Other than the chills one gets from a playoff series or an exhilarating pennant chase, there’s very few days over the course of the season that can match the feeling of Opening Day. To be exact, MLB officially opened for business with yesterday’s 3-game teaser. But I’m referring to the 12-game slate on today’s docket. You know, the annual Monday schedule that diehards call in sick for.
In a sense, with Spring Training mimicking the grind of the regular season, Opening Day offers a playoff atmosphere in its own right. Not to mention it being the first chance one gets to sit back and let their Fantasy GM skills do the talking. Here’s hoping Scooter Gennett in the 32nd round leads me to NFBC glory!
As for the team we’re all here for, well, how much time do you have?
Considering the Blue Jays have been on the brink of getting back to the World Series in consecutive years, players finding that extra gear of motivation shouldn’t be a problem. And with their championship window shrinking to the size of the years Josh Donaldson has left on his contract, that feeling is surely mutual among fans.
Which brings up a few things that will either pave the way for success or throw a wrench into the program.
1. The Obvious:
A big step in the process of eventually forgetting about Edwin Encarnacion is just plain health. In particular, the usual injury concerns over the likes of Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis. You can also add Josh Donaldson to that list since his hard-nosed playing style tends to keep our fingers crossed on a daily basis. Bottom line: Whether or not the majority of that group can escape extended stints on the disabled list will play a major role in dictating which direction this team ultimately takes. Which, in the process, will dictate the type of product we all root for. We’re all aware (unfortunately) that attendance in this city, at least at the ballpark, tends to reflect the team’s winning percentage. There might be a word for that.
2. The Stro Show:
If there’s one aspect we should all have confidence in, it’s the starting rotation. Though that doesn’t mean skepticism can be completely removed from the equation.
An example of the double-edged sword:
Judging by his MVP performance in the recent World Baseball Classic, there’s positive signs pointing to Marcus Stroman finally putting it all together and moving past his inconsistencies. Not to mention last season’s first overall ranking in ground ball percentage and the fact that his FIP ended up far lower than his ERA. However, it’s tough to go “all in” when over the course of the last three seasons his HR/9 has gone in the wrong direction and his WHIP has fluctuated so dramatically.
(Stroman’s actual stats: GB% = 60.1, FIP and ERA = 3.71 vs. 4.37, WHIP = 1.17, 0.96, 1.29)
3. First Base:
One of the bigger storylines that’s sure to heat up as the season progresses is the potential timeline of Rowdy Tellez’s arrival. Actually, to be fair, that will only start to make serious noise if Justin Smoak (.700 career OPS) fails another attempt at a late-blooming breakout. And while Kendry Morales promises to be a serviceable option to fill the void Edwin left behind, his overall value takes a nosedive if asked to take the field for any extended period of time. A veteran switch-hitter that’s just one year removed from 30 jacks and two years from a .485 slugging percentage is the good news. But less lineup flexibility doesn’t exactly justify his 3-year deal.
Tellez is only 22 years old but already has a full season of Double-AA ball under his belt. He also reminds me a young Morales, both in body type and approach. His opposite field homer over the weekend in Montreal may have woken up those who weren’t paying attention beforehand, but his desire to use that part of the field was already apparent.
Sure, Steve Pearce will receive his fair share of playing time, particularly when a lefty is on the mound, but if it doesn’t take long for Rowdy’s stay in Buffalo to resemble what he accomplished in New Hampshire, it stands to reason that the Jays will pull the trigger even before they have the chance to save a year of his service time.
(Tellez’s Double-AA stats: 438 AB, .297 AVG, .387 OBP, .530 Slugging, 23 HR, 81 RBI, 92/63 K/B ratio)
4. Left Field:
With the somewhat surprising release of Melvin Upton Jr. and the chances of signing Angel Pagan being anyone’s guess, we’ll need to get accustomed to Ezequiel Carrera getting most of the work with the possibility of newly signed Chris Coghlan eventually mixing in. Still, what this situation could really be about is clearing a path for Dalton Pompey. And how he recently looked for Team Canada can only add fuel to the fire. Considering the Jays’ biggest speed threat just received his walking papers, another opportunity for Pompey to show he belongs could happen sooner rather than later.
All in all, despite so many new faces in the bullpen coupled with Roberto Osuna starting the year on the 10-day DL, optimism gets first crack — at least for now.