Barring any major injuries to Toronto’s starters and continued offensive production, the four-man playoff rotation the Blue Jays could potentially be trotting out for the playoffs is one of the stronger rotations in all of baseball.
Cy Young candidate and 17-game winner J.A. Happ (3.19 ERA) is positioned to start Game 1 of the ALDS, assuming the Blue Jays close out the season with a second straight pennant crown. Happ epitomizes consistency every time he trots out to the mound this season, putting the Blue Jays in a favourable position to win. The run support he receives in his starts helps, but the work Happ exhibits on the mound doesn’t go unnoticed. Aside from his last two near-quality starts (5IP, 6H, 4ER, 1BB, 6K vs the Los Angeles Angels / 7.1IP, 7H, 4ER, 1BB, 9K vs the New York Yankees) and one start against the Oakland A’s back in mid-July, Happ has held opposing lineups to 1 earned run or fewer for nearly a six week stretch.
The debate is in full throttle as to whether the Jays will elect to start youngster Aaron Sanchez or Happ for Game 1 of the ALDS. Personally, I think Happ’s consistency is the more favourable choice to get the Blue Jays momentum going to start the playoffs. Sanchez (12-2, 2.99 ERA) has been incredibly consistent in his own right, but the career-high innings total (156.1 by the end of August) could factor into management’s decision-making come October. Slotting Sanchez in as the second man in the playoff rotation appears to be the safer choice of the two.
Given Marcus Stroman’s improved play over the past two months and ability to carry the Blue Jays deep into close games (excluding two or three starts), I would slot the other youngter of the rotation in for Game 3 of the ALDS. Stroman’s ERA (4.58) has dropped considerably over the past couple months, vaulting him back into his accustomed role as a reliable Blue Jays starter. His mastery of his pitches as well as his ability to keep the ball down and hit the corners of the strike zone are the main factors that are attributed to his revitalization. Something about Stroman’s September performance last season further encourages me to slot him in for Game 3; Marcus appears to up his game when it really counts most is not phased by the pressure.
To close out the playoff rotation, I’d slot in Marco Estrada. Aside from his last two starts, Estrada since coming off the disabled list has picked up where he left off and owns an impressive 3.47 ERA. I know you may be thinking based on his ERA alone that Estrada should be the Blue Jays #3 starter in the rotation, but there is one main reason I would argue the contrary. Assuming that the Blue Jays are in a tight series, positioning Estrada to pitch a potential close out game would be in their best interest. If history is any indicator, when the Blue Jays had their backs against the wall heading into Game 5 of the 2015 ALCS against the Kansas City Royals at Rogers Centre, Estrada came out and pitched one of the best starts of his career to send the series back to KC, much to the appreciation of Blue Jays fans (http://www.sportsnet.ca/baseball/mlb/gotta-see-it-estrada-gets-huge-ovation-from-blue-jays-faithful/). Estrada has proven to be a big game pitcher, and that’s what you need most if you hope to go deep into October.
As September approaches and the stretch run continues to heat up with the AL East pennant still up for grabs, let’s hope the Blue Jays continue their stellar play and lock up a second straight division title so this playoff rotation can become a reality. If this recent Minnesota series is any indication, the Blue Jays offense along with their sluggers are willing to contribute their fair share towards the cause.