All posts by 500LevelFan

Week 5 In Review: Ace Happ

Embed from Getty Images
Every Monday during the 2018 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 5.

  1. Ace Happ

Entering the 2018 season the Blue Jays strength was supposed to be their rotation, primarily  for the potential of having two aces: Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez.  But through the first month of the season, J.A. Happ has stolen the “ace” label and might not give it back.  He was sensational in two starts last week, first dominating the Red Sox and then snapping Toronto’s four-game losing streak by completely overwhelming Texas.  Happ pitched seven innings in each start, allowed only three earned runs, and struck out a whopping 19 batters.  Perhaps most impressive is that he didn’t walk a single hitter.  He is currently tied for 1st in the AL with 4 wins, 3rd with a 12.5 K/9 ratio, 2nd with 50 strikeouts, and 3rd with a 7.14 K/BB rate.  In short, he has been awesome and has transitioned into the ace the Jays didn’t know they needed.

  1. Travis to the Minors

Devon Travis began the season as the Jays leadoff hitter, and while there were question marks surrounding him, they focused more on his inability to stay healthy, not his inability to produce.  But Travis has endured a nightmare start to the season, with his disappointing performance culminating with a demotion to the minor leagues on the weekend.  Through 18 games, Travis is hitting just .148, has only three extra base hits, and his OPS is a minuscule .458.  He is also ranked 261st out of 265 AL players with a -0.7 WAR.  Despite his struggles, Toronto still has high hopes for Travis, and his demotion was mainly due to the fact that he has options remaining and not as a punishment.  After all, this is a guy who hit .130 last April and rebounded with a .364 May.  Hopefully he can iron out his swing in Buffalo and return to the big league club with a vengeance.

  1. Trouble With Contenders

The general rule of thumb for contending teams in any sport is to beat the teams you’re supposed to beat and hold your own against the best.  For the Blue Jays, this means beating up on weak teams like Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Kansas City, and others, and playing .500 baseball against true contenders like Boston, New York, Cleveland, and the like.  Despite a minor slip-up against the Rangers this past weekend, the Jays were doing exactly what they needed to against the weak teams, going 10-5 and winning four-of-five series.  The concern lies in their play against the top teams.  The Jays lost two-of-three at home to the Red Sox last week, on the heels of dropping three-of-four in Yankee Stadium.  Including their win in Cleveland the Jays are currently 5-7 against winning teams, a .416 winning percentage that won’t be good enough moving forward.  With 49 games remaining against Boston, New York, Washington, Houston, Anaheim, and Cleveland, that percentage needs to climb closer to .500 for the Jays to truly have a chance at October.

Player of the Week

J.A. Happ, SP

2 starts, 1 – 0, 14 IP, 3 ER, 19 K, 0 BB, 1.93 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 12.2 K/9

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

Reminder: Better Days Are Ahead

Your weekly reminder that both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are Jays

Stats as at April 29 (AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats)

The Look Ahead

April 30 – May 2 at Minnesota Twins

May 3 – doubleheader at Cleveland Indians (makeup games)

May 4 – 6 at Tampa Bay Rays

What Is Wrong With Marco Estrada?

Embed from Getty Images

The Marco Estrada saga is one of a number of great Blue Jay success stories.

Over the years we’ve seen players like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Justin Smoak struggle in other organizations only to finally fulfill their potential in Toronto.  Estrada pitched decently well, though a bit inconsistent and erratic during his years in Washington and Milwaukee, but found his form after being acquired in advance of the 2015 season for Shaun Marcum.  He was one of the key players that helped end Toronto’s playoff drought, and was incredible in the playoffs in elimination games against Texas and Kansas City.

Sadly, something is happening to Estrada, a performance decline that threatens to derail both his and the Blue Jays’ season.  After seeing his numbers dip last season, Estrada has seemingly fallen off a cliff through five starts this year.  After another rough outing last night against Boston, Estrada’s numbers, both on an absolute and relative basis, are terrible.  There are 46 qualified pitchers in the American League thus far – here is where Estrada ranks in a number of key categories:

Those are not pretty.

So what happened?  Is this simply an early season slump, a rough patch that will end after a few adjustments?  Or is this the continuation of a career decline?

I took a look at several other numbers to see if anything jumps out in his early season performance.  Is he suddenly walking more batters?  Has his velocity significantly declined?  Is he surrendering a ton of hard contact?

The good news for Blue Jays fans is that the answers to the above questions appear to be “no”.

Through five starts Estrada’s strikeout rate is 7.67 K/9, down a touch from 2016 and 2017 but up from a 6.51 rate in 2015.  His walk rate is actually down thus far, sitting at 3.0 BB/9, down from 3.44 last season.  His fastball velocity sits at 89.4, down a touch from last season’s 90.1 but in-line with the previous two years.  And in terms of hard contact, his hard-hit rate is 30.6% vs. 28.6% over the past three years.

So with those numbers fairly consistent, what has changed?

First of all, his pitch selection is much different.  Estrada’s fastball usage has increased to 58% up almost 5% from last year.  He is throwing it at the expense of his cutter (down from 6.7% to 5.3%) and his curveball (down from 7.7% to 5.3%).  In years past Estrada was excellent at mixing his cutter and curveball in and around his killer changeup to keep hitters off-balance.  With those pitches fewer and far between, hitters might be sitting on his below-average velocity fastball and teeing off.

Which brings us to dingers.  Estrada has always been a fly ball pitcher, but so far this season he has taken that to an extreme.

His ground ball % has dropped to 28.2% and his fly ball % has risen to a new high of 55.3%.  The result is a significant drop in his GB/FB rate from a high of 0.69 in 2016 to 0.51 thus far in 2018.

The obvious consequence of that is that more fly balls brings the potential for more home runs:

That is a steep incline.  Estrada has already allowed 7 HR in only 27 IP, and more often than not they have been the type of game-changing, soul-crushing bombs that can really hurt a team.  To wit:

  • March 31 vs. New York: Allowed two HR to Tyler Austin, both times wiping out Toronto leads
  • April 20 vs. New York: HR by Austin gave NY a 2-0 lead; HR by Stanton gave NY a 4-2 lead; solo HR by Andujar erased a 5-4 Toronto lead
  • April 26 vs. Boston: HR by J.D. Martinez turned a 3-2 lead into a 5-3 deficit

With players all over baseball trying to increase launch angles thanks to advanced analytics, Estrada will need to make some adjustments or else things might get worse.  Whether that is reducing his reliance on the fastball and throwing his curve more often remains to be seen.

But through five starts it’s obvious that Estrada is broken.  It’s up to him to fix things or else the postseason hopes of the Jays could be in jeopardy.

Week 4 In Review: King Teoscar

Embed from Getty Images

Every Monday during the 2018 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 4.

  1. King Teoscar

Talk about forcing Toronto’s hand!  Teoscar Hernandez was awesome in the spring but due to a glut of outfielders and because he still had options remaining, he was forced to start the year in Buffalo.  But early injury problems and the terrible play of Grichuk provided an opening, and Teoscar hasn’t merely walked through the open door – he’s destroyed the door entirely.  In eight games Hernandez has blasted 3 HR, driven in 10, recorded 7 extra base hits, and is currently sporting a 1.138 OPS.  Sure plate discipline remains a bit of a problem as he’s struck out 9 times, but his power and solid contact rate leave him assured of a roster spot for now.  The Jays will have a real roster crunch and some tough decisions to make when Josh Donaldson returns from the DL, but for now it’s all Teoscar all the time.

  1. Incredible Barnes

With the Jays off to a nice start, the team has been garnering more attention than many expected.  Young call-ups like Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., bigger names like Donaldson, Sanchez, Stroman, and Osuna, and offseason acquisitions off to nice starts like Solarte, Diaz, and Garcia have found themselves in the media quite often.   But there is one player who is having a dynamite start and seems to have fallen under the radar: Danny Barnes.  After a very effective 2017, Barnes had relatively high expectations and entered 2018 as a key piece of the bullpen.  Through 21 games he has blown those expectations out of the water.  In 11.2 innings, Barnes has allowed only one earned run and one walk, while striking out 14.  His 4.1 scoreless innings last week lowered his season ERA to 0.77 and his season WHIP to 1.03.  He has been the rock of a very effective Blue Jays ‘pen.

  1. Rotation Woes

On paper, the Blue Jays entered 2018 with one of the AL’s best starting rotations.  With a fully healthy Sanchez, a solid #5 man in Jaime Garcia, the always effective Happ and Estrada, and Cy Young contender Marcus Stroman, Toronto was expected to contend largely on the arms of their starters.  As we approach the end of the season’s first month, that has definitely not been the case.  Blue Jay starters currently hold a combined ERA of 5.23, the 4th worst mark in the American League.   Only Sanchez has an ERA under 4.50 and Happ leads the rotation with a not-too-great 1.27 WHIP.  Control has been the key issue.  Blue Jay starters have allowed 53 walks, hit 10 batters, and surrendered 20 HR – second most in the AL in each category.  Marcus Stroman has been by the far the most concerning.  Perhaps his spring shoulder issue is to blame, but whatever the case his early returns have been poor.  He was roughed up by the Yankees on Saturday (6 ER and 4 BB in 5.1 IP), increasing his season ERA to a woeful 8.55 – the third worst mark among SP with 20 IP.  The offense and bullpen have been surprisingly great, but the Jays need the rotation to pick up if they are to remain in the hunt in the AL East.

Player of the Week

Teoscar Hernandez, OF

10-for-30, 3 HR, 7 R, 8 RBI, 3 BB, .333 / .394 / .733 / 1.127

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

Reminder: Better Days Are Ahead

Your weekly reminder that both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are Jays

Stats as at April 15 (AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats)

The Look Ahead

April 24 – 26 vs. Boston Red Sox

April 27 – 29 vs. Texas Rangers

Week 3 In Review: Late Inning Kings

Embed from Getty Images
Every Monday during the 2018 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 3.

  1. Late Inning Kings

Imagine if Rob Manfred went crazy last offseason in his eternal quest to solve baseball’s pace of play issues, and decided to shorten major league games to seven innings?  Games certainly would be shorter thus far in 2018, but the Blue Jays would likely be the worst team in the league.  Through 14 games it is quite obvious that something magical comes over this team once the game hits the 8th inning.  Last Monday Toronto scored five runs in the 9th to turn a 2-1 nailbiter into a 7-1 blowout.  On Tuesday they scored single runs in the 8th and 9th to edge the O’s 2-1.  Then on Friday they scored three times in the top of the 9th to finish off Cleveland.  For the season Toronto has now scored 26 runs in the final two frames, or 36% of their total.  With that kind of late game offense, the Jays are truly never out of any games.  Watch to the end.

  1. Dominating Sanchez

Aaron Sanchez would probably be the first to tell you that he didn’t pitch one of his best games last Tuesday in Baltimore.  He issued five walks, only struck out four batters, and only generated 10 swings and misses.  But he did manage to keep Oriole hitters off balance, induce weak contact, and came within six outs of doing something that has only been done once in Blue Jay history – throw a no-hitter.  He ultimately fell short due to a few Oriole hits in the bottom of the 8th, but the effort was very encouraging.  Through each of his three starts his innings pitched total has increased and his earned runs allowed have decreased, a perfect combination.  Jays fans everywhere would gladly accept a failed no-hit bid if it meant eight quality innings, each and every time.

  1. Down Goes Donaldson

Just as he was starting to heat up a bit, the Jays were forced to place Josh Donaldson on the 10-day DL last Wednesday with right shoulder inflammation.  It was the same issue that plagued him on Opening Day, forcing him to spend a few days as DH.  While it’s never great to lose your MVP and perennial All-Star, the timing of Donaldson’s loss couldn’t be worse.  The Jays are already missing Troy Tulowitzki, and with Devon Travis struggling mightily (.079 average, .252 OPS) they now have no choice but to use their infield depth of Diaz and Solarte as injury replacements, rather than to give Travis a break to get himself sorted out.  There’s no telling how long Josh will be out, but each day he misses puts more pressure on Travis.

Player of the Week

Aledmys Diaz, IF

4-for-15, 2 HR, 3 R, 4 RBI, 1 SB, .267 / .313 / .667 / .979

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

Reminder: Better Days Are Ahead

Your weekly reminder that both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are Jays

Stats as at April 15 (AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats)

The Look Ahead

April 16 – 18 vs. Kansas City Royals

April 19 – 22 at New York Yankees

The Early Outfield Returns Are Good

Embed from Getty Images
There’s an old saying in baseball that the games in April count just as much as those in September.  Another adage states that a team can’t win their division in April, but they can certainly lose it.

While the magnitude of a game in the final few weeks of the season with pennant race implications may be amplified, team’s must also show up ready to play in the first few weeks.  So although the Blue Jays still have 149 games left to play let’s not simply gloss over the the start with an “it’s early” shrug of the shoulders.  Last April the Jays essentially played themselves out of playoff contention with a 6-17 start they never recovered from.  Let’s give these guys a bit of credit.

Off to a quick 8-5 start, the Blue Jays look like decent value in the 2018 World Series futures, currently sitting at 30/1.  While 13 games is a small sample size, we’ve seen some important traits: Justin Smoak is showing that 2017 was not an anomaly; Aaron Sanchez is blister-free and throwing great’ Jaime Garcia is proving to be a solid back-of-the-rotation option; and the outfield defense is much improved with Curtis Granderson and Randal Grichuk.  It wouldn’t be a surprise to see their odds get shorter – maybe in the 25/1 or 20/1 range via MyTopSportsbooks – in the coming days.

Of those key traits, the one that isn’t always reflected on the scoreboards or the boxscores is outfield defense.  Last season, with mainly Ezequiel Carrera and Jose Bautista flanking Kevin Pillar, the Jays were not good defensively.  According to Baseball Reference’s Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average, Toronto had the 5th worst OF in the American League at -9.  BIS Defensive Runs Saved had the Jays even lower at -14, the 4th worst group in the AL.

So how much have Granderson and Grichuk helped?  The answer is obvious:

Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average: +4   4th in the AL

BIS Defensive Runs Saved: +1   3rd in the AL

Yes it’s still early.  Yes Grichuk is going to have to hit higher than .077 with a .319 OPS.  And yes, health is going to continue to be the key for the Jays chances.

But let’s take a moment to at least be happy with the way things have started.

Week 2 In Review: Keep Calm

Embed from Getty Images
Every Monday during the 2018 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 2.

  1. Keep Calm

Over the past three seasons, games involving the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays were anything but calm.  From the bat flip to the brawl to the playoff walkoff, these two clubs have evolved into bitter rivals.  Well, maybe it’s the fact that Bautista is gone, or that the weather was cold, or that it’s simply too early in the season, but this weekend’s three game set in Texas had none of the fireworks of previous seasons.  Both teams were calm, cool, and collected as the Jays took two of three to move into second in the AL East.  But perhaps the calmest person in either dugout was manager John Gibbons who watched Friday and again Sunday as his bullpen nearly blew big leads.  On Friday, staked to an 8-0 lead through six innings, Aaron Loup and Seung-hwan Oh allowed four runs in a single inning, forcing Osuna into the game.  Then on Sunday, Loup and Oh again had a rough day, allowing four hits and an inherited runner to score in only 0.2 IP.  Credit Gibbons for guiding the team to both wins, but perhaps it’s time to question whether the Jays could use a different lefty in the ‘pen.

  1. Two Sides of the Newcomers Coin

Through 10 games of the season, the Blue Jays have to be incredibly pleased with the performances of three of their key offseason acquisitions.  Aledmys Diaz has two home runs, a .783 OPS, and has played solid defense in place of the injured Tulo.  Yangervis Solarte has posted a massive 1.086 OPS, had several key hits, and is making a name for himself as the best dancer in the game.  Fifth starter Jaime Garcia is 1-0 with a 3.18 ERA in his two starts, and has struck out 12 batters against only 4 walks.  Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Randal Grichuk, who is off to a miserable start to his Toronto tenure.  The RF is batting only .059 with a homer and a single in 34 at-bats, and he has struck out a team leading 13 times.  While the Jays managed to plate 37 runs in 6 games last week, Grichuk went 0-for-20 with 8 K’s.  It’s still very early, but Toronto was obviously hoping for a bigger return from Randal.

  1. Pleasant Backup Surprise

2017 was a nightmare year for Toronto’s backup catchers.  But instead of trying to fortify the position over the winter, the front office elected to stick with Luke Maile in the role in hopes that he is able to contribute at least a bit with the bat when called upon.  Well, so far so good.  Maile has made three starts thus far and has looked pretty good, going 4-for-12 with 4 RBI and a .968 OPS.  For context, Luke only had 19 hits in 130 AB all of last season.  Obviously it’s a small sample size, but you can’t help but be pleasantly surprised so far.

Player of the Week

Roberto Osuna, RP

3.1 IP, 3 Saves, 0 ER, 2 H, 2 K, 0 BB, 0.00 ERA, .182 BAA, 0.60 WHIP

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

Reminder: Better Days Are Ahead

Your weekly reminder that both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are Jays

Stats as at April 8 (AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats)

The Look Ahead

April 9 – 11 at Baltimore Orioles

April 13 – 15 at Cleveland Indians

Happiness is an Effective Bullpen

After almost six consecutive months without baseball, the first off-day of the season is always jarring.  We’ve just started getting back into the groove and suddenly the Jays have Thursday off?  Bummer.

But what yesterday’s off-day did do was allow us to reflect on the first week of the season.  To this writer, Toronto’s first seven games have to be qualified as a success.  First of all they are over .500, something that hasn’t happened since 2016.  Second of all the 4-3 record is much, much better than last year’s 1-6 mark through seven games.   Finally, they have picked up win #4 already, something that didn’t occur until April 21 last season.

Obviously the offense has been great.  After finishing dead last in the American League in runs scored last year, the Jays have plated 36 thus far, good enough for T-4th.  They also sit 5th with 10 HR and 5th with a .760 team OPS.

But this is not a long-ball hitting team.  Gone are the days when Donaldson, Encarnacion, and Bautista could mash opponents into submission.   The long balls will occasionally dry up, like we saw on Wednesday.

Instead, if the Blue Jays are going to keep this nice start up they will need to rely on pitching.  And while we all know that the rotation should be solid, it is the bullpen that thus far has been the most impressive.

Toronto’s bullpen was actually quite solid in 2017 but they simply pitched too much.  They averaged 3.68 innings per game, the third highest amount in all of baseball.  The fact that they finished with a 4.21 ERA (15th overall) and 1.26 WHIP (7th) is actually quite impressive.

So the key this year is to keep the number of innings down and subsequently, hopefully, the effectiveness up.  Through one week, it’s been job well done.

The starters haven’t been pitching super deep into games, but that is par for the course in the early stages of the season.  Overall the Jays bullpen has thrown 3.3 innings per game, down from last year and only the 20th highest total in the game.  As a result, their 2.31 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 3.71 K/BB ratio are all outstanding and much better than last season.

Obviously it is still very early but the signs are encouraging.  Ryan Tepera, John Axford, Seung-hwan Oh, and Danny Barnes have all looked good.  Roberto Osuna has looked absolutely incredible.  Hell, even Aaron Loup has been sharp.

Yes, the play of Donaldson, Martin, Smoak, and Travis will dictate how successful this team will be, but the longer the bullpen performs like this  the better they will be able to withstand the inevitable offensive dry patches that will come.

Through seven games I think we can safely say mission accomplished.

Week 1 In Review: A Tale of Two Halves

Embed from Getty Images
Every Monday during the 2018 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 1.

  1. A Tale of Two Halves

To paraphrase Charles Dickens: it was the worst of times, it was the best of times.  The first half of Toronto’s season opening 4-game set against the Yankees was nothing but pure misery for fans.  The promise of a more versatile and dynamic offense was nowhere to be found as the Jays looked a lot like the futile squad of 2017.  In those two games the Blue Jays scored a measly 3 runs on 7 hits, only drew 4 walks compared to 24 strikeouts, and hit a putrid .125 (1-for-8) with runners in scoring position.  But the weekend brought much better fortune for Toronto hitters.  They looked more patient and more confident and it paid dividends.  On Saturday and Sunday Jays batters plated 12 runs on 21 hits, had a much more respectable 9:24 walk to strikeout ratio, and hit .278 (5-for-18) with RISP.  The offense doesn’t necessarily need to revert back to 2015 levels for the team to be successful, not with the top-4 of the rotation looking pretty good and the bullpen only allowing three runs in 13.2 IP.  But less of the Thursday/Friday performance and more Saturday/Sunday would be much appreciated moving forward.

  1. Smoak to the Rescue

Justin Smoak broke out in a huge way last season, putting up career numbers across the board and cementing himself firmly in the middle of Toronto’s lineup.  But the big question heading into 2018 was how much of Smoak’s production was sustainable and how much was an outlier.  Well, through four games Smoak looks like he is picking up right where he left off.  He went 7-for-15 in the opening series, with four extra base hits – including two HR.  He celebrated his bobblehead day on Saturday with three hits, then almost single-handedly won yesterday’s contest with a two-run shot in the 7th inning followed by a game-winning grand slam in the 8th.  The fact that both bombs came off of very stingy Yankee relievers (Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson) is an even better sign.

  1. Pillar Runs Wild

Despite Smoak’s Sunday heroics, the highlight of the week was Kevin Pillar’s straight steal of home on Saturday afternoon.  It was Toronto’s first straight steal of home since Aaron Hill did it against Andy Pettitte in 2007.  It’s obviously very early, but Pillar’s 3 SB has him tied for first in all of baseball.


Player of the Week

Justin Smoak, 1B

7-for-15,  2 2B, 2 HR, 2 BB. 2 R, 8 RBI, .467 / .529 / 1.000 / 1.529

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

Reminder: Better Days Are Ahead

Your weekly reminder that both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are Jays

Stats from 2017 (2018 season not yet started)

The Look Ahead

April 2 – 4 vs. Chicago White Sox

April 6 – 8 at Texas Rangers

25 Blue Jay Predictions for 2018

Opening Day is here.  The Jays take on the Yankees tomorrow afternoon to kick off their 162-game marathon, with seemingly low expectations and not a ton of hope for playoff contention.  With Opening Day comes 500 Level Fan’s final prediction column of the year.  In past  Blue Jays prediction columns, I have gone all in on guys like Eric Thames, Colby Rasmus, and Colt Hynes.  Oops, oops, and oops!

So who will be my darling this year?

Here are 25 predictions about Toronto’s upcoming season.  Enjoy!

1. Josh Donaldson rakes in his walk-year, hitting 40 HR with a .980 OPS.

2. Despite incessant rumours all season long, Donaldson lasts the entire season in Toronto and is not traded before the deadline.

3. Aaron Sanchez bounces back to make 30 starts and finishes in the top-10 in Cy Young voting.

4. Marcus Stroman pitches over 200 innings and joins Sanchez in the top-10 in Cy balloting.

5. Jaime Garcia and Joe Biagini put up better combined numbers than Marco Estrada.

6.  Sadly we don’t see Troy Tulowitzki until June, and then only for a few weeks before he misses the rest of the season with yet another injury.

7. Happily, we do see Devon Travis stay healthy, and play over 140 games at 2B.

8. Kendrys Morales narrows his huge OPS splits by posting an OPS less than 100 points greater vs. LHP than vs. RHP.

9. Justin Smoak fails to replicate his huge 2017, but still eclipses the 25 HR mark.

10. Roberto Osuna leads the AL in saves.

11. The Jays never post a streak (either winning or losing) of over 4.

12. Randal Grichuk makes the American League All-Star team.

13. Toronto holds their own against the AL East, finishing over .500 against Tampa, Baltimore, New York, and Boston.

14. Danny Jansen becomes the backup catcher before the season’s half way point.

15. With expectations lower than in years past the Jays fail to reach the 3-million mark in attendance for the first time since 2015.

16. Toronto and Baltimore engage in not one, but two bench clearing incidents.

17. After finishing dead last in the AL and 27th overall in MLB in runs scored in 2017, the Jays offense rebounds to finish in the top half.

18. Travis posts a 25-game hitting streak.

19. Despite pleas from fans, Vladdy Jr. and Bo Bichette do not make a major league appearance in 2018.

20. However, both Anthony Alford and Dalton Pompey play a dozen games each.

20. Jose Bautista signs with Tampa Bay and returns to Toronto as a visiting player on August 10th.  He is greeted by a massive ovation.

21. Rougned Odor hits less than .100 against Toronto pitching.

22. John Axford reprises the Jason Grilli role from 2016 and gives the Jays an impact late-inning reliever in front of Osuna.

23. Axford, Danny Barnes, and Ryan Tepera all post ERA’s below 3.25.

24. Curtis Granderson has a nice first half but is traded in advance of the July deadline.

25. The Jays stay competitive all season long and sneak into the playoffs as the second Wild Card team by outlasting Minnesota on the season’s final day.

2018 MLB Predictions

Over the past week and a half, 500 Level Fan has posted a preview of each of MLB’s six divisions.  Now it’s time to up the ante.  No more “previewing”.  It’s now time to “predict”.

As always, my predictions should not be wagered upon by anybody, because they will likely all be wrong.

The 500 Level Fan predictions will be split over two columns.  The first covers MLB predictions, including final standings, playoff results, award winners, and some miscellaneous categories.  The second will focus on the Blue Jays, with some individual and team predictions.

So sit back, read on, try not to laugh, and get ready to comment.

American League Predictions

East

1. Boston

2. New York

3. Toronto

4. Tampa Bay

5. Baltimore

Thoughts: The addition of J.D. Martinez plugs a huge hole in Boston’s lineup, and a health(ier) Price stabilizes the rotation (which still has concerns)…..New York looks stacked on paper, but there’s no guarantee Judge doesn’t regress, Bird is injured again, and the rotation could be hit or miss…..Would not be surprised to see Toronto win 95 games or lose 95 games.  The added depth and versatility, along with the return of Sanchez, should have the team thinking Wild Card…..Rays had a strange offseason, but still have enough interesting pieces in the rotation to stay out of the cellar…..Britton is out and Machado could be dealt.  Might be a long year for Blanche Showalter and crew.

Central

1. Cleveland

2. Minnesota

3. Kansas City

4. Chicago

5. Detroit

Thoughts: Cleveland looks a bit weaker on paper, but they still have a huge rotation, Lindor and Edwin, and a breakout candidate in Zimmer.  The class of the division…..Byron Buxton continues his breakout and several of the nice additions to the pitching staff pan out enough to keep Minny in contention for a return to October…..They somehow got Moustakas back, but losing Cain and Hosmer spells doom for KC…..Chicago is a year ahead of Detroit in the rebuilding process, and has a bunch of great prospects (Moncada, Kopech, etc.) ready to contribute…..Tigers need Miggy to rebound or else there might not be a lot to get excited about in Detroit.

West

1. Houston

2. Los Angeles

3. Seattle

4. Oakland

5. Texas

Thoughts: There is a shot the Astros have the division wrapped up by early August.  That’s how good they look…..Trout will once again be Trout, but there are serious concerns with Ohtani after his brutal Spring…..The battle for the second Wild Card spot should be year-long and intense but the Mariners will fall just short once again, extending the longest drought in sports…..Oakland is about as big of a wild card as there is.  They might stay in contention all year, or they might lose over 100…..The veterans (Beltre and Hamels) are another year older, and Odor doesn’t bounce back from an awful 2017.  Could be time to change things around in Texas.

Wildcards

Yankees and Blue Jays

Stat Leaders

HR – Giancarlo Stanton, NYY

RBI – Giancarlo Stanton, NYY

Average – Jose Altuve, HOU

SB – Dee Gordon, SEA

Wins – Corey Kluber, CLE

ERA – Corey Kluber, CLE

K – Chris Sale, BOS

Sv – Roberto Osuna, TOR

Awards & Miscellany

MVP – Mike Trout, LAA

Cy Young – Corey Kluber, CLE

Rookie – Willie Calhoun, TEX

Manager – Terry Francona, CLE

Bounceback Player – Aaron Sanchez, TOR

Most Disappointing Player – Shohei Ohtani, LAA

First Major Player Traded – Cole Hamels, TEX

National League Predictions

East

1. Washington

2. Philadelphia

3. Atlanta

4. NY Mets

5. Miami

Thoughts: There’s no slowing down Max Scherzer; Trea Turner and Adam Eaton stay healthy for an entire season; Harper has a big year in his walk year…..Hard not to be excited about the Phillies, and the addition of Arrieta at the front of the rotation makes them that much closer to legitimate contention…..Anthopoulos is now in charge, and Atlanta is about one year away from making a move…..Unless Syndergaard, Matz, and Harvey can prove they can stay healthy, the Mets don’t have a chance…..Not much else to say about Miami.  Laughingstock.

Central

1. Chicago

2. Milwaukee

3. St. Louis

4. Pittsburgh

5. Cincinnati

Thoughts: The Cubs struggled mightily last year and still won the division.  There’s no World Series hangover to deal with in 2018…..Cain and Yelich give Milwaukee a scary good outfield, but can the pitching staff keep things together?…..St. Louis always seems to be a model of consistency, but injuries are already decimating their pitching…..Expect a different year in Pittsburgh, with conversation surrounding who’s next to be dealt…..Cincy has some nice young pieces and could have an electric rotation if the arms stay healthy.  At the end of the day, there’s always Joey Votto.

West

1. Los Angeles

2. Colorado

3. Arizona

4. San Francisco

5. San Diego

Thoughts: Hopefully Kershaw stays healthy and makes a run at a historical season.  LA remains the class of the NL West…..Huge step forward last year for Colorado, and that continues in 2018.  Arenado is just too good…..The loss of J.D. Martinez will hurt Arizona but they still have enough to stay in Wild Card contention for much of the season…..The Giants needed everything to go right in order to contend and so much has gone wrong already…and we’re still in March…..With the the game’s best farm system, and a legitimate free agent in Hosmer, for the first time in a while there is hope in San Diego.

Wildcards

Rockies and Brewers

Stat Leaders

HR – Nolan Arenado, COL

RBI – Nolan Arenado, COL

Average – Joey Votto, CIN

SB – Trea Turner, WAS

Wins – Max Scherzer, WAS

ERA – Clayton Kershaw, LAD

K – Clayton Kershaw, LAD

Sv – Kenley Jansen, LAD

Awards

MVP Anthony Rizzo, CHC

Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw, LAD

Rookie – Ronald Acuna, ATL

Manager – Dave Martinez, WAS

Bounceback Player – Starling Marte, PIT

Most Disappointing Player – Brandon Morrow, CHC

First Major Player Traded – J.T. Realmuto, MIA

Playoffs

American League

Wildcard Round – Blue Jays over Yankees

ALDS – Astros over Blue Jays, Indians over Red Sox

ALCS – Indians over Astros

National League

Wild Card Round – Rockies over Brewers

NLDS – Nationals over Rockies, Dodgers over Cubs

NLCS – Dodgers over Nationals

World Series

In what could be the final year for Kershaw in LA, he leads the Dodgers to redemption in a classic 7-game series win over Cleveland.