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The Toronto Blue Jays went out with a thud as their season ended on Wednesday night, losing to the Tampa Bay Rays 8-2 in what looked like a result that was much more reflective of the Jays, as the AL’s eighth seed, going up against the top seed in the Rays.
But we can still look back at 2020’s abbreviated season and find positives to take away into what looks to be a weird offseason.
Game 1 of the Wildcard series was actually a well-played game. The Jays couldn’t muster any offense but their strategy of starting Matt Shoemaker for three innings and following with Robbie Ray for another three payed off as the two complementary pitchers amassed six innings of one-run ball, striking out seven and walking one, just allowing three hits. But then there was the offense who had just five hits and one run facing ace Blake Snell for 5 2/3 and striking out nine times against him. Lourdes Gurriel led the way with a single and a double while Cavan Biggio also had a double (but struck out three times).
Game 2 was the nightmare scenario for the Jays as their ace, Hyun-jin Ryu, didn’t have his stuff, and got shellacked for seven runs (three earned) in 1 2/3 innings while Ross Stripling went 1 1/3 innings and allowed a run on three hits. The bright spot was Nate Pearson providing two innings of no-hit relief, retiring all six batters he faced with five strikeouts. Of note are the two errors that Bo Bichette committed, leading to four unearned runs.
What are we to make of the 2020 season in which the Blue Jays finished 32-28 and snatched up the eighth playoff spot? We’ll take a much more granular look at the season in the coming weeks but there are definitely some positives to take away from the season.
First of all, despite the fact that the Blue Jays were not able to play in their home stadium (or country), they were very successful at home, going 17-9 in Sahlen Field in Buffalo. They also found their way after a rough extended road trip and heated up in late August, winning six in a row against Baltimore, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.
Things did look rough in mid-September as they lost six in a row to the Yankees and the Phillies, with the Yankees clobbering them a combined 43-15 in a three game set in the Bronx. But by then, the other teams jockeying for a playoff spot had shot themselves in the foot (feet?) and left the Jays in control of a playoff spot that they clinched on September 25.
With the success that they had, it’s hard to believe that the Blue Jays lost a lot of their top players to injury at one time or another. Going on the injured list in 2020 were Chase Anderson (who was injured during Summer Camp), Ken Giles (who wound up pitching just four times), Derek Fisher (twice), Trent Thornton (who pitched just three times), Bo Bichette, Nate Pearson, Matt Shoemaker, Teoscar Hernandez, Jordan Romano, Rowdy Tellez and Julian Merryweather. The injuries were important as many of these players were key to the Jays including Bichette (who was a beast when he went down), Hernandez, Tellez, Romano, Shoemaker and Giles.
The Blue Jays did make some moves to address the injuries, adding four players as they approached the August 31 trade deadline (and adding Daniel Vogelbach before releasing him later when they realized he wasn’t very good). First, they added Taijuan Walker by sending a Player to be Named Later to the Mariners. That PTBNL turned out to be Alberto Rodriguez, a 19-year-old outfielder who last played for the GCL Blue Jays in 2019, hitting a very solid .301/.364/.422.
Then the Blue Jays acquired Ross Stripling from the Dodgers, sending righty Kendall Williams as the first of PTBNLs in the deal. Williams, 20, was a second round pick in 2019 out of high school and the Jays took care not to having him throw too much in his draft year as he logged just 16 innings for the GCL Blue Jays, with some excellent results. The Jays also acquired Robbie Ray from the Tigers for LHP Travis Bergen while also grabbing infielder Jonathan Vilar for outfielder Griffin Conine.
Villar, Ray and Walker are free agents after the season while the Jays have a couple of more years of control with Stripling.
Other transactions that may have flown under the radar:
The Jays picked up Breyvic Valera on Waivers in July but he couldn’t get out of Venezuela so he was placed on the restricted list.
Dany Jimenez, selected by the Giants in the Rule 5 draft, was returned to the Jays in early August.
Brian Moran, a minor league free agent signing who pitched in two games in 2020, was claimed on waivers by the Marlins.
Anthony Alford was claimed by the Pirates after the Jays designated him for assignment.
Thomas Pannone was DFA but cleared waivers and was sent outright to the Alternate Training site.
The Blue Jays DFA’ed Brandon Drury and sent him outright to the Alternate Training Site.
The Blue Jays released Ruben Tejada from the Alternate Training Site.
The Blue Jays released Sam Gaviglio.
Billy McKinney was placed on waivers and claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Jake Petricka was released.
Justin Miller was traded for Future Considerations to the Cincinnati Reds.
Wilmer Font was DFA and sent outright to the Alternate Training Site but he elected free agency.
A number of young Blue Jays made their major-league debuts in 2020 including:
Hector Perez (one appearance)
Santiago Espinal (who played in 26 games and pitched in two)
Patrick Murphy (four appearances)
Julian Merryweather (eight appearances)
Nate Pearson (five appearances)
Shun Yamaguchi (17 appearances)
Tom Hatch (17 appearances)
Alejandro Kirk (nine games)
We’ll have more in future columns looking at this weird season and what might be to come as we move into the offseason, but for now, it was a wild one, with a playoff appearances, September games that mattered, getting a first glimpse of Nate Pearson and so much more.
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