Heading into the season, many people thought the Toronto Blue Jays were the team to beat in the American League. Their second-half surge last season put them on the map, and their acquisitions of Kevin Gausman and Matt Chapman didn’t hurt either.
However, this team hasn’t necessarily panned out as well as many thought they would. Gausman and Alek Manoah have been terrific, but the rest of the rotation, including José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi, have been below average. Even with this fantastic, deep offense, this team has a big question mark heading into the playoffs.
Manager: John Schneider (replaced Charlie Montoyo July 13th)
Position Player fWAR leader: Bo Bichette (4.5)
Pitcher fWAR leader: Kevin Gausman (5.7)
Okay. I may have exaggerated that introduction a little bit. Yeah, the rotation is a question mark, but if I’m being honest, I’m horrified of the Blue Jays’ lineup and top two starters. To me, that fear is enough to overcome any bullpen questions. When heading into the postseason, all you can ask for is a healthy starting nine that isn’t crawling in, two healthy starters who can go through a lineup three times, and your top bullpen guys ready to go. Anything more than that is a luxury from my point of view. This is pretty much going to be the recipe for the Jays heading into the playoffs. Let’s run through it piece-by-piece, starting with Manoah and Gausman.
Both these starters have been good enough to garner some Cy Young Award votes. Their skill of suppressing home runs will be crucial in the postseason. Manoah and Gausman will likely have to make it by two of the best lineups in baseball in the Astros and Yankees if they hope to make a run at the World Series, making the home run suppression imperative to their success.
For the Jays to return to their first Fall Classic since 1993, they’ll need to get quality length from these two. This season has proven their decision of signing Gausman over reigning Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray to be quite sound. Ray is not a good matchup against the Astros or Yankees. It’s absolutely something that Jays management had in mind as they weighed their options. We’ve seen on a few occasions this year how scary of a matchup Gausman can be for the Yankees.
Now, moving onto the lineup, the truly impressive part of this roster. Despite a slow start from this offense and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s slight dip from last year, they have managed the highest team wRC+ in the league, setting the mark at 118. The Yankees trail two points behind at 116, and Houston is a bit lower at 112.
Toronto heads into the playoffs against Seattle with the offense clicking up and down the lineup. Their team 130 wRC+ in September/October is the third-highest of any ballclub in a given month this season and the highest of any team in September. Much of this comes from Bo Bichette’s stellar month, but that is a great sign for the Jays. Their lineup is the deepest it’s been all season and ready to face the whoever Seattle throws at them, especially their former ace.
The bullpen, on the other hand, is perhaps the sketchiest part of this team and the worst of any AL playoff squad. Their full-season bullpen FIP of 4.04 is the fifth-worst in the AL, but has seen a slight improvement in the second half and after their wave of trade deadline acquisitions. They have a solid closer in All-Star Jordan Romano, who had a 2.14 ERA in 64 innings, but beyond him, no one is necessarily a shutdown arm. Yimi Garcia’s fastball/slider combination is a good one, and Anthony Bass’ career year with a 1.41 ERA is impressive. That’s probably not enough to get you through an entire playoff run though. They’ll need help from other arms.
Will the team hit enough for the bullpen not to matter all that much? If one lineup could do it, it’s this one. Will Manoah and Gausman throw enough to keep most of the relievers in the ‘pen and off the mound? That’s also a possibility, but if we’ve learned anything from recent postseasons, it’s that it is hard to get length from starting pitchers from the beginning of the playoffs through the end. At some point, an unexpected arm or two must step up. Maybe that’s Yusei Kikuchi or Mitch White. Either way, this team will need hit, hit again, hit some more, and then keep on hitting if they want to get past their limited pitching issue. I think they’ll have no problems getting by Seattle in an abbreviated series, but they will certainly be challenged against Houston in five, and potentially the Yankees in seven.