Wed. Mar. 30, 2016
A 1-1 pitch in the bottom of the seventh during Game 5 of the 2015 American League Divisional Series quickly became the highest peak of Toronto Blue Jays fandom in more than two decades.
That inside fastball from Texas Rangers reliever Sam Dyson found its way to the sweet spot of Jose Bautista's bat, which was emphatically and now infamously tossed aside by the Blue Jays' slugger as the ball soared into the left field stands at the Rogers Centre. That three-run home run put Toronto ahead 6-3 and secured the franchise's first appearance in the American League Championship Series since winning back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993.
Of course, the Blue Jays would fall to the eventual World Series champs, the Kansas City Royals, in the ALCS, losing in six games. But the success of the 2015 season has Canadian baseball fans - and bettors - counting down the hours and minutes until Opening Day 2016.
The growing optimism of Toronto fans is being reflected at the Canadian sportsbook Sports Interaction, where oddsmakers have the Blue Jays pegged as front runners to win the American League Pennant (+400) and second overall favorites to win the 2016 World Series (+750, behind the Chicago Cubs +500).
However, that hopefulness is a bit tempered when sizing up the Blue Jays betting odds to win the American League East, with the Jays listed as slight +169 favorites over the resurgent Boston Red Sox at +170, who snatched up free agent starter David Price - a big part of Toronto's second-half success last summer.
Digging even deeper into the race in the AL East, sportsbooks are dealing the Blue Jays' season win total at 87.5 games, with the Over at -122 (Under -114). The Red Sox, on the other hand, are right behind them at 86.5 wins, with the Over priced at -135 (Under -104).
Also hot on the heels of the defending AL East champs are the New York Yankees, who are listed at +325 to win the division, +900 to win the pennant, and boast a season win total of 85.5 wins (Over -118/Under -118).
So what will it take for Toronto to cash in those futures wagers for their betting faithful come October? The backbone of Blue Jays baseball in recent years has been their dangerous and deep lineup, and that won't change in 2016.
Toronto returns all of its key bats from last season when it led the majors in scoring (5.50 per game), home runs (232), on-base plus slugging (.797) and finished second in batting average, hitting .269 BA behind the Detroit Tigers (.270).
Those playing MLB Daily Fantasy Baseball should feel fairly confident stacking a DFS roster with any of the Jays' projected lineup, Nos. 1 through 5. Of course, big-name bats like Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki, Edwin Encarnacion, and American League MVP Josh Donaldson, will come with a hefty price.
Something that could hinder Toronto's power numbers early in the season, and something DFS players should watch out for, is the lack of a true lead-off hitter. Ben Revere is gone and second-year man Devon Travis is still not healthy enough to play, which doesn't leave Toronto much in the way of table setters. Michael Saunders and Dalton Pompey aren't consistent on-base threats at the top of the order, so there could be a downtick in RBIs from Toronto's sluggers until Travis returns.
The Jays' pitching staff suffered the biggest overhaul this offseason. As mentioned, Price chased the money to Fenway - which was quietly expected by many Toronto fans with an ear to the ground. Also gone is veteran starter Mark Buehrle (another expected loss), as well as relievers Mark Lowe, LaTroy Hawkins, and Liam Hendriks.
That has Toronto banking on some inconsistent and aging arms. The stud of the rotation remains Marcus Stroman, who now has some postseason pressure under his belt and is a potential superstar arm - barring another injury setback.
But behind him is Marco Estrada, who is coming off a surprise career year, veteran knuckballer R.A. Dickey, left-handed journeyman J.A. Happ (his second go-around with the club), and reliever-turned-starter Aaron Sanchez. That isn't a rotation that strikes fear in the heart of opposing clubs, especially when the calendar flips to October. It will be interesting to see what the Blue Jays betting odds will look like at that time of the season.
Life in the American League - and the AL East specifically - is rough on pitchers. Boston, despite finishing last in the division, still ranked fourth in scoring (4.62 runs per game) in 2015 and the Yankees were behind the Blue Jays at No. 2 in runs per game, plating an average of 4.72 per outing.
Throw in the Baltimore Orioles, who finished ninth in runs (4.40 per game), and the Tampa Bay Rays, who don't hit well but have one of the better pitching staffs in the bigs, and Toronto's starting rotation will be counting on the bats to pad the scoreboard most nights.
That daily opposition could be why Stroman is a +3,300 long shot to win the American League Cy Young, with top-tier hurlers Chris Sale (+200), Corey Kluber (+350), and former teammate Price (+300) listed as the front runners to take home 2016 AL top pitching honors. Other MLB player props that may interest Blue Jays bettors this spring include AL MVP, with reigning winner Donaldson (+450) a distant second to Los Angeles Angels standout Mike Trout (+150). Also among the notables to win the league's top individual honor are Bautisa (+2,000) and Encarnacion (+5,000).
The one MLB player prop dripping with the most value for Toronto backers are the major league's home run leader odds, which list Miami Marlins star Giancarlo Stanton as a runway +700 favorite. Looking down the board, the Blue Jays' power hitting starts to get respect from the bookmakers with Encarnacion as the fifth overall favorite at +1,800, Bautista and Donaldson at +2,000 (tied for the sixth overall favorite), and Tulowitzki providing long-shot pop at the bottom of the board, priced at +6,600.
All of the offseason excitement boils over on Opening Day, when Toronto visits Tampa Bay on Sunday, April 3 - one of a trio of contests to throw out the first pitch on the 2016 campaign and surely to kick off the season with Blue Jays fans betting against Bodog Canada, Sports Interaction and other popular Canadian oddmakers.
Following that four-game stand in St. Petersburg, baseball bettors get a glimpse of the possible pecking order in the AL East. The Blue Jays return to the Rogers Centre for the first time since the postseason to host the rival Red Sox for three games, starting April 8, followed by a three-game stand versus the Yankees.
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