After finishing one game short of the post-season last year, the Toronto Blue Jays look to have the makings of a playoff team in 2022.
The team’s young core has blossomed, the starting rotation appears stronger than ever and the Blue Jays have plenty of star power and experience.
Here’s a look at five things to watch this season:
HOME SWEET DOME
The Blue Jays plan to play all of their home games at Rogers Centre this season for the first time since 2019.
The pandemic forced the team to call Buffalo’s Sahlen Field home during the shortened 2020 campaign. The team returned there last season after starting the campaign by playing home games at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla.
The Canadian government gave approval for the Blue Jays’ return to Rogers Centre last July but attendance restrictions were in place.
A sellout crowd was expected for Friday’s home opener against the Texas Rangers.
Offensive numbers could be strong this year with some of Toronto’s top young players entering their prime and set to enjoy a full season in the homer-friendly Rogers Centre.
First baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 23, is coming off a season where he finished second in American League MVP voting after hitting 48 homers and driving in 111 runs.
Shortstop Bo Bichette, 24, was 12th in the MVP vote after posting 191 hits with 29 homers and 102 RBIs.
They’ll help anchor a batting order with plenty of pop. George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez, Matt Chapman and Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., are some of the other big bats at manager Charlie Montoyo’s disposal.
IN WITH THE NEW
Some star power left the Blue Jays in the off-season and some big names came on board ahead of the 2022 campaign.
Second baseman Marcus Semien (third in MVP voting) and starting pitcher Robbie Ray (Cy Young winner) were the two biggest departures as both signed long-term free-agent deals elsewhere.
The Blue Jays also opened their wallet over the winter, signing starter Kevin Gausman to a US$110-million, five-year deal and inking starter Jose Berrios to a seven-year extension worth $131 million.
Other recent additions include starter Yusei Kikuchi (free agent), third baseman Matt Chapman (trade) and outfielder Raimel Tapia (trade).
ACE IN THE HOLE
With Robbie Ray’s departure to the Seattle Mariners, the ace of the starting rotation is a title that’s up for grabs this year.
The Blue Jays plan to start the season with a five-man crew of Kevin Gausman (14-6, 2.81 ERA in 2021), Jose Berrios (12-9, 3.52), Hyun Jin Ryu (14-10, 4.37), Alek Manoah (9-2, 3.22) and Yusei Kikuchi (7-9, 4.41).
Ross Stripling, Nate Pearson, Trent Thornton and others could also make some starts this season.
The bullpen will again be anchored by closer Jordan Romano of Markham, Ont.
The Blue Jays are among the favourites to win the 2022 World Series, according to Las Vegas sportsbooks.
OddsShark lists Toronto as a 10-1 pick to win the Fall Classic, behind the Los Angeles Dodgers (5-1), Houston Astros (7 1/2-1) and the New York Yankees (9-1).
Houston is a slight favourite to win the American League pennant ahead of Toronto, New York, the Chicago White Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.