The Blue Jays have enough talent and depth to cover most areas of the team, but there’s one player that’s simply irreplaceable in 2021.
If I gave you one guess without looking, chances are most people would answer with Hyun Jin Ryu, and that would be 100% correct in my mind. Others like George Springer, Bo Bichette, or Vladimir Guerrero Jr. might have just as much to do with the ultimate success of the Jays this year, but no one will be able to keep them further from a failed season than the veteran left-hander.
I say that because the rest of the rotation has a ton of question marks, and that makes Ryu’s role a crucial one among his peers. He’s going to be tasked with being the guy who always gives the team a chance to win every five days, and backed by a powerful offence they should do well he’s on the bump. For those who remember it, think back to most of Roy Halladay‘s peak years, when it felt like his turn in the rotation was the one chance a week that everyone could take a deep breathe and relax a little bit.
It’s a luxury to have a true “ace” like Ryu, and the Blue Jays will need to lean on the stability he’ll provide on the mound. That’s especially the case because it’s hard to guess what they’ll get out of the rest of the rotation, and for a team with playoff aspirations that’s an interesting place to be.
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It’s entirely possible that things go well for someone like Nate Pearson, who has had some unfortunate setbacks with injuries this spring but has all the talent in the world to succeed. The Jays saw very strong spring performances from veteran southpaws Steven Matz and Robbie Ray, although the latter may miss a start or two with a bruised elbow as well. Even Tanner Roark has looked better than he did when he struggled through 2020, and hopefully he’ll offer an improved performance this season.
With talented youngsters like Anthony Kay, Trent Thornton, T.J. Zeuch, and another wave with the likes of Alek Manoah and Simeon Woods Richardson, admittedly there is some upside for the Blue Jays to point to. That said, there are far more question marks than sure things at this point, which is what makes Ryu’s role on the club so crucial.
Thankfully the Korean left-hander has been healthy for the last few seasons, as staying on the mound was a bit of a problem for him early in his career while he was still with the Dodgers. That said, he made 29 starts in 2019 and another 12 during last year’s shortened schedule, and the Blue Jays will do what they need to in order to protect his valuable left arm, even if that means giving him an occasional extra day of rest, or maybe even skipping a start if need be.
Whatever the Blue Jays have to do to make sure that Ryu stays on the field and puts his best foot forward, that needs to be the game plan. There’s no player more important to their success.