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Rick Zamperin: Toronto Blue Jays, contenders or pretenders in 2021?

The Toronto Blue Jays' Bo Bichette, right, watches his solo home run off New York Yankees pitcher Luis Cessa during the fifth inning of a spring training exhibition baseball game in Tampa, Fla., Wednesday, March 24, 2021. AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Three things must happen if the Toronto Blue Jays have any hope of ending their nearly three-decade-long World Series drought, and anything short of achieving this magical trifecta will prevent Canada’s lone MLB outfit from climbing to the top of baseball’s summit.

Health, hitting and, most importantly, pitching will determine the fate of Toronto’s title chances in 2021.

Now, you can say that of every team in Major League Baseball and it would be true, but some of the elite teams — a.k.a. the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees — have a few more stars in their clubhouse to overcome an obstacle or two.

Case in point, the Yanks were decimated by injuries to several key contributors during the 2020 shortened season and they still managed to finish with a better record than Toronto and also won their first-round playoff series, something the Jays failed to do.

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The Blue Jays are already battling the injury bug as they start the 2021 campaign Thursday against the Yankees.

Projected closer Kirby Yates has been lost for the season after he underwent Tommy John surgery, centre-fielder George Springer, Toronto’s major off-season free-agent acquisition, has a Grade 2 oblique strain and starts 2021 as day to day, along with starting pitcher Robbie Ray and reliever Rafael Dolis.

As good as Toronto’s batting order projects to be this year, if their best hitters are not healthy enough to stand at the plate they will not score as many runs as they are expected to.

Read more: Rick Zamperin — The Blue Jays spent big bucks this off-season, but did they spend wisely?

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Speaking of hitting, if the Jays do manage to avoid the injured list they have the talent to be among the deadliest offences in all of baseball.

Springer, Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, Marcus Semien, Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. are the meat and potatoes of Toronto’s mouth-watering lineup, which also offers up some tasty complimentary choices for manager Charlie Montoyo, such as Rowdy Tellez, Randal Grichuk and Danny Jansen.

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If there is one thing that will dictate whether or not the Blue Jays will enjoy any success in 2021, what happens on the mound will be the deciding factor.

Apart from ace Hyun-Jin Ryu, do you have any confidence in the remaining options for the starting rotation?

Ryu was a Cy Young Award finalist in 2020, and deservedly so, after sporting a record of 5-2 with a sparkling 2.69 earned run average and 72 strikeouts.

However, there are serious question marks with the rest of Toronto’s starting staff.

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Fireballer Nate Pearson has battled arm issues during his young career, while Ray, Ross Stripling, Tanner Roark, Steven Matz and Trent Thornton have shown that they can pitch in the big leagues but constantly have some ups and downs.

Toronto certainly has enough talent to make the playoffs this season, but if they don’t stay healthy, underachieve at the plate and can’t piece together a winning rotation, they will once again be watching another team celebrate a world championship this fall.

As for this year’s Fall Classic, it appears the Dodgers are destined to repeat as World Series champions after adding stud starter Trevor Bauer to an already loaded pitching staff that is complimented by one of the best lineups in baseball.

I expect the Yankees and San Diego Padres to mount the biggest challenge to the Dodgers’ quest to repeat.

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Give me a World Series that features the two best teams in the major leagues, the Dodgers and Yanks, and I will pick L.A. to win its second consecutive championship for the first time in franchise history.

Rick Zamperin is the assistant program, news and senior sports director at Global News Radio 900 CHML.

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Rick Zamperin’s 2021 MLB predictions

American League East champion: New York Yankees

American League Central champion: Chicago White Sox

American League West champion: Houston Astros

AL Wild Card teams: Minnesota Twins, Oakland Athletics

National League East champion: Atlanta Braves

National League Central champion: St. Louis Cardinals

National League West champion: Los Angeles Dodgers

NL Wild Card teams: San Diego Padres, New York Mets

ALCS: Yankees over White Sox

NLCS: Dodgers over Padres

World Series: Dodgers over Yankees

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