By: Ryan O'Connor
They’re in. From homeless to playoff-bound, the Boys from Buffalo did what they needed to do in a 60-game season to clinch the 8th seed in the American League. Say what you want about “shortened seasons” and “first round exits”, nobody with a baseball IQ predicted that the Blue Jays would’ve made it this far when the season began.
To say that the youngest team in the MLB exceeded expectations this year would be an understatement, even if they don’t make a deep postseason run. In fact, it can be said that they had one of the toughest schedules in baseball this season, playing their games against two of the toughest divisions in the MLB.
Toronto battled through a slew of injuries during their 2020 campaign, with scratches to key guys like Ken Giles (who is now out for the season), Bo Bichette and Nate Pearson down the stretch. But through extraordinary team chemistry and the emergence of players like Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., the Jays have put together a sneaky-good roster that will stay competitive for years to come.
As for the playoff seeding, they’ll be going up against the Tampa Bay Rays, who have proven to be the most formidable team in the American League. Tampa are the NO. 1 seed for a reason this year, with the best pitching in the MLB and an incredibly consistent starting lineup.
The key for the Jays will be to break down Tampa’s pitching staff with consistency from their lineup, especially from their 1-5 hitters. A rotation with Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Josh Fleming looks daunting for a relatively inexperienced Jays lineup, but hey, anything is possible in a three game series.
If Toronto wants a chance of playoff contention in 2020, they’ll need some of their big guys to step it up. But who needs to take it to the next level this postseason?
Hyun-jin Ryu is essential for this team as their bonafide ace and he needs to continue to prove that he is worthy of that title. Ryu finished his strong regular season with a seven inning gem against the Yankees, so he’s on pace to continue making batters look silly with his stuff. If the Korean can simply transfer his excellent play from the regular season into the postseason, he’ll have given his all.
Teoscar Hernandez has proven to be a pleasant surprise for the Blue Jays in 2020, and probably their strongest hitter this season, along with Gurriel Jr. He has major growth potential in the future, but the Jays need him to get hot and stay hot. He also can’t cost them runs defensively, which has proven to be the weakest link in his game.
I know, I know, I’m cheating with this one. But as former championship-winning teams like the 2015 Kansas City Royals have proven, a strong bullpen can be the difference maker in a World Series run. Toronto’s relievers will play a crucial role in these playoffs, and luckily the team has fielded a top-10 bullpen in 2020 with guys like Ryan Borucki, Rafael Dolis, A.J. Cole, Anthony Kay, Jordan Romano, Thomas Hatch and Anthony Bass. If the Jays bullpen can seal the deal behind solid performances from starters such as Hyun-jin Ryu and Taijuan Walker, they could launch the team to new heights.
With a rapidly improving team that is becoming more experienced by the day, the Toronto Blue Jays have entered the maturity phase of their rebuilding process much quicker than many could have imagined.
Bo Bichette actually saw the pieces coming together back in February.
“I expect us to compete,” Bichette said during spring training. “I expect us to do really well. We have a lot more talent than people realize. I don't think people are taking into account that some of our guys are going to take steps forward and become really impact players.”
The question now is how will this team step forward come playoff time?
They’ll start to answer that next week.