The longest playoff drought in MLB now belongs to the Toronto Blue Jays, who have not been in the postseason since 1993. Will that end this season? A big injury won't help things. The Jays have a wins total of 82.5 on Bovada's MLB odds.
Recap of 2014
Not only have the Blue Jays not been back to the playoffs since repeating as World Series champions in 1993, they haven't won 90 games in a season since then. They did win 83 last year, their most since 2010. The team hung around the wild card chase but finished five games out of the second spot won by Oakland. I believe that if Toronto hadn't been an above .500 team in 2014 that manager John Gibbons might have been fired. He's on the hot seat this year, especially as the Jays let former manager John Farrell get away to Boston -- technically he was traded -- and he won a World Series in his first season (2013).
Toronto had one of the better offenses in baseball a year ago, ranking fifth in runs scored with 723, third in home runs (177), fourth in slugging (.414), sixth in on-base percentage (.323) and seventh in batting average (.259). So why didn't the Jays have a better record? Hit all you want, but pitching is still the most important thing in baseball and that was shaky.
The Blue Jays' team ERA of 4.00 was only 22nd. Veterans Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey were solid enough and rookie Marcus Stroman was very good, but the back end of the rotation, largely J.A. Happ and Drew Hutchison, was a problem area.
Many heads are likely to roll in the organization this season without a playoff berth because ownership has spent some money.
Outlook for 2015
Perhaps no team has been hit harder by injuries this spring than the Blue Jays, which can't be ignored when making your MLB Picks. The biggest was to the big right-hander Stroman, who was expected to be the team's ace and was a stealth Cy Young candidate. The 23-year-old went 11-6 with a 3.65 ERA last year. He struggled a bit early out of the bullpen but once he landed in the rotation on May 31 he was 10-6 with a 3.29 ERA, 1.15 WHP and tremendous 103-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio. However, he will miss the entire 2015 season due to a torn ACL suffered while performing a fielding drill. It's a crushing loss and has led some to call for Toronto to trade for Philadelphia's Cole Hamels, which I suppose could happen between now and the July 31 trade deadline.
So now your rotation is two guys on the tail ends of their careers in Buehrle (13-10, 3.29), the knuckleballer Dickey (14-13, 3.71), Hutchison (11-13, 4.48) and questions. It seems likely that youngsters Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris will fill out the rotation, although veteran Marco Estrada, acquired from the Brewers, could fill one spot. Sanchez was a candidate to close before the injury but that job now should go to Brett Cecil.
The lineup also was hit hard as outfielder Michael Saunders originally was expected to be out until the All-Star break after tearing the meniscus in his left knee. Now, amazingly, he could be ready for Opening Day or at least not long after. Saunders was acquired in a trade from Seattle this offseason and will take the left field spot of Melky Cabrera, the Jays' biggest offseason loss. He signed with the White Sox. Saunders hit .278 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in 78 games for Seattle last season.
Toronto's other main offensive loss from last season was first baseman/DH Adam Lind, who was dealt to Milwaukee for Estrada. The team's two big acquisitions were a trade for Oakland All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson and signing the best free-agent catcher on the market in Russell Martin, who just so happens to be from Canada. The Jays' offense should be one of the league's best again as long as guys like Jose Reyes, Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion stay healthy. The latter two each have 40-homer potential. Encarnacion is +1000 at sportsbooks to lead the majors in homers and Bautista is +1500. That 3-4-5 of Bautista, Encarnacion and Donaldson could be the majors' best. The most glaring holes in the lineup looks to be at second base (Maicer Izturis) and center field (Dalton Pompey). Toronto has money to spend so it could make a deal if need be.
As noted, the Jays' wins total is set at 82.5 in the MLB Odds, with the 'over' a slight favorite. They are +300 second-favorites to Boston for the AL East and +1200 for the pennant.
Toronto Blue Jays Season Win Total: I would have gone heavily 'over' that total before the Stroman injury. It may have been my top 'over' pick in baseball. I still lean that way but with much less certainty while confident the Jays will trade for a rotation piece if that proves necessary. I would take a flier on them in the division as well because Boston's pitching staff has looked iffy this spring.