Blue Jays: What’s different about basically the same 60-game record

With a win tonight the Blue Jays will sit at 32-28, matching their record from last year’s shortened schedule. We’ve seen pretty similar results compared to last season, but there are a lot of different variables that have led to a similar place.

The 2020 schedule was an anomaly that hopefully we’ll never see again. Due to the Covid-19 pandeic and delayed start to the year, MLB and the Player’s Association agreed to a 60-game schedule that also included an expanded postseason picture. Because of that agreement, the Blue Jays ultimately ended up in the playoffs as one of the additional Wild Card teams, which was a nice consolation prize for fans that had missed out on 100 games compared to a typical year.

Those extra playoff spots won’t be available in 2021, and that means the Blue Jays and everyone else are going to have to play that much better to earn their place. Entering Thursday’s schedule the Jays are sitting 6.0 games out of 1st place in the competitive AL East, and even though they’re three games above .500 they’re still sitting in fourth place.

In my view there are a lot of reasons for optimism about the 103 games that remain though. One of the biggest is that the Jays have had a pretty tough schedule thus far, and things should get a little easier once they finish this stretch against the White Sox, Red Sox, and Yankees. They’ve yet to play the last-place Orioles, who they’ll still get to square off against for 19 games before this season is in the books. If they can take advantage of weaker competition, their record should take them higher than just three games above .500.

Last year the schedule was pretty complicated too, as each team had to play their division rivals 10 times each, and then a smattering of games against the NL as well. They kept the East/East theme, so the Blue Jays played NL East teams in the Nationals, Braves, Marlins, Phillies and Mets to round out the other 20 games on their schedule. It wasn’t a very nice schedule for the young team to navigate either, but they still managed to come out ahead more often than not.

One of the other important factors that could make a difference this year will be the health of the roster. So far the 2021 group has been snake-bitten by a pile of injuries, especially to the pitching staff. That wasn’t nearly as big of an issue in 2020, but they only had a 60-game schedule to get through, and extra reinforcements due to the lack of a MiLB season. That same luxury isn’t available to Charlie Montoyo and Ross Atkins this time around, and lately it’s starting to show.

On the plus side, Montoyo may get a few important pieces back for his lineup card before the month is out. Thomas Hatch is back on a rehab assignment, and could be a candidate to reinforce either the rotation or the bullpen. Ryan Borucki is close to starting a throwing program on the way to a return as well, and he’s been an important arm that’s been missed out of the ‘pen. On the offensive side of things, Cavan Biggio has been playing in Triple-A this week and may even return by the weekend or early next week, and Alejandro Kirk is getting ready to take some live at-bats during extended Spring Training.

Of course, there’s also George Springer, whose injury situation has morphed from excitement about his return to an, “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude from a lot of Blue Jays fans. It’s hard to blame them (or rather, “us” since I’m basically with you at this point), but the 3x All-Star is legitimately getting close to starting a rehab assignment. We’ve gotta hope that the extra dose of patience this time around will make a difference, and hopefully this past offseason’s big ticket item can finally show everyone what kind of impact he can make.

If we’re looking at roster that’s getting healthier, and hopefully a bit easier schedule, I feel like the Blue Jays are set for a surge at some point this summer. Their lineup is too powerful not to get on a roll at some point, especially once they get to play against a few rebuilding teams. Hyun Jin Ryu has continued to pitch like an ace, and Robbie Ray has all but joined him in that tier. There are plenty of issues for this team to sort through before we get to the stretch run, but there is still a ton of upside about this group that we’ve yet to see at all.

The Blue Jays might not be where many of us hoped or even thought they’d be, but I still see the potential for a step forward from 2020. They might need another season or two before they’re truly ready to contend for a World Series, but with so much yet to be realized promise, don’t be surprised if the next 100 games are the start of something pretty special.