The Toronto Blue Jays are expected to make some minor tweaks to their ALCS roster from the one they used in the ALDS against Texas.
Manager John Gibbons was forced to exercise caution in round one due to the uncertain health of Roberto Osuna in the back end of his bullpen, but with Osuna, Devon Travis, and Francisco Liriano all at least trending in the right direction, Toronto’s ALCS offering should be closer to their “best” 25.
Here is how I project the roster to shake out:
Catcher (2) – Russell Martin, Dioner Navarro
Martin is the Blue Jays’ obvious everyday starter, but Navarro is not entirely out of the picture for a pinch-hit appearance at some point in the series.
1st Base (2) – Edwin Encarnacion, Justin Smoak
Encarnacion has proven to be a far more capable defender than many give him credit for in 2016, especially recently. Justin Smoak, on the other hand, does not offer the Blue Jays much playoff value outside of a rare pinch-hit scenario where all-or-nothing power is needed.
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2nd Base (2) – Devon Travis, Darwin Barney
Travis is back on track to return for this series from a knee injury, and while manager John Gibbons may be tempted to bring Ryan Goins along for added middle-infield depth, two should suffice. If Travis is forced to miss time again unexpectedly, Martin slides back in as the emergency second-baseman.
Shortstop (1) – Troy Tulowitzki
One is all Toronto needs, especially given the value and passion that Tulowitzki has displayed over the past two weeks for the Blue Jays. In fact, he might be as strong a contender as anyone for an ALCS MVP.
3rd Base (1) – Josh Donaldson
Like Tulowitzki at shortstop, there’s not much to see at third base for the Blue Jays. Coming off his game-winning mad dash to home in game three of the ALDS, Donaldson is set up for another headlining series.
Outfield (6) – Jose Bautista, Kevin Pillar, Ezequiel Carrera, Michael Saunders, Melvin Upton Jr., Dalton Pompey
Carrying six outfielders isn’t status quo for playoff baseball, but several of these names come with an asterisk. Both Bautista and Saunders have their defensive limitations and can be used as a designated hitter when needed, while Melvin Upton Jr. brings some level of defensive value and could be used situationally as a pinch-hitter against left-handed pitchers.
Pompey is the closest positional name to the tipping point on this roster as he does represent a pure luxury for the Blue Jays. If they’re able to sneak him on as a pinch-running specialist, however, that could make all the difference in a close game against Cleveland.
Starting Pitchers (4) – Marco Estrada, Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman
Estrada gets the nod in game one of the series, but the most interesting name here might be Marcus Stroman. The young right-hander has not pitched since the Wild Card game versus Baltimore, and if he isn’t used early in this series, the conversation of “rust vs. rest” enters the picture. He could also be used in a long relief role, if needed.
Relief Pitchers (7) – Roberto Osuna, Jason Grilli, Joe Biagini, Brett Cecil, Ryan Tepera, Aaron Loup, Francisco Liriano**
Dropping Scott Feldman from their previous ALDS roster will be an easy decision for the Blue Jays, but Danny Barnes could have a case to push one of Ryan Tepera or Aaron Loup, especially given his talent against left-handed batters.
**One important factor is that Francisco Liriano will not be eligible to return from the seven-day disabled list (concussion) until game two on Saturday. The Blue Jays will be forced to submit a 24-man roster for game one, which is something the bullpen should be able to survive with Estrada on the mound. On Saturday, either Liriano or another player may be added.