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Behind Enemy Lines: Preparing for the Blue Jays with Bluebird Banter

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Last year the Blue Jays went for it all, but sometimes there's a price to pay for dreaming big.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers will welcome the Toronto Blue Jays into Comerica Park on Monday to kick off a three-game set. With both teams struggling to keep pace with their respective division leaders early in the season, it could prove an important series on both sides. And considering the role the Tigers played in the Jays' run via the deadline deal for David Price, it will be interesting to see them a season after they went all-in.

As a preview, I exchanged some questions with Tom Dakers of Bluebird Banter, the fine SB Nation site for the Toronto Blue Jays. You can find my responses to his questions here.

The Blue Jays made several huge deals in pursuit of a World Series title last season, and gave away some high quality talent in the process? Was it worth it? And how does the Blue Jays' system look at this point?

Yeah I think it was worth it. It was worth it just for the 7th inning of game 5 against the Rangers, if nothing else. That might have been the most amazing inning of baseball that I’ve ever watched. They most definitely emptied the farm system. In picking up Mark Lowe, they went a little overboard. Giving up 3 minor leaguers for 19 innings of fairly okay relief work was a mistake, but I can’t complain about the other moves.

Our farm system isn’t near as deep as it was a year ago. There are still a handful of good prospects, but few, other than Dalton Pompey, could help this season. Anthony Alford is a pretty dynamic looking outfielder. First baseman Rowdy Tellez has a ton of power. Shortstop Richard Urena and catcher Max Pentacost (if he could stay healthy for a week or two) are likely within a couple of years of pushing their way into the majors. And 17-year- old Vladimir Guerrero is making us dream of the future.

They have some good pitchers, in the lower minors, but their best arms are still a few years away.

Pirates pitching coach Searage worked his wizardry on J.A. Happ with the Pirates in 2015. He appears to have carried that success over with the Blue Jays this year. What changed, and what should Tigers fans expect to see from him?

During Happ’s first stint with the Jays, he would drive me crazy by pitching slow and seemingly always working himself to a full count. If he would start an at bat with a 0-2 count, you knew, in 2 or 3 minutes, he’d work his way to a 3-2 count. You could almost ignore the first 5 pitches to any batter. As well as taking forever, he had a hard time getting past the 5th inning. And, to add to the fun, he was a fly ball pitcher working in smallish park.

This season, he’s working quicker, nibbling less and getting more ground balls. His strikeout rate is down, but he’s working later into games.

Jose Bautista made some noise a few months ago about his dis-satisfaction with the Blue Jays' somewhat underwhelming extension offer. Do the Blue Jays intend on keeping Bautista or was that offer partly a bit of theater for the fanbase?

I have no idea what the front office is thinking. There was a rumor that Jose was asking for $30 million a season for at least five years. That would take him through his age 40 season. As much as I love the guy, I don’t see him being worth that much at 40. He is getting close to the point where he’s going to have to be moved out of right field. I’d think, starting next year, we’d want to see him playing first base.

Players (and management) always start negotiating at a number that they don’t expect to actually get. I’m hoping the team and Jose come to an agreement somewhere short of $30 million and less than 5 years. I’d like to go 2 years with option years, but that’s unlikely to happen.

As a follow-up...I see John Gibbons has used Bautista as a lead-off hitter recently. Is this just an experiment or something the Blue Jays might actually continue trying?

There is a good story there. A few weeks ago, some of the veteran players were talking about ways to get the dormant offense going. One of the ideas the came up with was to move Jose to the top of the order. They went to the coaches with the idea and Gibbons went along with it. Since the move they have been playing better baseball. They're still not scoring the way we expected, but they have been better. I’d expect that they won’t change things as long as they keep winning. If they go into another slump, I’d expect Devon Travis to get moved back to the top of the order.

Michael Saunders has bounced around for several years and has never quite put things together the way he has with the Blue Jays so far. Is this sustainable or is he just off to a hot start?

Yeah it is a hot start. I wouldn’t expect him to finish the season with 30 home runs (about the pace he is at now). But, he is healthy (he says knocking on wood), and he’s shown a great eye at the plate. The most surprising thing about his start, is how great he’s been against lefty pitching. He’s hit .276/.354/.586 against southpaws, with 5 home runs (with only 4 home runs, in more than twice as many at bats against RHP).

How has the Blue Jays bullpen performed this season? I know Brett Cecil has missed some time, but otherwise, how are they shaping up in the late innings?

Awful? Horrible? Dreadful? Train wreck? Open the thesaurus and just cut and paste all the synonym’s you find for awful into this answer. (Editor's note: The first synonym for an awful bullpen was just an image of the Olde English D).

Roberto Osuna has been about the only reliever that Jays fans feel confident about coming out of the pen. Rule 5 pickup Joe Biagini has been surprising good. Beyond that…

Drew Storen has an ERA above 6 (which is an improvement from the 9.00 he came into May with. Gavin Floyd has had the odd good moment, but he’s given up home runs at the worst possible moment several times. Jesse Chavez has a decent ERA, 3.20, but must belong to a religion that forbids stranding inherited runners.

Aaron Sanchez has lived up to the billing so far, compiling a 2.99 ERA. How do you think he matches up against the Tigers lineup?

Sanchez has been my favorite starter to watch. He’s throwing a mid-90’s fastball, and has the prettiest curve you will ever see. And he’s turned his changeup into a pitch we don’t dread to see him throw. In previous seasons, he’s had big troubles with left-handed batters. This year lefties are hitting just .232/.308/.355 against him. He’s getting tons of ground balls, and has only allowed 4 home runs in 11 starts. I’m looking forward to seeing how he does against the Tigers.

If the Blue Jays are going to take down Boston and Baltimore, what, or who, do you think is the key to winning the A.L. East?

The keys is going to be getting the offense firing on all cylinders. Russell Martin is hitting under .200 and slugging a big .287. Troy Tulowitzki is hitting .208/.289/.383 (and is on the DL now). And Kevin Pillar is hitting .237 and has taken some sort of vow against talking a base on balls. And the big three, Donaldson, Bautista and Encarnacion haven’t gone on any of their hot stretches where they carry the team on their backs for a couple of weeks at a time. The starting pitching has been surprisingly good, I’m hoping that the bullpen will come around, but we really need they offense to start scoring like they did last year.

★★★

Once again, a big thank you goes out to Tom and the rest of the Bluebird Banter staff for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to follow them on Twitter and check out their excellent Blue Jays coverage all season long!