After ALCS losses, Blue Jays are pennant or bust

Backed by powerful lineup, rotation would drive Toronto to perfect season

After ALCS losses, Blue Jays are pennant or bust

With Spring Training fast approaching, will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Blue Jays squad each day this week. Today's topic: The perfect season.

TORONTO -- Two years ago, postseason baseball was a foreign concept to most Blue Jays fans. Now, it's supposed to come with the territory.

Expectations have been raised over the last couple of seasons, and that means Toronto fans will no longer settle for second best. For this season to be a true success, the Blue Jays have to do more than just make the postseason. They have to at least play in the World Series.

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Lofty goals such as this used to be pure fantasy around these parts. Before 2015, Toronto had not even played meaningful games in September since 1993, let alone October. Finishing behind Boston and New York in the American League East was a foregone conclusion to all but the most die-hard supporters. Not anymore.

Outlook: Bautista, OF/1B, TOR

The Blue Jays flirted with a perfect season during each of the past two years, and while those teams provided many memorable moments, they couldn't quite finish the job. The seasons may have ended in disappointment, but the result was still positive considering the journey it took to get there. Even so, what was good enough before might not be good enough now. This has become a World Series or bust type of team.

Across the Majors, goals set for 2017

Toronto will look to win on the strength of its starting rotation. Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, Marcus Stroman and Francisco Liriano form a strong core that is expected to be among the best in all of baseball. Add in a lineup that might have lost Edwin Encarnacion but still features Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki and added Kendrys Morales over the offseason, and it's clear this roster is built to win now. The problem is, a lot of other teams in the AL are too.

Outlook: Sanchez, SP, TOR

In the AL East, the Red Sox likely will prove to be Toronto's biggest test. Boston lost a longtime franchise icon this offseason when David Ortiz officially retired, but the club possesses some of the top young offensive players in baseball, and their rotation, following the addition of Chris Sale, can be matched up against anybody. Add in the consistently tough Orioles, a Yankees team with some promising youth and the pesky Rays, and the division likely will be even tougher than it was a year ago.

"It's always going to be an animal, the AL East is always going to be that way," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said last month. "But I feel like we're going to be competitive and right in the thick of it."

The competition from outside the division won't be any easier either. Cleveland should be considered the favorite in the AL after making the World Series last year despite missing several key players to injury. Michael Brantley, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco will be back, and the addition of Encarnacion provides a massive upgrade to a lineup that lacked consistent power. Not to be forgotten is top rival Texas, Seattle, Kansas City and several others. Toronto can aim high all it wants, but it won't be easy, and the organization knows it. But that won't change the goal.

Bautista's bat flip. Encarnacion's bat drop. Toronto has seen a lot of great postseason moments over the years, but for this season to be perfect, something like that will have to happen in the World Series. Anything less just isn't quite good enough anymore.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.