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Blue Jays: A healthy Aaron Sanchez the key to playoff hopes

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 18: Aaron Sanchez
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 18: Aaron Sanchez /
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Aaron Sanchez finished his spring training schedule on a positive note, and may be the biggest key to the Blue Jays’ playoff aspirations in 2018.

Injuries ravaged the Blue Jays’ roster last year, but arguably none of those DL stints stung as much as Aaron Sanchez‘s last one. The 2016 American League ERA champ was sent to the disabled list on four separate occasions, with the last being the decision to shut him down for the remainder of the season. All told he made just eight starts, threw just 36 innings, and spent almost the entire year in a cycle of frustration.

If you had no idea that any of that had taken place, you’d never know that Sanchez had a nightmare 2017 season from watching him this spring. He’s been outstanding throughout Grapefruit League action, looking very much like the guy that became the Blue Jays’ top starter in 2016 before injuries wiped him out last year.

On Saturday he made his last start of the spring, with the Blue Jays electing to have him pitch against the Phillies’ minor league squad instead of the Yankees, who he’ll face in his first start of the regular season next week. He was efficient as he has been throughout the month, throwing four innings and allowing no earned runs, just three hits, and throwing 55 pitches in the outing.

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While the Blue Jays didn’t go out and get an All-Star through free agency or trade this offseason, they could very much be getting that upgrade from last year simply with a healthy Sanchez in the rotation. His absence coupled with DL stints from J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano (who was later traded), meant that the likes of Casey Lawrence, Mat Latos, and many other underwhelming arms were starting at the highest level. That’s not just the loss of a Cy Young contender, but it also meant running out some less than desirable options.

The 25 year old hasn’t just looked healthy this spring, he’s looked downright nasty, and Sanchez himself may be the only one more thrilled than the Blue Jays at that report. Spring stats are a bit of a fool’s game, but for what it’s worth he entered Saturday’s outing with a 3.06 ERA in 17.2 innings. More importantly, his fastball has the life on it that takes him in the range of 97 MPH, his sinker is moving, and his curveball looks and feels comfortable.

The discussion has shifted away from whether or not he can stay healthy (knock on wood), and to just how big of a difference he can make for a rotation that badly missed him last year. Adding him back to a group that includes a vastly improved Marcus Stroman has the potential for a two-ace group, and J.A. Happ has been pretty outstanding in his own right in his second tenure as a Blue Jay. Round out the group with Marco Estrada and Jaime Garcia, and this is a rotation that has the potential to be something special.

It all starts with Sanchez though I’m afraid, because his presence means having the rotation firepower to play with the big boys in their own division, the Yankees and the Red Sox. If the Blue Jays get the 5.1 bWAR pitcher back they had in 2016, it’s the best addition they could make to the team this offseason, even if they didn’t have to go shopping to get it.

Next: Blue Jays' Award Watch: April Edition

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