Anything can happen once the playoffs begin, and now that the Blue Jays have qualified, don’t be surprised if they make some noise while they’re there.
In a normal season, it can be a lot easier to dismiss the bottom seed that qualifies for the MLB playoffs. However, the 2020 campaign has been anything but normal, and that plays right into the Blue Jays’ hands.
After their win over the Yankees on Thursday night, the Blue Jays punched their ticket to the post-season by taking control of their own destiny and winning three out of four against the Bronx Bombers. As things stand after play ended up Thursday, they’re in 8th place with a clinched spot in the playoffs. A lot could still change, and the Jays could even still catch the Yankees for 2nd in the AL East, so we don’t know where they’ll finish or who they’ll play just yet. That said, there is one thing I feel like I can confidently say, which is that I believe they’ll make some noise in the playoffs, and I doubt many teams want to play them in the first round.
That opening round may be where the Blue Jays are the most dangerous, and Hyun-Jin Ryu provided seven strong innings/reasons why on Thursday night in their playoff clincher. He’s a legitimate ace and a starting pitcher that can neutralize even the best lineups in baseball, as he did against the Yankees last night. Of course, he’ll square off against the ace for their playoff opponent, but there are very few starters I’d take over Ryu this season, especially lately. If he can be the best version of himself in his first playoff start as a Blue Jay, they’ll be well set up to take the first game, and that gives them a tremendous advantage in a short three-game series.
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It’s not just Ryu that gives the Blue Jays a chance though, and there’s a lot to like about their lineup right now. For starters, they’re getting healthier at the right time, as Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez, Matt Shoemaker, and Nate Pearson have all returned from the Injured List, and others like Rowdy Tellez and Jordan Romano may not be far behind. A healthy Blue Jays roster is a very deep one, and Charlie Montoyo could have most of his weapons at his disposal by next week.
As for the players that have got them there lately, they’ve been riding a few bats that are getting hot at the right time as well. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. looked to be finding his groove against the Yankees, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has been one of the hottest hitters in the American League lately. Then of course there is the heroics of 21-year-old rookie Alejandro Kirk, who has been earning playing time and turning all kinds of heads. As a result, Danny Jansen has stepped his performance up at the plate as well, and that healthy competition for starts at catcher is a good thing.
I could go on at length about how I like certain match-ups against teams they could play in the first round, but we’ll save that for another day. For now, I’d like to compare this young team to the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, who are currently playing against the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals when almost no one picked them to be there. That’s a team that’s playing their best basketball at the right time, hitting their peak when it matters most. That can be a massive factor in a seven-game series, but it’s even more important in a three-game set.
I also caught Jokic in a post-game interview after they sent the L.A. Clippers home last round, and he talked about how they were having fun, that there was “no pressure” on the Nuggets to win, and that the pressure fell on their opponent. Whether the Blue Jays square off against Tampa Bay, Oakland, Minnesota, or someone else, they’re going to be in a similar spot. They’ll be the underdog, upstart young team that has nothing to lose, and everything to gain just by having the experience. Sure, many of them will feel some of the pressure of the playoff experience, but the expectations will be low, and in some ways that’s an enviable place to be.
It might be a strange season with the shortened schedule and the expanded playoff, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. The Blue Jays have now qualified to play post-season baseball in 2020, and now that they’ve been invited to the dance, don’t be surprised if they make some noise.