Is There Still Hope For 2015?

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The Blue Jays were dealt a devastating blow yesterday with the news that Marcus Stroman will miss the entire 2015 season with a torn ACL.

The news is crushing in so many ways for Toronto.  The most obvious is that Stroman was penciled in as one of the team’s top starting pitchers, with the potential for an Opening Day start.  He was being picked by many within the industry as one of 2015’s breakout stars.

Less obvious is the impact that Stroman has on the team as a whole.  He is not quite 24 years old and doesn’t have the “veteran moxy” that many others do, but his enthusiasm, his smile, and his upbeat attitude are infectious.  Even more, his relationship with Aaron Sanchez is incredibly strong, and not having Stroman around might have a negative impact on Aaron.

So is this it?  Are the Jays chances at ending a 21-year playoff drought over before the season even begins?  Is all the hard work by GM Alex Anthopoulos going to fall by the wayside after yesterday’s news?  It’s obvious that Toronto can’t replace Stroman, but will they be able to scrounge together enough arms to still maintain their status as contenders?

While the odds are certainly stacked against them, I think the short answer is yes.  There are 25 players on an active roster, and while losing Stroman is massive, there are still 24 others left to pull the ship forward.  There is a huge opportunity for a guy like Sanchez, or Daniel Norris, to step up and prove that they deserve a spot in the rotation.  There’s even a chance that Marco Estrada might prove useful.

But what should give us hope above all is that teams have proven in the past that they can survive, even thrive, after losing an ace.

In 2010, the St. Louis Cardinals finished second in the NL Central, 5 games back of Cincinnati.  They were led that year by 28-year old Adam Wainwright, who finished 20-11 with a 2.42 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 213 strikeouts in 230.1 innings.  He made the NL All-Star team, and finished 2nd in Cy Young voting and 17th in MVP voting.  In short, he was a pure ace.

The Cardinals entered 2011 with real hopes of returning to the playoffs.  But before the season even began came crushing news: Wainwright required Tommy John surgery and would miss the entire season.  I wrote it about that week.  The instant reaction was that St. Louis’ season was over.  They were no longer contenders.  Yes they still had perennial MVP candidate Albert Pujols and slugger Matt Holliday, along with one of the best catchers in the game in Yadier Molina.  But the rotation without Wainwright looked thin.  There was an aging Chris Carpenter, on his last legs as an effective big leaguer.  There were a couple of 30+ year old journeymen in Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook.  There was an unproven rookie in Jaime Garcia.  And it was topped off by reliever turned starter Kyle McLellan.

But something funny happened to St. Louis.  Instead of being devastated by the loss of Wainwright, they rallied around him and came together as a team.  They got off to a decent start in April and May, and hung on through the dog days of summer before pulling away in September.  They then snuck by the Phillies in 5 games, the Brewers in 6, and the Rangers in 7 to capture a shocking World Series title.

There are other examples from around baseball, as pointed out on Twitter by @DrewGROF yesterday, of teams thriving without aces.  The Giants lost Matt Cain to injury last year and won the Series.  The Tigers made the playoffs with little production offered by Justin Verlander.  But there is something about the 2011 Cardinals that is more relevant.

Look at the construction of both teams.  The Jays still have a perennial MVP candidate in Jose Bautista, and a legitimate slugger in Edwin Encarnacion.  Plus, with the signing of Russell Martin, they too have one of the best catchers in the game.  The rotation without Stroman will have an aging ace in Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey, and possibly a reliever turned starter in Marco Estrada.  It also might have an unproven rookie in Sanchez or Norris (or both).  And perhaps more important, while the NL Central wasn’t at its strongest in 2011, neither is the AL East in 2015.  Even without Stroman, Toronto still has one of the best teams on paper.

So at the end of the day, while losing Marcus Stroman is a devastating, crushing, and crippling injury, it’s not the end of the world.  The season must go on, and the Jays can take solace in the fact that teams have won in the face of this type of adversity before.

Anything can happen.

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