With another off day in the schedule, comes my ever-popular random thoughts post. Today's post will look back on the season that was and look ahead to the upcoming best-of three playoff series for the Blue Jays. To say the least, the battle to make the playoffs anything but easy for the Blue Jays. First off, the Blue Jays had no home for the season. Canadian government bans them from playing regular season games in Toronto. Pittsburgh health officials also would not let them use PNC Park. That just left the options of the AAA home ballpark in Dunedin, where covid-19 was running rampant, or Buffalo, where cases were not quite as bad. In the end, the Blue Jays opted to play their home games in Buffalo. However, Buffalo needed to undergo some upgrades to meet MLB standards. The Blue Jays did not move into their temporary home ballpark until August 11th. Then the Miami Marlins had an outbreak of COVID-19 forcing the alteration of the schedules of seven different teams, including the Blue Jays, who got an unexpected four day weekend over the August long weekend. They had to play two double headers with Philadelphia and lost a scheduled off-day on August 27. Then came another double header on September 4th after the red Sox and blue Jays elected to join the NBA, NHL and several MLB teams and boycott a game in support of the black lives matter movement. Injuries were a factor and I will get into that more later. Looking at the last two weeks off the season, the Blue Jays had a rough final road trip of the season. they were swept and blown out of Yankees stadium by a combined score of 43 - 15. Ken Giles pitched what would be the final inning for the next year or more (he underwent Tommy John surgery; more on that later). Then the Blue Jays went into Philadelphia and lost 3 of 4, including both ends of the final double header of the season. the Blue Jays then came home and exacted some revenge, taking three of four from the Yankees, including two blow out wins, sandwiched by a blowout loss. the biggest win was the last one, where the Blue Jays clinched their first playoff appearance since 2016. the final weekend was all about resting key players, making sure relievers got some work so they were sharp for next week. Hyun-jin Ryu was excellent in his final start of the season, throwing 7 shutout innings against the Yankees on Thursday. Taijuan Walker, slated to start the second game of the series next week, threw 3 strong innings in his final tune up. Nate Pearson followed up with his return after missing a month, and he looked sharp with his fastball touching 101mph, a great sign for a pitcher who relies on velocity to be successful. Shun Yamaguchi had a rough showing on Friday, allowing 4 runs on 4 hits in 2/3 of an inning. On Saturday, TJ Zeuch served notice he should be considered for a spot on the playoff roster with 5 shutout innings, scattering 5 hits. on Sunday, Tanner Roark did not have the finish to the season he would have wanted, blowing a 4-1 lead in the 4th. It will be one of Roark or Shun Yamaguchi who will be the long man in the bullpen. At this point, neither pitcher inspires much confidence. Looking ahead, the Blue Jays open the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg. Here are ten random thoughts from the final two weeks of the season.
1. Let's start with some injury news that will affect the Blue Jays, not only the rest of the season but the entire 2021 season as well. Closer Ken Giles, who missed a month with forearm tightness, which often times is a precursor to the dreaded Tommy John surgery that costs pitchers a full calendar year or more, returned to pitch two innings in low leverage situations. After the second appearance, Giles told training staff he wasn't feeling right. he consulted with renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews, and it was decided he needs to undergo the season-ending procedure that will wipe out this season and all of next season. It's unfortunate timing for Giles, who was slated to become a free agent for the first time. As for the Blue Jays, this season they've been using a closer by committee strategy in Giles' absence. Jordan Romano (currently on the IL with a strained middle finger), Ross Stripling, Anthony Bass, Rafael Dolis, and AJ, Cole all have at least one save. For the postseason, the Blue Jays will turn to either Dolis or Bass in a save situation. As far as next season is concerned, Bass is under team control for another year, so they could bring him back in that role. Dolis has been effectively wild and may not be an ideal choice with the game on the line. The Blue Jays could also look at signing a free agent or brokering a trade in the off-season. Nonetheless, it will be an important decision with the team on the verge of being competitive again.
2. The Blue Jays made some surprising moves, letting legends Pat Hentgen and Paul Quantrill go, as well as AAA-manager Ken Huckaby. Hentgen and Quantrill had been serving as special advisors so the timing of their departure made sense (to allow them to catch on with another team). Huckaby was fired after not having managed a single game (minor league season was cancelled by the pandemic). He spent this season working with players in Rochester. Maybe there was a disagreement somewhere along the line between him and some of the splatters he worked with our Atkins decided the AAA team needed a more experience manager at the helm. Or, it could be purely a cost-cutting measure with so much uncertainty about next season, due to the pandemic and expiring CBA agreement.
3. One big advantage to the truncated season is the number of players who made their big league debuts. In a normal season, Nate Pearson would have started the year in AAA and maybe join the team a month or two into the season. Alejandro Kirk probably wouldn't have been in the majors for a year or two, but thanks to the struggles of Reese McGuire and Caleb Joseph, Kirk got his chance two weeks ago. Are these players going to start next season on the big league roster? Maybe or maybe not, but they will have a leg up on the competition next year to be sure.
4. This year, the MLB introduced several temporary rules to be able to make it through the season: the universal DH, seven-inning double headers, runner starting on second base in extra innings, lifting restrictions on position players pitching (starting next season position players can only pitch in blow outs of more than 6 runs or in extra innings). I would like to see the universal rule stay forever. This will reduce bunting to a minimum. I can see players wanting to keep seven inning games to stay fresh during a 162 game schedule. The MLB should get rid of the runner starting on second base in extra innings. All innings should start with nobody on base. Having longer games will discourage managers like Charlie Montoyo from pulling the starter after five innings night after night.
5. Another temporary measure is expanded playoffs with the top two teams in each division and the next two highest records making the playoffs. this has meant that more teams were within striking distance of a playoff spot and teams that already made the playoffs had a chance to move to a higher seed and potentially a more favorable opponent. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred seems open to the idea of expanded playoffs, but not with sixteen teams. You might see top 2 in each division making the playoffs and no WC teams. You don't want to extend the playoffs much past the end of October with inclement weather more likely to play a factor.
6. Three Blue Jays who impressed this season
- Cavan Biggio - He was a jack of all trades this season, playing 2B, 3B, CF and RF this season. Biggio proved to be a patient hitter at the plate, with 41 walks (2nd in the MLB). He batted .253, but got on base .375 of the time (or an average of almost once a game). Biggio has turned into a solid leadoff hitter, a role that's been unstable until this season.
- Hyun-jin Ryu -the big off-season acquisition, Hyun-Jin Ryu has paid dividends this season with a 5-2 record with a 2.69ERA, 72 strikeouts, and just 17 walks in 12 starts. He was the only starter to pitch seven innings.
- Rafael Dolis - The 32-year old reliever quietly had himself a solid season, with a 2-2 record and 5 saves in 24 appearances. He earned the trust of Charlie Montoyo, being used in high-leverage situations. His strikeout-walk ratio wasn't great (31 strikeouts and 14 walks)
7. Three Blue Jays who disappointed this season
- Wilmer Font - In a curious move, Charlie Montoyo changed Font's role this season. Last season, Font was used in more of a long man role. This season, he started out pitching the 6th or 7th, then in lower leverage situations. Font finished the year DFA'd and with many questions about his future with the Blue Jays. Font was 1-3 with a brutal 9.92ERA. Only Trent Thornton and Hector Perez had a worse ERA this season
- Shun Yamagushi - Poor Shun Yamaguchi. His first 2 appearances came in the 10th inning with a runner on second (as per the temporary rule in place). He finished 2-3 with an ugly 7.61ERA. Either he or Tanner Roark will be on the playoff roster come Tuesday.
- Reese McGuire and Caleb Joseph (tie) - Perhaps the weakest position for the Blue Jays. Reese McGuire had the job handed to him on a platter. He had a brutal time at the plate, getting just 3 hits in 41AB. He finished with a team worst .073 average and OB%. Defensively, McGuire have 3 errors, threw out 50% of base runners (4/8) and had 2 passed balls and 2 wild pitches with him behind the plate. Joseph got into 3 games, went 1-9 when batting. Defensively, Joseph didn't throw out any of the 4 base runners that ran against him, had 2 errors, 1 passed ball and 1 wild pitch. Alejandro Kirk can be included here defensively (4 wild pitches, no base runners thrown out in 4 attempts), but he gets a pass because he wasn't even supposed to be in the bigs this season, but Joseph and McGuire were so awful that management felt he couldn't do much worse.
8. After dropping the last game of the season to the lowly Baltimore Orioles, the Blue Jays will now have to face AL-best Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg. The Blue Jays were 4-6 against the Rays outscoring the Rays 48-44. Four of the losses against the Rays were by one run. The season series wrapped up a month ago. It's going to be important to get the lead early because the Rays have a good bullpen (their starters are pretty good too). It'll be good to get the young guns some valuable playoff experience a year or two earlier than expected.
9. Finally, kudos to the MLB and every team for successfully completing the season. Right off the bat, the MLB had to contend with a COVID outbreak among the Miami Marlins, affecting the schedules of seven teams. Later, the Cardinals had their own outbreak and had to make up several games. The Cleveland Indians disciplined Mike Clevenger and Adam Plesac. The MLB also cancelled a couple of other series when a couple of staff members or players tested positive. Who knows what the situation will be when spring training is supposed to begin in 6 months. Maybe there will be a vaccine by then. Maybe fans will be allowed in the ball parks again. The MLB and MLBPA need to take the lessons learned from this season and start working on a plan for next season now.
10. Blue Jay of the year.Lourdes Gurriel Jr. He finished the year 1st on the team in batting average (.308), tied for 3rd in RBI (33), 3rd in HR (11), 2nd in OBP (.348). Defensively, he had 1 error, 3 assists and 100 putouts. Hard to imagine he's the same player who was demoted to Buffalo for a month last year after defensive struggles started affecting him at the plate.
Bonus thought: the home record is a big reason why the Blue Jays are in the playoffs. The Blue Jays finished 17-9 at home, outscoring opponents 154-129 and 15-19 on the road, getting outscored 176-143