Blue Jays begin most pivotal season yet

TORONTO [Peter Paul Media] — The Toronto Blue Jays begin the most pivotal season in the past three in New York Monday after bolstering there lineup with catcher Russell Martin, third-baseman Josh Donaldson and left-fielder Michael Saunders in the off-season. The Yankees meanwhile are in unfamiliar territory–the underdog in today’s opener.

Drew Hutchison, who helped the Jays end a 17-game losing streak in New York last July going 6 2/3 innings, gets the nod in New York Monday. The Yanks counter with RHP Masahiro Tanaka, 19, who pitched the entire spring while nursing a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. It will be the first opening day start for both men.

The Jays announced there first of 162 lineups three hours prior to game time with Edwin Encarnacion playing first-base to start the season with backup catcher Dioner Navarro assigned as DH. Navarro, who has demanded a trade out of Toronto after the signing of Martin, is expected to platoon the DH role alongside Encarnacion this season until he is shipped out. Justin Smoak is expected to be the everyday first baseman, Manager John Gibbons said last week.

Shortstop Jose Reyes leads off and is followed by catcher Russell Martin, RF Jose Bautista, 1B Edwin Encarnacion, 3B Josh Donaldson, DH Dioner Navarro, CF Dalton Pompey, LF Kevin Pillar and second baseman Devon Travis. Steve Tolleson, Danny Valencia and Smoak will start the game on the bench.

General Manager Alex Anthopoulos is in the final year of his contract this season and despite missing the playoffs for three-straight years, has compiled an interesting mix of players during his tenure.

Anthopoulos promised in 2012 that it would take three years for the Blue Jays to be competitive and return to playoffs for the first time since 1993–the longest playoff drought in baseball. It is now the third year and without solid results this season, Anthopoulos and his crew may be sent packing.

Key injuries didn’t help the revamped roster but for the most part, it’s still intact with the top five bating order rated as one of the best in baseball behind the Boston Red Sox. Blue Jays fans, however, have seen this before.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Daniel Jamieson as he made his morning commute in downtown Toronto while wearing his Jays jersey. “We’ve had so many injuries year after year after year. The baseball gods are never kind to Canada.”

Saunders tore the meniscus in his left knee while shagging fly balls in early spring and was expected to be out until at least the All-Star break. His prognosis has since drastically improved and is now expected back sometime in the next two weeks, Anthopoulos said Monday. Pillar will replace him in left field until then after a strong spring, averaging .264 with 7 RBIs and 4 doubles in 53 at-bats.

The loss of pitcher Marcus Stroman in early spring to a torn ACL in his left knee made room for others to take a shot at the rotation. Both Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez made Toronto’s starting rotation alongside knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

Mark Buerhle is the veteran Blue Jays ace going into 2015 but will not be starting in New York because of his horrendous 1-14 record compounded by a 6.21 ERA–a rarity for the lefty. He’s unlikely pitch in the Opening Series against New York until the team returns to Toronto for their Opening Series, a four-game set against the Rays.

Manager John Gibbons announced last week the following starting rotation to begin the season: Drew Hutchison, R.A. Dickey, Daniel Norris, Mark Buerhle and Aaron Sanchez. The first pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. from New Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

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