Every team in Major League Baseball is envisioning a scenario where they make the playoffs in the sport’s 60-game regular season. It’s a matter of who are the termites that can temporarily infect the sport’s power balance. In the American League, the Toronto Blue Jays are that rodent.
The Blue Jays have the best young positional core in MLB: Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, and Rowdy Tellez.
Bichette was a contact machine in his 46 games at the big-league level last season, hitting .311 and posting a .930 OPS; Guerrero flaunted his power, totaling 15 home runs and 69 RBIs across 123 games; Biggio posted a .793 OPS while blasting 16 home runs across 100 games; Gurriel posted an .869 OPS; Hernandez has totaled 48 home runs and 122 RBIs while playing all three outfield positions across the last two seasons; Tellez launched 21 home runs in 2019.
Bichette, Guerrero, and Biggo were rookies last season. Meanwhile, Hernandez is 27, Gurriel is 26, and Tellez is 25.
Manager Charlie Montoyo‘s lineup is well-versed. He has players who get on base at plausible rates (Bichette and Gurriel) accompanied by power hitters (Biggio and Tellez) — some of which have the upside to be All-Star caliber players (Guerrero).
By the way, the above statement doesn’t include some of the “veterans” on their lineup card such as Brandon Drury (27), Randal Grichuk (28), and Travis Shaw (30). Drury plays a stellar third base by means of fielding groundballs well on both his front and backhand and is a considerable threat with the bat; Grichuk blasted a career-high 31 home runs last season; when healthy, Shaw is respectable at both corner infield positions and totaled 63 home runs from 2017-18.
Last year the Blue Jays’ weakness was their starting rotation, a detriment that was significantly aided in the offseason. General Manager Ross Atkins added three starting pitchers: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, and Chase Anderson.
Ryu, a finalist for the National League Cy Young Award last season, is one of the most deceptive pitchers in baseball. He gets wicked movement on his cutter and curveball, deceives hitters with his high 80s/low 90s fastball, and pitches deep into games.
The phrase when healthy is used a lot in sports. That said, Ryu is one of the players who when healthy is elite. Last season he posted a 2.32 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP, and 163 strikeouts across 29 starts.
Roark and Anderson are respectable starters who add credibility to Toronto’s rotation. They’re proven ground-ball pitchers who are adept at evading trouble. Roark also brings postseason experience to the table.
Toronto has a high-octane offense that’s only going to improve with at-bats. Some of their youngsters haven’t even played a full season in the big leagues; that works in their favor for 2020.
Had a 162-game season taken place, their lineup would’ve inevitably taken its lumps, as it would be their first crack at a full MLB season. That element is out the window. It’s a 60-game sprint to the playoffs, and that works in favor of teams that wouldn’t have been in the playoff picture in a full season.
There’s no pressure on the Blue Jays; they can go 20-40 and close to nobody is going to scrutinize them. All the pressure is on the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East.
The Yankees have arguably the best positional depth chart in the sport, they signed Gerrit Cole to a record-breaking deal in the offseason, and have been a perennial contender in the AL. It’s a team trying to breakthrough with its core while continually strengthening strengths to do so. If they miss the playoffs it’ll be a disaster.
The Rays have arguably the best pitching staff in the sport, they loaded up on power hitters in the offseason, and have won 90-plus games in each of the last two seasons. For a team that’s habitually wheeling and dealing and sporting a low payroll, seizing the opportunity at hand is vital. If they come out of the gate slow, it could wreck their season.
The expectation for the Yankees and Rays is to compete for the World Series. The expectation for the Blue Jays is to stay the course. Playing well against their divisional foes, who they’ll be facing for 66.7 percent of the regular season, alters the playoff picture. Concurrently, playing well against the Yankees, Rays, and Boston Red Sox, who figure to at least be competitive, gives the Blue Jays a chance to make the playoffs.
They improved their greatest weakness by adding an elite arm and a couple veterans who help form a respectable rotation. Considering Luis Severino‘s absence and James Paxton‘s back rehab, how much better is New York’s rotation than Toronto’s? Would you rather have Tampa Bay’s offense or Toronto’s? They’re not bang-bang questions.
There are few, if any off hitters, if you will, in Toronto’s lineup; Ryu can matchup with any starter in the sport; Toronto’s rotation is better than some preconceived contenders in both the American and National League; their bullpen is in the middle of the pack but so are some preconceived contenders.
Toronto will be a contender when its roster plays into its potential down the road. When a lot of people look at age they see inexperience, volatility, and perhaps a loose cannon. At the same time, age can speak to a willingness to take risks.
The Blue Jays have the talent to take risks in the batter’s box and not give into hitters on the hill.
There are plenty of young teams besides the Blue Jays who could be a problem this season. Think budding teams like the Chicago White Sox and San Diego Padres who have tantalizing lineups.
Should we shoo-in the Blue Jays as a playoff participant? Should we shoo-in the Blue Jays for missing the playoffs? The answer to both questions is no, and it’s not merely because it’s a 60-game season.
Montoyo and friends want the accumulation and performance their youngsters put together in 2019 to be the baseline for 2020 and beyond. If they simply repeat their 2019 production in a 60-game season their offense is still a hassle. If their rotation stays healthy, it gives their bats a chance to come back and take the lead.
The Toronto Blue Jays will be the AL’s pain in the rear.
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