healthy?
For me, this is a big one. I’m really hoping that Lawrie can stay healthy and play 140+ games this year. For most of spring training I was very underwhelmed by Lawrie’s approach at the plate. He wasn’t showing a lot of power and was going the other way a lot. Towards the end, however, he started pulling the ball more and was hitting the ball with much more authority. If we see a Brett Lawrie who can hit for a high average and some power by taking the ball where it’s pitched, then I’m going to be very happy and want to see him on the field and not in the trainer’s room.
Question 4: Will Ryan Goins hit enough?
Yes, I used the qualifier “enough.” I’m really hoping for offensive mediocrity from Goins because, like so many people, I love what he does with the glove. I think this club has a more diversified offense than it did last year and probably has the ability to carry a weak bat in the nine hole. That said, I think that Goins still has to hit to some degree and the club won’t tolerate a .280 OBP any longer than it has to. There really aren’t too many people that the Jays have in the minors to take over if need be. The Blue Jays didn’t make a move last year until late-August and didn’t budge on bringing Jim Negrych up, even when Maicer Izturis was struggling badly. Will they be as adamant with Chris Getz or Munenori Kawasaki if it means clearing a spot on the 40-man?
Question 5: How long will it take Jeremy Jeffress to lose his spot in the bullpen?
Don’t get me wrong, I think Jeffress is a great story. To be able to overcome his drug issues as well as his struggle with epilepsy and earn a spot on a big league roster for Opening Day is a big achievement. I don’t think that Jeffress has mastered his control issues well enough to just get by with his velocity. I hope he proves me wrong.
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