Getting ready for Jays’ opening day 2016

A look at how the Canadian baseball team is doing so far

BY ZACHARY CORMIER

Lacombe Express

I know what you’re thinking. We just had a massive dump of snow earlier this week and the NHL playoffs haven’t evenstarted yet. How in the world can this guy be thinking about baseball season already?

Here’s the thing. Like I said last week, our Canadian NHL teams are awful this year. I can’t bring myself to watch anothergame where the Calgary Flames give up a three goal lead in a single period. Or worse, lose to the Leafs. It’s just too painful.

But you know what isn’t painful? Watching the Toronto Blue Jays tear up the Grapefruit League during spring training thisyear.

After last year’s whirlwind season that saw the Jays win the AL East title and make it all the way to the ALCS before losingout to the Kansas City Royals, expectations are set extremely high this year for Canada’s team.

But I’ll be damned if they haven’t kind of met them so far, though it is still spring training.

Several things have impressed me about the Jays. Chief among them is their pitching staff.

Coming out of last season, the Jays’ staff was kind of anemic, to say the least, after losing ace David Price to Free Agencyand veteran inning-eater Mark Buehrle to retirement. That’s two starting pitching jobs, including the top of the rotation, leftvery glaringly empty. They also lost several key bullpen arms to free agency and had very little to no minor league talentready to take on those roles.

But the Jays didn’t panic, instead making a couple of signings that could potentially help fill those gaps.

While I can’t say that I agree with every move the team has made over the off season (you signed J.A. Happ to a $35 millioncontract? Are you insane?), I have to admit that many of the signings that they made make a lot of sense.

What the team has essentially done is take a bunch of guys like Gavin Floyd and Brad Penny proven starters that have hadsetbacks in recent years due to injuries and sign them to very cheap, often minor league contracts. Basically they’rethrowing stuff at the wall to see what sticks.

And it’s working pretty well. While Penny didn’t pan out and decided to retire after giving up five ER in two innings pitchedin just his second start with the team, Floyd has been one of the bright spots and is competing with Jays’ hotshot AaronSanchez for the fifth spot in the starting pitching rotation.

Even if the Jays decide to give Sanchez the starting role, Floyd will slot perfectly into the Jays’ bullpen as either a long-reliever or sixth and seventh inning relief guy.

What the team has done is given themselves a few options on the mound, and options are always a good thing.

That’s not to say that this team is without its problems. They are heavily banking on starters like Happ and Marco Estrada torepeat career performances from last year and there’s also the little issue of having to re-sign both (or even just one of)Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista whose contracts are up at the end of the season and both of whom want a substantialraise, for good reason.

But hey, live on the edge right? Who wants to go into a brand new baseball season with all of the major question marksaddressed? That’s just no fun.

Besides, this team still has pretty much the exact same offensive lineup that they had last year. A lineup that was, by nearlyall accounts, the best in the Majors’ last season leading the league in runs scored, home runs and total bases and coming insecond for batting average.

So I say put all of those little, nagging doubts of a team collapsing in on itself out of your mind. It’s a very long baseballseason and opening day is just around the corner. Anything can happen (and usually does), so let’s all just grab a pack ofpeanuts, gather ‘round the TV and watch some Blue Jays baseball.

zcormier@lacombeexpress.com