A lot of baseball people out there have been questioning whether the Blue Jays starting rotation of J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, and Francisco Liriano will be able to repeat the excellent work they did as a staff in 2016. My immediate response to these doubters is to simply quote Buck Martinez when he was asked whether the rotation can perform as well this year, “well why not!” Although I’m not always in agreement with Buck, in this case, he’s got a point.
It’s understandable that some people assume there’s going to be at least a bit of a drop-off in performance from pitchers like Happ and Estrada, who both had career years last season. But when it comes to Sanchez and Stroman, these two young pitchers have only just begun to scratch the surface of their talents. Last year Sanchez was as good as any starting pitcher in the American League and should only get better in 2017. As for Stroman, he’s looking to prove that last year was simply a fluke and that he’s capable of so much more. Then of course there’s Francisco Liriano, who after joining the Blue Jays, ended up going 2-2 with a 2.92 ERA in 10 starts. Imagine what Liriano is capable of in 2017, considering that he’ll be with the Blue Jays from the beginning of the year and is reunited with his old battery mate, Russell Martin, who he had great success pitching to while with the Pirates.
For anyone questioning the likelihood of Toronto’s starting pitchers doing as well as they did last year, just remember, the chances are pretty good that at least three of the starting pitchers (Sanchez, Stroman, and Liriano) should only be better than they were in 2016. Not to mention that R.A. Dickey was nowhere close to his best last season (10-15 4.46 ERA). Barring injury, most of Dickey’s starts will now go to Liriano, and if he pitches anywhere close to as well as he did during his 10 starts with the Blue Jays, he should be a solid upgrade over Dickey who struggled with consistency.
As long as Toronto has five strong starting pitchers going, I feel confident this ball club can continue its winning ways. Last season, Toronto was carried by the strength of their starting rotation, and even then they still wound up with 89 wins and made it all the way to the ALCS. Had last years offense remained healthy and clicked like they should have, the Blue Jays easily could have approached 100 wins. Unlike last year, the 2017 Blue Jays shouldn’t have to rely on the rotation to make up for a slumping offense. The changes made to the line-up during the off-season have addressed the issue of how often Toronto batters struck out in 2016, and the core group of players are motivated to build off what this team has accomplished the past two seasons. In 2016 Toronto’s starting pitchers were as good as any rotation in baseball, and there’s no reason to think why that isn’t possible yet again this year.