Blue Jays: AL East rivals be aware – they are coming for you
The Toronto Blue Jays entered the 2021 season with big hopes and playoff dreams as the team not only possessed a very deep farm system but also added some prominent players in George Springer, Marcus Semien, and Kirby Yates during the off-season.
Fast forward to the midway point of the season and the Blue Jays were roughly ten games back of first place in the AL East and four games back of a spot in the AL Wild Card. The batting order has been pretty on point for most of the campaign with the issue being the teams pitching, specifically in the bullpen, where the team just could not finish games and fans were growing frustrated with the close losses. The club did have its fair share of injured players over the first few months but I can guess that not many expected the Blue Jays to be as far back from postseason contention as they came to the All-Star break.
Ross Atkins would get to work in early July, adding pitchers Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards to the relief corps as well as outfielder Corey Dickerson before pulling out the big guns and adding Minnesota Twins start Jose Berrios alongside southpaw Brad Hand and veteran Joakim Soria just before the July 30th trade deadline came to a close. The club would also designate inconsistent reliever Tyler Chatwood for assignment, putting an end to that tumultuous tenure.
Since the trade deadline, the Toronto Blue Jays have been on a tear and winning games, putting the AL East on notice as they try to make up some ground to contend for the postseason.
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The Blue Jays also gained some momentum by being able to return to the Rogers Centre, starting the most recent homestead last Friday against the Kansas City Royals and going 6-1 since being able to play on home soil. This includes a sweep of Royals and a series win over the Cleveland Indians, with the Blue Jays bursting for nine runs in the fifth inning of last night’s game against the Boston Red Sox to secure the win for starter Alek Manoah.
Since the trade deadline, the Blue Jays have been a completely different team.
George Springer is healthy and producing at the top of the order, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is still on a pace to be a potential Triple Crown threat, and the rotation has been on fire since the All-Star break, with every pitcher contributing and pitching well as of late. Throw in some contributions from Teoscar Hernandez, Marcus Semien, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in the batting order and the Blue Jays are putting on a performance that is seeing their playoff chances grow almost every day. As of right now, the Blue Jays have a 40.5% chance of making the playoffs as per Fangraphs, a much better number than the 26.0% the club was given just prior to the trade deadline.
Sure the bullpen can make games interesting like Rafael Dolis loading the bases before escaping the inning or Jordan Romano giving up earned runs in his last few appearances but the additions of Cimber, Richards, and Hand improve the relief corps compared to what fans were experiencing earlier in June.
Ross Stripling did have the one bad outing against the Red Sox just after the All-Star break but is pitching well again thanks to mechanical adjustments. Even Steven Matz is starting to churn out some quality outings, making the decision of who moves to the bullpen with the addition of Berrios that much more difficult for manager Charlie Montoyo.
Looking at the schedule over the next few weeks, the Blue Jays are facing the Red Sox in a pretty important series this weekend before facing some weaker teams in the league, games that the club should be able to beat and hopefully pad their record before September. They thumped the Red Sox last night and will hopefully carry that momentum into the weekend series, gaining ground in their reeling AL East rivals.
The Jays’ do have to face the AL Central leading Chicago White Sox in mid-August and will have to play the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees twice in September, setting the stage for an interesting finish in the AL East as well as for the Wild Card with how well these two rival teams are playing.
Whether it be the recent acquisitions or the fact that the organization was able to return home for the first time in over 600 days, this club has done a complete 180 from the one that fans were watching back in May/June. Fans in the stands are most likely helping the cause but the Blue Jays players seem to be having a lot more success as of late, which is helping the team win ball games.
They have a lot of confidence and are playing well on both sides of the diamond, getting contributions from multiple players in the lineup, and are getting quality outings from members of the pitching corps.
Considering the Red Sox are now 2-8 in their last ten games and the Blue Jays are 6.5 games back of the first-place Rays and 2.0 games out of the Wild Card, some key series wins over the next few weeks could pay huge dividends for the club looking to make the postseason for the second season in a row.
AL East teams should be very afraid of the new-look Blue Jays.