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Know Your Enemy: Toronto Blue Jays

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This might be the Jays’ last postseason shot with their current core.

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The Blue Jays got to the ALCS for the second straight year, and lost it for the second straight year. Indians pitching was too tough and shut down all the Jays’ great hitters.

Now Toronto takes another playoff shot, but without Edwin Encarnacion (signed with Cleveland) and Michael Saunders (signed with Philadelphia).

They will attempt to replace that production with Kendrys Morales at DH, a good hitter who isn’t quite Encarnacion, and... well, a bunch of people in left field including Ezequiel Carrera, known more for defense, and Melvin Upton Jr., known for being good about six years ago.

How about Jays pitching? They return all their starters except R.A. Dickey, who left for Atlanta, and they replaced him with Francisco Liriano. This could be an upgrade if Liriano is more like the 2015 version than the 2016 version. It’s also unclear if J.A. Happ’s great year was a one-off, or if he can continue pitching that way. Aaron Sanchez had a breakout year at age 23 and the Jays hope he can continue to improve.

Jose Bautista, who has been the face of this franchise since 2010, tested free agency before returning on a deal that’s a one-year deal with a mutual option year for 2018 and a vesting option for 2019. By 2019 Bautista will be 38. He was a late bloomer, but last year was a down year for him. The Jays need him to return to what he was in 2015 (.250/.377/.536, 40 home runs, 110 walks). The Jays hit 221 home runs last year, but even with all that power they were just fifth in the A.L. in runs. They’re going to have to diversify that offense more if they want to keep winning.

Like their divisional counterparts in Tampa, Toronto has a center fielder named Kevin (Pillar) who’s outstanding defensively while being only “OK” as a hitter. If the Jays surround him with better hitters Pillar’s lack of hitting won’t matter.

Roberto Osuna, the Jays closer, who just turned 22 last month, posted 36 saves, but had a rough time over the season’s last six weeks (four blown saves, 4.87 ERA, five home runs allowed in 20⅓ innings). He didn’t give up a run in nine postseason innings, though. In general Jays pitching was very good, allowing the fewest runs of any A.L. team.

The Canadian National Anthem will be heard this summer at Wrigley Field for the first time since 2005, as both of the last two Cubs/Jays series have been in Toronto. Overall the Blue Jays are 8-4 against the Cubs in interleague play, including a three-game sweep at Rogers Centre in 2014. This year’s series at Wrigley will be on August 18-19-20.