The Blue Jays have a strong rotation one through five, with nobody who is clearly head and shoulders above the rest. Aaron Sanchez might have a thing to say about that, based on the way that he pitched in 2016, but he maybe slowed down a little bit in the second half. J.A. Happ won 20 games, but we know that doesn’t mean a whole lot — he did have a very nice season, though. Marcus Stroman is one of the most exciting pitchers in baseball, and Francisco Liriano may have the best pure stuff on the staff. And Marco Estrada simply bewilders batters with his incredible changeup.
This means that there isn’t necessarily one guy who has to be at the front of the rotation and has to get however many extra starts in a season that such a spot usually provides. It allows them to get a little bit creative with the way they order their pitchers, and evidently they’re going to do just that.
That certainly is one of the multitude of permutations they could have gone with! But as much as everyone will probably first be puzzled by the fact that Aaron Sanchez slots in fifth, there are a number of things about this one that do indeed make sense.
The big one is that opposing teams certainly will get a different look every day. As it stands, the Jays go from the soft-tossing, right-handed changeup master, Estrada, to a big, hard-throwing lefty in Happ, back to a right-hander in the ground ball machine that is Stroman, who will throw the kitchen sink at you (and give you a hiccup in his delivery while doing it), then the lefty Liriano daring hitters to lay off his filthy slider, then the right-handed power sinker of Aaron Sanchez, before the cycle starts back over again with the soft-tossing but maddening Estrada.
What this also means, of course, is that Estrada — a damn warrior who pitched superbly all year last year through back pain — will take the ball on Opening Day. Since it’s unlikely that the Jays will skip anyone, despite an off-day in week one, it’s then going to be Happ who takes the ball for the Home Opener on April 11th against the Brewers.
So, why not Aaron Sanchez out of the gate? Perhaps it’s to reward the two veterans by giving them the prestige games — something that’s certainly not out of character for John Gibbons, I don’t think. It could be because they may still want to cautious about his innings load (which may also be indicated by his slow start to Spring Training). Or maybe it’s because they haven’t liked what they’ve seen so far this spring — or, at least, that they don’t think he’s quite earned it based on his performance so far. Or it could simply be down to matchups, or preferring Estrada on the road, as he’s slated to pitch four of his first five games away from Rogers Centre (though Sanchez was considerably better away than at home in 2016, so it’s more likely that the Jays are, rightly, not putting a whole hell of a lot into this split).
Your guess is as good as mine! Y’know, at least until I read something where someone has really looked into how favourable or unfavourable each of those matchups is. Whatever the case, it’s pretty hard to argue that, no matter how you slice it, this rotation sets up damn nicely.
Now let’s get to the games that count already!