If they weren’t already, the Toronto Blue Jays are about to become two things: the clear-cut favorites to win the AL-East and a juggernaut to be feared in the postseason. Starting pitcher Marcus Stroman, who landed on the disabled list in early March with a torn ACL, is set to begin a rehab assignment on September 2 and, barring any setbacks, is likely to make his return to the majors on September 12 against none other than the New York Yankees.
Why is Stroman’s return significant? Well, first of all, it bears acknowledging that the Jays currently boast the top offense in the major leagues; not just the American League, all of baseball. They lead every other team, significantly, in runs scored, runs batted in, doubles, on base percentage, and slugging percentage, and are second to the Houston Astros in home runs by just one long ball. That alone makes them a challenge for any opponent in the playoffs.
However, it is often said that pitching wins in October. If that is indeed the case, then currently Toronto is in some trouble. Even with the addition of David Price, their pitching staff ranks just 12th in baseball. Better than average, sure, but not by much. Their top two guys, aside from Price, are R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle. Dickey has been the definition of mediocre this season. Though he has been an innings-eater for the Jays, his 8-10 record and 4.26 earned run average are certainly nothing to write home about. And while Mark Buehrle has likely far exceeded any expectations for this season (at one point he had rattled off 13 consecutive quality starts) he has struggled in his last two outings and may be starting to show his age.
Stroman’s return gives a huge boost to the pitching staff and gives the Blue Jays their best chance to win the AL East for the first time since 1993. Before his knee injury, and before the acquisition of Price, Stroman looked locked in as the ace of Toronto’s staff. Last year, in his rookie campaign, Stroman was excellent. In 130.2 innings pitched, Stroman compiled a 3.65 ERA to go along with a 1.17 WHIP, a record of 11-6, and 111 strikeouts compared to just 28 walks. That kind of strikeout power pared with that level of precision is a rare and valuable combination in a pitcher, and Stroman has it.
His numbers last season far exceed those of Buerhle or Dickey. Buehrle had a slight edge in ERA, but other than that Stroman was the superior hurler. His numbers also weren’t that far behind Price’s. Price had far more strikeouts, but he also pitched 117.2 more innings than Stroman did. Given then same amount of innings and Stroman’s already high strikeout rate, he may have come very close to matching Price in that area as well.
Situationally, this could not have come at a better time for the Blue Jays. It gives them a clear number two in the rotation behind Price for the remainder of the season, and a definite number two starter for the postseaon as well. Not only that, Stroman will be fresh; while rehab is not exactly a vacation, he is far better rested than any pitcher he is likely to be matched up with in the playoffs. Given how long and grueling the baseball season is, and the kind of toll it can take on the mental and physical states of players, this could be a significant advantage for Toronto.
Stroman is also set to make his return against the Yankees who, it just so happens, are the Jays’ top rivals for the division title. Toronto currently owns a slim lead over New York in the standings, but 1.5 games can disappear quickly. Stroman’s presence, and the fact that he is likely to face the Yankees in his first game back, will give Toronto a much better chance of tightening their grip on the division.
Unless something goes horribly awry, this news essentially assures the Jays of a playoff spot, and may have even won them the East. The other playoff contenders are officially on notice: the Blue Jays are coming.
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