Regular season baseball is back!
With the Toronto Blue Jays and the 29 other MLB teams hitting the field March 29th, Spring Training is over and the 162 game marathon began. Most bloggers/analysts/fans expect the Blue Jays to struggle their way to .500 or worse with high payroll teams like the Yankees and Red Sox returning to form. This is the last year on Josh Donaldson’s contract, thus bringing in to question whether this is a team intending on winning now or in need of a rebuild.
Will Jose Bautista’s departure mean the end of a home run mashing era at the Rogers Centre? Can Aaron Sanchez return to form? Who is going to take hold of starting positions in the outfield? Will Troy Tulowitzki shatter into a million pieces?
These are all questions we can’t answer today, but we can take a look at how the Blue Jays did during the first week of the 2018 MLB season. Tally ho!
Game One: Stantonitis
The Home/Season Opener was extremely emotional for Jays fans. A special ceremony dedicated to the late Roy Halladay happened before the first pitch. His number 32 was retired by the team in a very moving ceremony. I dare you to watch this video and not be overcome with emotion.
Baseball can be so powerful. How can you not love the game?
Unfortunately for the Jays, the heavy hitters on the Yankees feasted on pitching, with reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton bashing two massive home runs in a 6-1 victory for the Bronx Bombers.
The Jays’ season started immediately with a Curtis Granderson error (welcome to Toronto) and they never seemed to recover from there. J.A. Happ was okay, but the bullpen really let down the rest of the team, giving up 3 earned runs across 4.1 innings of work. Pillar smacking a home run off of Betances in the 8th was a bright spot in an otherwise brutal start to the season.
Game Two: Outdueled
Game two didn’t fare much better for the Jays as they went down 4-2 to the Yankees thanks to an impressive outing by Masahiro Tanaka. His 6 innings of work included 8 strikeouts. Aaron Sanchez’s season started poorly as he conceded 8 hits and 4 walks. This was not the start to the season the Jays were looking for, but at least we got to see the bullpen shut down the Yankees, conceding zero hits and zero walks in 3.1 innings of relief. Grichuk hit a home run, so that was nice. Still 0-2 to start the year. It was at this point I started to feel like 2018 was going to be a remix of 2017.
Game Three: Steal, Steal, Steal
This game was tight until Kevin Pillar hit a single. Then he stole second. Then third. Then…
Whether you like Pillar or not, this was amazing to watch. Three stolen bases later, the two run lead would stick for good as the Jays grab a 5-3 win over the Yankees. The bullpen was again strong as Roberto Osuna picked up his first save of the season. Yangervis Solarte belted a solo home run that gave the Jays the lead in the 8th inning. Last year’s team MVP Justin Smoak went 3 for 4 with 2 RBIs. It was great to see him come alive. Could it be possible the Jays manage to steal a split with the overwhelmingly favored Yankees?
Game Four: Smoak Show
The Smoak Show continued into Easter Sunday. I’ll let the video tell the story:
Two home runs including a grand slam. Six RBIs. A come from behind win to steal the series split with a 7-4 victory. With the first series of the season in the books, Smoak has 2 homers, 8 RBI, a .467 average in an impressive showing. Meanwhile, Aaron Judge hit .200 with zero home runs and zero RBI. Any time the Jays can limit a young phenom like Judge to a weak stat line like that, they have a chance to steal some wins against a stacked Yankees club.
The Good: Justin Smoak is already red-hot out of the gate, as is Kevin Pillar. Josh Donaldson’s “dead arm” might be a short-term hindrance to his production but when others step up, there’s a chance the Jays can do some serious damage in the AL East. The bullpen had a rough first game but otherwise kept the Jays in the next three. You could even argue they were the key factor in getting the wins. It’s a relief to already have two wins after the first series, given how disastrous a start they had in 2017.
The Bad: Sanchez was definitely a disappointment, but I can’t blame him for getting slapped around by a powerful Yankees lineup built to launch home runs. Marcus Stroman struck out eight but he walked three batters and conceded three hits, including a massive home run to Brandon Drury. Yay, another young Yankee who will probably slap around Jays hitters for years to come.
What to Expect in Week Two: The Jays stay home for a three game set against a Chicago White Sox team who were horrible last season but undefeated thus far in 2018. It’s very early in the season and difficult to say what to expect from the White Sox, but they should not be underestimated or overlooked at the Jays head to Texas to play the Rangers over the weekend. With Jose Bautista gone from the team, I doubt we will see anymore shenanigans amongst the players, many of whom still remember the Jays giving the Rangers the boot from the MLB playoffs in back to back seasons in 2015 and 2016. I expect the Jays should be able to win at least 3 of the 6 games and continue their .500 baseball as the starters begin to figure out how to be less terrible.
In the meantime, expect to see the final two write ups projecting the lineups for the 2018 Toronto Blue Jays. I’m a bit behind in my schedule but life throws curveballs at you and doesn’t care if you can handle them or not. It’s great to see the season underway and I can’t wait to keep the updates coming. See you on the field!