TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are taking part in the postseason for the first time since 1993, but the ultimate goal is a lot bigger than that. Toronto is focused on winning the World Series, and while there's no such thing as a sure bet at this time of the year, it's clear that the Blue Jays are one of the early favorites. The Blue Jays will take on the Rangers in the American League Division Series, with Game 1 scheduled for today (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1, Sportsnet).
Here are five reasons to believe this could be Toronto's year:
The league's best offense
The Blue Jays have been winning games all year because of their potent lineup, and while the production should dip against top pitching, it might still be enough to carry this team through the postseason. The threesome of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion combined to hit 120 home runs, which is more than any other trio in franchise history, and the return of Troy Tulowitzki from injury makes the heart of the order even better.
An often overlooked component of this lineup is that the production isn't limited to the top half of the order. Beyond the heart of the order there's Russell Martin, Justin Smoak and Chris Colabello. Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins also give the club an opportunity to manufacture some runs, and it really is a lineup that one through nine can cause nightmares for opposing pitchers.
Even when Toronto had ambitions of the postseason prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline, the knock on the organization was that it didn't have a bonafide No. 1 starter. That changed when general manager Alex Anthopoulos acquired Price in late July and the major addition immediately solidified what once had been considered a questionable rotation.
Price has experienced mixed success in the postseason with a career 1-5 record and a 4.50 ERA, but he remains one of the game's elite starters. He has reached the postseason in four of the last five years and will be eager to showcase his dominance in the weeks leading up to free agency. He has been announced as the Game 1 starter for the ALDS, and if the Blue Jays advance beyond that, they'll have him for at least two starts in the seven-game AL Championship Series. His success will go a long way in determining how the Blue Jays fare this month.
Toronto's fielding used to be its biggest weakness, but it has turned into a strength over the last two months. Ben Revere solidified left field with above-average range, while the combination of Tulowitzki and Goins at shortstop was a major upgrade over the erratic Jose Reyes, who went to the Rockies in the Tulowitzki deal.
Those changes were done on top of several upgrades made during the winter. Martin is one of the top defensive catchers in the game, Donaldson has well-above-average range at third and Smoak can pick balls out of the dirt as well as any first baseman in baseball.
Pillar, who is a candidate for a Gold Glove Award, has been among the league leaders in defensive runs saved all year, while Donaldson trailed only the Rangers' Adrian Beltre and the O's Manny Machado in defensive runs saved at third base in the AL. There arguably is an above-average defender at every position, and the Blue Jays have the ability to steal multiple outs throughout a ballgame. In close postseason games, that could prove to be the difference.
Toronto's bullpen was another area of weakness in the first half of the season. This is a team that went through Miguel Castro and Brett Cecil in the closer's role before eventually settling on Roberto Osuna, who had never pitched above Class A prior to the start of the year. Osuna immediately excelled in that spot, but the middle innings remained an issue until the Trade Deadline.
Right-handers Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins provided big upgrades, while Aaron Sanchez gave the Blue Jays even more depth when he transitioned away from being a starter. Those additions combined with the resurgence of Cecil as an elite setup man completely changed the dynamic for Toronto late in games. There will be questions -- especially as Sanchez and Osuna experienced some issues in the final two weeks of the season -- until this group is able to succeed in the postseason, but there's no doubt that the upside is there.
A strong bullpen is important to have at any point of the year, but it becomes even more crucial in the postseason. Starters typically don't pitch as deep into games, and the Royals showed last year that having reliable options in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth often can be enough to lock games down and secure a spot in the Fall Classic. Toronto believes it has that type of core in place.
The Blue Jays, Royals and Astros are the only teams in the AL that finished the year with at least 50 wins at home. Rogers Centre is ideally suited to Toronto's high-powered offense, and almost everyone in the lineup is a threat to go deep in the homer-happy stadium. The Blue Jays also have a slight advantage after spending 81 games on the new artificial surface that is slower and less bouncy than a lot of its previous installments.
Since the AL won the All-Star Game, its representative won the rights for home-field advantage in the World Series. Toronto also holds that edge for the ALDS, and the only series with the potential for more road games than home games would be a matchup against the Royals in the ALCS. Even that wouldn't become a factor unless the two teams went to Game 7.
Blue Jays fans also will be more than willing to embrace the role of the 10th man. The fans have been ready to explode, and the noise from a new generation of baseball fans could reach unprecedented levels at Rogers Centre.