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While it’s not a worst-to-first type of scenario, it’s pretty incredible that the Toronto Blue Jays are looking at a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016, thanks to a number of unusual factors in the 2020 season.
Ok, everything about the 2020 season is a bit topsy turvy. From the 60-game schedule to the fact that the Blue Jays are playing their home games in Buffalo to the 16-team expanded playoffs format, a lot is going right for the Blue Jays just one year after they had the fifth-worst record in baseball, finishing 67-95 in 2019.
Last year the Blue Jays were awful and saw the emergence of some of their young stars like Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio. But around that emerging core, there were very few bright spots.
So what’s going right for the Jays in 2020? Well, some unexpected things. Like Teoscar Hernandez being one of the best hitters in the league with a .988 OPS based mostly on his 16 home runs and .632 slugging percentage carrying the day. I mean, he is being buoyed by a .374 BABIP (up from .293 last year and corresponding almost exactly to the 80-point bump in batting average from 2019 to 2020) but his ISO is far higher and his average exit velocity is over 2 mph faster.
Bo Bichette is also an absolute monster (when healthy), hitting .311/.330/.544. While he’s striking out less than last year in his MLB debut, he’s also only walking at a 2.8% rate which could mean that he has improvements that can come down the line.
But this success, with the Jays at a 28-26 record going into tonight’s game is pretty unbelievable considering where things have gone wrong for the Blue Jays this year.
Injuries to Bo Bichette, Nate Pearson, Ken Giles, Matt Shoemaker (who just returned with some solid pitching), Rafael Dolis, Jordan Romano, Trent Thornton, Rowdy Tellez and, more recently, Julian Merryweather, Derek Fisher and Jacob Waguespack, have led the Blue Jays to being a little desperate to add pitching at the trade deadline.
That they did, getting Taijuan Walker (who lines up to be the club’s number-two starter going into the playoffs), Robbie Ray and Ross Stripling, who have bolstered the Jays’ ranks. The imminent return (hopefully) of Nate Pearson and possibly Jordan Romano could also bode well for the bullpen in the playoffs.
But it’s pretty amazing that the Jays have played above .500 ball with their starting pitching so decimated and with almost no production from the catching position or their bench. Recent improvements have seen Biggio posting some solid numbers while Vladdy is showing signs of being a bigger bopper than he has been. Travis Shaw‘s OPS is up over .700 now and while Randal Grichuk has fallen back to earth, he’s still got 10 homers and a .767 OPS.
And some new additions have been contributing lately, thanks to the arrival of Alejandro Kirk and his 4/4 game yesterday that included a double and his first major league home run. He also hit a single off the wall in right field, just a couple of feet short of a home run. Jonathan Davis has also been solid, despite going 0/3 yesterday, he’s got a 1.021 OPS in nine games and, got some playing time while Hernandez was injured.
The Blue Jays are looking like they’ll lock into the 8th playoff spot and probably play the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-game series. With a possible starting three of Hyun-jin Ryu, Taijuan Walker and Matt Shoemaker, there is a chance the Jays could surprise the Rays. If (and it’s a big “if”) the Blue Jays continue to hit the ball well and are able to keep their TOOTBLANs and defensive miscues to a minimum, they could hang with the Rays and possible steal a round in the playoffs.
There’s only one thing left to do: get excited about post-season baseball in
Toronto Buffalo a neutral site.
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