(The Canadian Press)

(The Canadian Press)

Baseball is Back: New-look rotation and young core has Jays feeling optimistic

The uncertainty is yet another hurdle in this most unusual 2020 season

The road will be home for the Toronto Blue Jays over the course of the 2020 regular season, which kicks off Friday night at Tampa’s Tropicana Field for Canada’s lone Major League Baseball team.

A proposal to use Rogers Centre for home games was kiboshed by the federal government due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan would have required regular back-and-forth travel to the United States, a non-starter for Ottawa given the surging positive cases south of the border.

The Blue Jays were close to booking Pittsburgh’s PNC Park for most of their home schedule, but that plan was shut down this week by state health officials.

Baltimore, Buffalo and Dunedin, Fla., could still be landing spots for a team that remained homeless as of Thursday afternoon, just days before its home opener July 29 against Washington. It’s also possible that Toronto could play home games against so-called road teams in the opposition’s own stadium.

The uncertainty is yet another hurdle in this most unusual 2020 season, trimmed to 60 games from the usual 162 due to the pandemic. The Blue Jays are expected to improve upon last year’s 67-95 effort, when several of Toronto’s highly touted youngsters got regular playing time at the big-league level for the first time.

General manager Ross Atkins made a number of signings in the off-season in an attempt to strengthen the starting rotation and provide stability to a roster that had been overhauled over the last few years.

“It’s an exciting group, it really is,” Atkins said during a recent media availability. “Our position player core, they look great. The quality of our at-bats from a year ago to now is noticeably different and noticeably much more advanced and mature than where we were as a team.

“We feel like we’ve gotten more athletic, we feel like we’ve increased our agility and feel very good about our pitching depth.”

Toronto holds the No. 21 spot in the latest 30-team MLB.com power rankings.

Making the pitch

The Blue Jays have a new-look rotation anchored by ace Hyun-Jin Ryu, the team’s prized off-season free-agent signing. Ryu, who finished second in National League Cy Young Award voting last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, signed a US$80-million, four-year deal with Toronto.

Matt Shoemaker, who missed most of last season due to injury, appears to be back in form and will be joined by new additions Chase Anderson and Tanner Roark. Anderson starts the season on the 10-day injured list due to a right oblique strain.

Top prospect Nate Pearson appears primed to crack the rotation but he’ll start the year on the three-man taxi squad.

Crossing the diamond

One of the main storylines from the Blue Jays’ two-week summer training camp was word that young slugger Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., would move from third base to first base.

Guerrero’s defence on the hot corner was so-so in his rookie campaign. Travis Shaw will likely take over at third base and designated hitter duties should fall to Rowdy Tellez, who impressed at summer camp and this week’s pre-season games in Boston.

Youth is served

After showing impressive flashes of its potential in 2019, Toronto’s youthful core appears ready to build on that foundation.

Guerrero’s bat is fearsome and Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., also look like the real deal.

The Blue Jays caught a break in the MLB Draft last month when Austin Martin surprisingly fell to fifth. The 21-year-old Vanderbilt star joined Toronto’s 60-man player pool for summer camp.

East beast

One of the downsides of the truncated schedule is that Toronto will play 40 games against opponents from the tough American League East and 20 interleague games against National League East competition.

The upside of the compact campaign is an August hot streak could make for a very interesting September.

Manager Charlie Montoyo’s club will be tested out of the gate. Three games against a deep Rays squad will be followed by four against the World Series champion Washington Nationals.

The Blue Jays will play the powerhouse New York Yankees 10 times over an 18-day stretch in September.

Ball call

Rather than travel to the COVID-19-ravaged United States, Blue Jays rightsholder Sportsnet is planning to have broadcasters call the action from the network’s Toronto studio.

Sportsnet reporters will also remain in Canada and provide remote analysis and commentary.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Approximately 2,500 teachers, school staff vaccinated in Central Okanagan

Central Okanagan Teachers’ Association said teachers are thrilled

City of West Kelowna. (Phil McLachlan/West K News)
City of West Kelowna puts more than $35M into infrastructure projects

Sizable investments into road and active transportation network projects

A hummingbird gives its wings a rare rest while feeding in a North Okanagan garden. (Karen Siemens/North Okanagan Naturalists Club)
Hummingbirds back for another Okanagan season

North America’s littlest birds return, and they’re hungry

Two cyclists traverse a closed Bernard Avenue in downtown Kelowna on June 29, 2020. (Michael Rodriguez/Capital News)
Kelowna recognized as bike-friendly city

City earns bronze in nationwide Bicycle Friendly Communities award program

A COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Lakeside Medicine Centre Pharmacy in Kelowna on Sunday, May 2, 2021. (Amandalina Letterio/Capital News)
Almost 9K more COVID-19 vaccinations administered in Central Okanagan within a week

Close to 70,000 Central Okanagan residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine

FILE – Pharmacist Barbara Violo shows off a vile of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the Junction Chemist, an independent pharmacy in Toronto, Friday, March 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Looking for the nearest COVID shot? Tech entrepreneur creates texting software in B.C

Zain Manji says app took just one or two hours to create

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

George Ryga, considered by many as Canada’s most important English playwright lived in Summerland from 1963 until his death in 1987. He is the inspiration for the annual Ryga Arts Festival. (Contributed)
Summerland archive established for George Ryga

Renowned author wrote novels, poetry, stage plays and screen plays from Summerland home

Grizzly bear. (File)
Malakwa man bitten by grizzly bear on dog walk

The man and dogs were not seriously injured

Most Read