Blue Jays: Going from a rough 2019 season to playoff worthy in 2021
Being a Toronto Blue Jays fan over the past five to six years has been one rollercoaster of a ride.
In 2015 the front office pulled off some fantastic trades at the deadline to create a veteran squad looking for playoff glory, although falling short in the ALCS to the Kansas City Royals, who would go on to win the World Series that year.
The 2016 season was also fun to watch as the club still had a few veteran players kicking around, one last kick at playoff glory with the new front office taking over in the off-season prior. Although they won the Wild Card and beat the Rangers in the ALDS, the ALCS once again was where the dream would end but this time at the hands of the Cleveland Indians, who would fall just short themselves to the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.
The next few years saw almost every veteran player either be traded out of town or given their walking papers, leaving behind a rag-tag group of players who were a stopgap of the rebuild with the likes of Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. still a few years away. In 2017, the Blue Jays would finish would a 76-86 record before sporting a 73-89 in the 2018 campaign.
In 2019, the club hit their lowest in recent memory, finishing with a 67-95 record with a majority of the remaining veterans from the playoff glory years being traded away at the deadline in Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. Only first baseman Justin Smoak remained when all was said and done and even he would leave that upcoming off-season.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio would all make their Major League debuts this year and the club handed off the catching duties to Danny Jansen, who the season prior made 31 appearances. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was entering his sophomore campaign after getting some reps in 2018 and was still being used on the infield before starting to take left-field reps in 2019, the position he still plays today.
Trent Thornton led the club in innings pitched while Ken Giles was the club’s most effective reliever, with the club using 21 different pitchers in a starting capacity including Edwin Jackson and his monster 11.12 ERA. This was also the year Matt Shoemaker suffered the knee injury after a hot start to the campaign, finishing his season early on what looked to be a promising year for the right-hander.
After a few rough rebuilding years, the Blue Jays are now knocking on the playoff doors two years removed from being one of the worst clubs in the league.
Fast forward to today and the Blue Jays are in a way different position than they were two years ago.
The rebuild is now in the rearview mirror and the front office went out and signed some veteran talent to mix in with their homegrown core in Hyun Jin Ryu, George Springer, Robbie Ray, and Marcus Semien amongst a host of others as well as trading for some assistance like Steven Matz, Adam Cimber, Trevor Richards, and Corey Dickerson to bolster the active roster.
This season is one of the best Blue Jays teams in recent memories and there is a possibility that the club might not even make the postseason when all is said and done Sunday evening. Guerrero Jr. is playing phenomenal and is currently in the MVP conversation while Semien is putting on a clinic this year, breaking the league record for home runs by a second baseman earlier this week. Ray is in the conversation for the Cy Young award and the Blue Jays also have four players who have more than 100 RBI on the season.
While the rebuilding years were obviously difficult to watch, the plan seems to be coming to fruition, whether the Blue Jays make the playoffs this year or not. Sure, it would be disappointing if the club doesn’t play meaningful October baseball after the strong team they have assembled this year but the core itself seems to be set for the next few years, featuring a dangerous combination across the diamond.
So how did we get here?
A tough AL East division is making it difficult but to say the club isn’t at fault would be an understatement, as the Blue Jays have 15 one-run losses on the season, whether it be a bullpen blowout or a lackluster showing from the lineup. These losses from earlier in the season are now starting to catch up and are one of the reasons why the Jays are currently on the outside looking in when it comes to the Wild Card standings.
Some questionable decisions from manager Charlie Montoyo have contributed to a few losses this season (whether they are the main reason or not) but the team lost a few games this year that they should have won and are now starting to pay for it.
How do the Blue Jays improve for next year?
A full season with a healthy Springer could change the dynamic completely and while Ray and Semien may leave via free agency this off-season, the club still boasts a ton of talented players like Guerrero Jr. Bichette, Nate Pearson, Jordan Romano, Teoscar Hernandez, and Alek Manoah, who takes the ball shortly here against the Baltimore Orioles in a game the club cannot lose.
There are also a few talented prospects within the pipeline who could be knocking on the door shortly such as Jordan Groshans and Gabriel Moreno, potentially strengthening this core to provide even more pop off the bat while providing defensive upside (in Moreno’s case at least).
Overall, the core will be staying put and the years of subpar baseball the fans had to endure are replaced with nail biters late in the campaign that has you on the edge of your seat and looking for the playoffs for years to come.