Blue Jays can repeat as AL East champs

Blue Jays can repeat as AL East champs

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The high-octane offense is back, the bullpen has been improved and the starting rotation should be good enough to get the job done. For those reasons and more, MLB.com's "Fearless Prediction" for the Blue Jays is that they will return to the postseason as the American League East champions in 2016.

The road to the playoffs won't be easy, but for the first time in more than two decades, the Blue Jays are set to begin the year with a playoff-tested squad. Yes, David Price is gone, but the majority of the core from 2015 remains intact and the expectations for this squad have never run higher.

Here are the main reasons believe the Blue Jays could be in store for another impressive year:

The offense
Any case for Toronto starts with the offense. The Blue Jays scored more runs than any other team in baseball last season, and it wasn't even close, with a 127-run differential over the second-place Yankees. The scary thing is that the offense could be just as good, if not better, in 2016.

Toronto will be hard-pressed to get more production out of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion than it did last year, but there are some areas for improvement. At shortstop, the Blue Jays will get a full season out of Troy Tulowitzki, and he's simply too good of a player to hit .239 with a .697 OPS like he did in 41 games with the club last year.

Left field was a black hole for Toronto in 2015 until Ben Revere arrived at the Trade Deadline. This year, Michael Saunders appears healthy, and he gives the club yet another bat with 20-homer potential. Add in the strong second halves that young players such as Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins had last year, and there's a lot to like about this lineup.

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The bullpen
Toronto's bullpen was a complete mess last April and for a good portion of May as well. Brett Cecil's stint as closer lasted one game, Miguel Castro's tenure there lasted about two weeks, and it wasn't until the middle of June that rookie Roberto Osuna earned his first save.

The results this year should be much better as Osuna -- who will continue as the closer -- Cecil and Drew Storen form a solid core. Keep in mind, Toronto went 15-28 in one-run games last year, but a strong bullpen should help significantly improve that record.

The division
The AL East, at least on paper, is better than it was last year, but it's still not the powerhouse that it used to be. Every team in the division has its flaws, and the Blue Jays should be able to gain some optimism from their opponents.

The Red Sox are a popular pick to win the AL East, but they have a lot of question marks surrounding their pitching staff. The addition of Price will help, but it's hard to envision this team being a legitimate threat unless Rick Porcello, Clay Buchholz and possibly Joe Kelly have strong seasons.

The Yankees continue to age, the Orioles didn't do a whole lot this offseason, and while the Rays have one of the best pitching staffs, they don't have a lot of offense to back it up. There's a lot to like here if you're a Blue Jays fan.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.