Blue Jays are first in the AL East despite injuries and early setbacks

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 23: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays pops out to Niko Goodrum #11 of the Houston Astros scoring Bo Bichette #11 in the sixth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on April 23, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 23: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays pops out to Niko Goodrum #11 of the Houston Astros scoring Bo Bichette #11 in the sixth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on April 23, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

Heading into the 2022 season, FanGraphs was projecting that the Toronto Blue Jays had an 89.2% chance of making the playoffs and an 11.7% of winning the World Series, second place behind the Los Angeles Dodgers at 13.8%.

This makes sense after the additions of third baseman Matt Chapman and pitchers Kevin Gausman, Yusei Kikuchi, and Yimi Garcia in the offseason, which helps fill out the rotation and fills out a hole on the left side of the diamond.

The Jays did lose Marcus Semien, Robbie Ray, and Steven Matz via free agency this past winter but the club is in a completely different state compared to last year, with Alek Manoah set to begin the season with the big club, Jose Berrios is with Toronto for the next five to seven years (depending on the opt-out), and the bullpen has some solid options like Trevor Richards and Adam Cimber for an entire season (compared to being midseason acquisitions last year). Factor in that the lineup still boasts a strong young core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Teoscar Hernandez along with the likes of Chapman, George Springer, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. spread throughout the lineup, and it makes sense why the Blue Jays were ranked high on quite a few World Series models and predictions.

Fast forward to just over two weeks in the season and the Jays currently hold first place in the American League East with a 10-5 record, a slim margin over the New York Yankees who sit at 9-6 and the Rays and Red Sox just behind at 8-7 and 7-8 respectively.

While the Jays did have two easier stints against the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics, they also split a four-game series against the Yankees and have won every other series so far this season, which includes the Rangers, A’s, and Red Sox. They are also currently in the midst of potentially sweeping the Houston Astros later today, already having the series at hand with Kikuchi scheduled to be on the bump.

Despite some early injury troubles and pitching setbacks, the Blue Jays currently find themselves in first place in the AL East after two weeks.

This is pretty impressive considering the Jays have been hit with the injury bug to begin the year, with catcher Danny Jansen hitting the IL with an oblique injury after the Rangers series earlier in the season and Hernandez placed on the IL during the Yankees series a few days later. The club is also without Nate Pearson to begin the year and Hyun Jin Ryu is also on the IL with forearm tightness, which may or may not be a benefit depending on who you ask given his performance out of the gate.

The club has also had to deal with some of their veteran starters getting off to a shaky start, with Berrios unable to get out of the first inning during the home opener and Ryu struggling during his two starts before the IL stint. This put more strain on the bullpen, who have been nothing short of phenomenal early this season, currently sporting a collective 2.69 ERA with a majority of their relief corps sporting an ERA below 3.00. Jordan Romano leads all of Major League Baseball with eight saves and the Blue Jays have won four of five games where there was a one-run difference. Newly acquired Garcia has also appeared in seven games and has yet to allow an earned run.

The starters have started to bounce back which is a great sign, as Gausman almost pitched a complete game shutout against the Red Sox earlier this week while Berrios had two strong bounce-back starts against the Yankees and Red Sox after his Opening Day snafu. Kikuchi looked a bit shaky during his debut and it almost looked like things would get out of control earlier this week in Boston but he stabilized and held the Red Sox to three hits and one earned run through five innings.

The Blue Jays’ bats have also been a topic of discussion early this season, with a few players like Bichette and Alejandro Kirk getting off to somewhat slow starts but the club still finds ways to put the ball in play. MLB is seeing a decline in players getting on base to start the year and the Jays currently own the 9th best OPS .721 but are tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for first with 20 home runs. Guerrero Jr. continues to mash the ball and Springer has been the top-of-the-order bat that fans were hoping to see when he signed with the Jays two offseasons ago along with bench players like Zack Collins and Raimel Tapia stepping up at different times over the past two weeks.

As of right now, the Blue Jays are smack dab in one of their more difficult parts of the schedule, a 20-game spread with no off-days while facing the Astros and Red Sox twice while also slated to face the Yankees and Cleveland Guardians, who are playing .500 ball to begin the year. Hernandez is expected to return soon while Ryu will most likely make his return when his time is up on April 27th, so the Jays will gain a strong bat in their lineup and hopefully a rejuvenated southpaw who may present more questions than answers if he continues to struggle.

Next. Projecting the 2 players that will be sent down on May 1st. dark

While the season is early and there is lots of baseball left to go, the Blue Jays have had to overcome some struggles and injuries to key players to begin the year and still find themselves on top of the AL East, winning some key games against division rivals and against tough opponents.