Could you imagine where the heart of the Blue Jays line-up would be if Justin Smoak doesn’t step-up his play like he did last year?
It was a huge blow to lose such a talented hitter like Edwin Encarnacion…luckily for the Blue Jays though, immediately after he signed with Cleveland, Smoak improved the offensive side of his game pretty much to the point where he completely replaced Encarnacion’s production. This still doesn’t excuse the Blue Jays and Encarnacion botching his contract talks.
Smoak was by no means facing slouches when he hit those two home runs against the Yankees yesterday. Quite possibly the finest bullpen in baseball, Smoak blasted home runs against David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, two relievers who had a combined 2.21 ERA in 2017.
Having Josh Donaldson is such a bonus to have…but as we saw yesterday, the opposition won’t hesitate to pitch around him in an effort to by-pass his potent bat. Prior to 2017, teams were forced to pitch to Donaldson, or else face the equally dangerous Jose Bautista and Encarnacion. Smoak’s emergence has provided Donaldson with some of the protection lost since the departure of Encarnacion and decline of Bautista. Oddly enough, Yankees manager Aaron Boone chose to walk Donaldson in order to face Smoak with the bases loaded in yesterday’s game. A move that ended up backfiring on the rookie manager and something that will surely force the Yankees to reconsider their options the next time they encounter that part of the Blue Jays line-up with the game on the line.
Back in July 2016 when the Blue Jays signed Smoak to a 2-year $8.25 million contract extension (with a $6-million option for a third year), many were questioning why offer such a deal to a player who at the time was hitting a shade over .200 and striking out over 30% of the time.
It didn’t take long for Smoak to make those critics eat their words. He ended up surpassing everyone’s expectations so much last year, that his contract has become one of the more team friendly deals the Blue Jays have. Many people wondered if Smoak would be able to reproduce the breakout performance he had last year. Well, just one series into the books of the 2018 season, Smoak is 7 for 15, with 2 HR, 8 RBI, and is quite possibly even better than he was one year ago.