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5. Toronto Blue Jays (93-69, 867 RS, 747 RA, first in AL East)
After just missing in 2022, the 2023 Blue Jays are going to crack this list:
Astros 2019 124
Astros 2017 121
Red Sox 2003 120
Dodgers 2022 119
Yankees 2007 119
wRC+: Weighted Runs Created, adjusted for run environment, from FanGraphs
Those are the best offensive teams of the 21st century. The 2022 Jays posted a 117 wRC+ that comes in at sixth. (This list doesn’t count 2020. No lists should.)
The Jays didn’t focus on offense this winter, but rather defense, shipping out Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and replacing him with Daulton Varsho in left, then signing Kevin Kiermaier to push George Springer to right field, where the traded Teoscar Hernandez once roamed. That’s an upgrade defensively at all three spots, and not a small one, and at minimal cost offensively. Adding Varsho, Kiermaier, and Brandon Belt gives the Jays better lineup balance, allowing them to hit with the platoon advantage more often.
The carryover hitters are driving this, though. In Vladimir Guerrero Jr.. Bo Bichette, and Alejandro Kirk, the Jays have three hitters 25 and under who all had at least a 125 OPS+ a year ago. That’s three batters, two that play up-the-middle positions, who could find themselves in the top ten of AL MVP voting. The Jays are going to print runs, and if either Whit Merrifield or Matt Chapman bounces back a bit, they’ll score more than 900 runs.
So why are the Jays just fifth overall? There are real pitching concerns one you get past Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, and Jordan Romano. The Jays’ investments in Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi flopped, and Chris Bassitt -- three years, $63 million -- is hardly a rock, coming off his first leader-qualified season at 33. Nate Pearson, who was supposed to be anchoring the rotation right now, is at best a relief prospect at this point. The Jays are going to have to win their share of 7-6 games. (Or 10-9.) The Jays traded for the Mariners’ Erik Swanson, but other than that the line in front of Romano is as wobbly as it was six months ago, with no sure things for three outs in a big spot.
I don’t think it will matter. The Jays are going to score enough runs to be the best team in the AL, and I expect Ross Atkins and The Smart Joe Sheehan to bolster the pitching staff in July. The Jays don’t have to go all-in this year, not with their young core. With the Yankees and Astros down a little, though, the AL is more open than it’s been in a while. Flags fly forever.
The Upside: John Schneider gets just enough from the pen each night, the Jays acquire Corbin Burnes on July 22, and they go 101-61 on their way to winning the World Series.
The Downside: The offense is good, not great, and not enough to overcome the weak parts of the staff. The Jays allow 800 runs and end up in the wild-card scrum at 87-75.
Random Player Comment: It’s hard to not pick Shohei Ohtani as the league MVP, given everything he can do on a baseball field. I went with him. If forced to pick someone else, though, I’d go with Bo Bichette. Bichette is a .300 hitter with power and speed. He walks a little more than you think and has missed six games in two years. So he’s not Andrelton Simmons at shortstop. He plays it well enough to stay there.