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The Blue Jays are facing a daunting challenge to start the season

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Photo credit:Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports
Mitch Bannon
20 days ago
Congratulations Blue Jays. You made it through the snore and bore of Spring Training, you’ve set the 26-man roster, and Opening Day is here. Welcome to the Thunder Dome.
This year’s Blue Jays won’t have a gentle handshake into the season. The 2024 team starts with a particularly tough gauntlet, filled with injuries, a lengthy road trip, and matchups against some of the AL’s best. On paper, it seems like a recipe for early disaster, but that’s not the whole truth.
Let’s start with the obvious — the opponents. The Blue Jays start the 2024 campaign with a three-city road trip against the Rays, Astros, and Yankees, then come home for a set against the Mariners. All four opponents posted winning records last year and all four are projected for at least 83 wins this season, per PECOTA. Playing in the AL East rarely allows for schedule reprieves (the Jays have the third-hardest projected schedule in baseball), but this is arguably Toronto’s hardest two-week schedule stretch right off the hop.
Oh, and the Jays also only have one off day during that four-series stretch — 13 games in 14 days. In isolation, that would be tough but manageable, but add in Toronto’s handful of early injuries, and the early run of games is trouble. In particular, the Jays are likely to start the season with their best two relievers, Jordan Romano and Erik Swanson, on the injured list.
Navigating a two-week stretch against playoff-calibre opponents without two top back-end arms means either a lot of stress on guys like Yimi García and Chad Green, or giving the ball to Trevor Richards and Nate Pearson in big spots. Did I forget to mention that this bullpen navigation will all have to come at a time of year when Toronto’s starters aren’t fully stretched out yet, meaning the ‘pen already has to carry more of the load than usual? It’s a tough spot, for sure.
Catcher Danny Jansen will be out for this two-week stretch, as well, meaning Brian Severn will likely start at least a few games behind the dish. Considering the state of the pitching staff, that seems like a secondary concern, at best.
Yes, yes, I know. I said off the top that this may not be the early-season disaster it seems, and I’m getting to that. The Jays have some poorly timed injuries, 13 games in 14 games, and four of the hardest opponents they’ll play all season. But, lucky for Toronto, these challenges aren’t really unique to the Jays.
The Yankees have the pleasure of opening up against the Astros, DBacks, and Jays (with a few key players coming back from Mexico this week, too). The Rays’ schedule is a bit easier, but they still get Toronto and Texas to start the season. Toronto’s first two weeks are certainly the hardest on paper among AL East rivals, but the schedule balances out eventually, at least within the division.
I’m sure the Jays would rather be playing the Angels and Royals to start the season (like the Orioles do), but if you’re going to match up against the Astros and Yankees, maybe it’s best to do so when the squads will be without Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander?
The Blue Jays are certainly not the only team that’s breaking camp with plenty of injuries, it’s an epidemic that’s swept the entire league. New York will be without Cole and DJ LeMahieu, Baltimore has Kyle Bradish on the IL, and half of Tampa’s pitching staff remains out of commission from last season. Things could be far worse, too, like the Red Sox losing Lucas Giolito for the entire season.
Yes, the Blue Jays schedule to start the season is difficult. And yes, navigating the early bullpen usage with an unstretched rotation and two big injuries will be a difficult dance. Toronto’s first two weeks might be a bit harder than most, but it’s not an entirely unique situation. Good teams find a way, and maybe we’ll find out pretty early if the 2024 Blue Jays qualify as one.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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