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Blue Jays: A rotation full of potential aces

Mar 31, 2017; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman (6) pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the second inning at Olympic Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 31, 2017; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman (6) pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the second inning at Olympic Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Blue Jays rotation has a lot of upside this season, assuming can stay healthy. After finishing with the AL’s best starter’s ERA, the staff could should for even higher heights in 2017.

The Blue Jays were expected to ride their vaunted offence all the way back to the playoffs again in 2016, only it didn’t go exactly as planned. The club qualified for the postseason again, but it was largely due to the performance of the pitching staff, especially the starters.

Aaron Sanchez emerged as one of the game’s best young starters, being voted as an All-Star, finishing 7th in Cy Young voting, and leading the American League in earned run average. J.A. Happ finished 8th in Cy Young tallies, and won 20 games.

We’ve only covered 40% of the rotation, and already some clubs would be green with envy. The Blue Jays didn’t choose either of their Cy Young candidates to pitch on Opening Day either, electing to go with Marco Estrada.

The Mexican right-hander has been a revelation as a starter with the Blue Jays, and is more than deserving of the honour of pitching the season’s first game. He likely would have garnered more Cy Young votes himself last season, had he not battled back problems.

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Any one of those 3 could have been the “number 1” to open the year, and there would have been a solid argument for any choice. Last season, the honour went to Marcus Stroman, who looks poised to have as good a season as any of the above mentioned names.

Stroman has looked dynamite in March, whether it’s been in Grapefruit League action, or at the World Baseball Classic. He got the ball in the final game of the tournament, and answered the bell on the International stage, taking a no-hitter into the 7th inning. He finished the tournament with a 2.35 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP and a 1-1 record, with 15.1 innings pitched. He became the de facto ace for Team USA, and was every bit the part.

The “height doesn’t measure heart” poster child, looked good once again in his final spring tune up, throwing four shutout innings against the Pirates in Montreal.

Lastly, Francisco Liriano has looked as good or better than anyone during Grapefruit League action, absolutely mowing down hitters through the spring. His 1.88 ERA in 14.1 innings is impressive, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg until you look more closely. Opponents have batted just .160 against him, his WHIP is 0.84, and he’s struck out 25 hitters… again, 14.1 innings.

With every team and rotation, there are always a lot of “ifs”, but there’s an awful lot to get excited about if you’re the Blue Jays. However you choose to define the term “ace” in baseball, there’s an argument that the Blue Jays have 4 of them, and that’s not including the electric Liriano. He’s been a #1-2 before, and while nobody expects him to lead the staff, he has the potential to vastly outperform expectations.

Next: Blue Jays: Who has more value, Goins or Upton?

While some of the projections metrics don’t love the rotation, I’ll be the first to say I think the sky is the limit for John Gibbons’ group. To me, it’s a great mixture of youth and veterans, power and finesse, and above all, talent.

Let’s get this thing started already.

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