Buffalo Toronto Blue Jays are off to the MLB Postseason for the first time since 2016 after last night’s nail-biting 4-1 victory over the division rival New York Yankees.
Toronto ace Hyun-Jin Ryu tossed seven scoreless innings, allowing only five hits and punching out four hitters, outlasting Yankees’ starter Jordan Montgomery in what turned out to be a pitcher’s duel. The starting pitcher, who arrived as a free agent from the Los Angeles Dodgers last offseason, concludes his season with a 2.69 ERA, ranking fourth in the American League.
The Jays also benefitted from dazzling offensive performances from all-star Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and September rookie phenom Alejandro Kirk. Guerrero Jr. went 3-for-4, including a solo home run in the second inning, while Kirk kept his hot streak alive with a two-run double in the sixth to extend the lead to four runs.
It wasn’t smooth sailing the entire time, however, as the Toronto bullpen endured a scare in the eighth inning, loading the Yankee bases and coming within feet of a go-ahead grand slam off the bat of Gary Sanchez. Thanks to a spectacular catch against the wall by Randal Grichuk, the Blue Jays’ center fielder, the team hung on to win the game and celebrate the milestone.
Canada’s only major league team was forced to play the entire season south of the border after the Canadian government rejected their plan to use Rogers Centre in Toronto just weeks before the season began. As a result, the Blue Jays set up their 2020 home base at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, NY, the usual home of their Triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons.
In the end, their home away from home proved not to be a problem as the team punched their ticket to the MLB’s expanded 16-team postseason, which is set to begin on September 29th. While they can theoretically still catch the Yankees for second place in the AL East, their most likely fate appears to be a three-game first round matchup with the first place Tampa Bay Rays.
Regardless of the impending matchup, the important thing for the Blue Jays now is that they’re in the playoffs. Let’s take a brief look at the what got them there.
As mentioned, Blue Jays’ starter Hyun-Jin Ryu ranks fourth among American League pitchers with a 2.69 ERA. Discounting two subpar outings to start the season in July against the Rays and Nationals, Ryu has allowed only one earned run or fewer in eight of his ten starts since August, and two earned against the Phillies in one of his other two starts. The only albatross came on September 7th against the Yankees, in which he allowed five earned runs, but the team still hung on for a 12-7 victory.
So far, Ryu has been worth every penny of his four-year, $80-million US contract signed last summer. If the Jays are to make a run in the playoffs, they’ll need him to keep it up.
On the offensive side of things, Toronto has also enjoyed a powerhouse season from right fielder Teoscar Hernández, who leads the club in home runs (16), which ties him for fourth in the AL and fifth in the majors. He also leads the team in slugging percentage (.599), and on-base plus slugging (.944), while sharing the team lead in runs batted in (32) and stolen bases (6).
Two other Blue Jays in Randal Grichuk and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. also have double digits in homers (10), followed by Guerrero Jr. and Tellez (8), and Cavan Biggio (7). Beyond the long-ball, all of Grichuk, Gurriel, Guerrero, Tellez, Bichette, Davis, and Espinal are batting higher than .260 for players appearing in ten or more games.
Another name that has taken the baseball world by storm in the past two weeks is 21-year-old catcher Alejandro Kirk, who had never played a game above Single-A before this season. After appearing in his eighth game of the season last night and driving in two runs, he now boasts a ridiculous .381/.409/.619 slash line on the year. It’s certainly a small sample size and definitely unsustainable, but it provides the Jays with yet another weapon in what is becoming one of baseball’s most potent lineups.
It’s never fun to rain on a parade and you certainly don’t want to be the one bursting any bubbles in the COVID-19 era, but it’s worth bringing attention to two not-so-positive things concerning this team.
After battling through injury this season, the Blue Jays finally announced the other day that they will be without closer Ken Giles this postseason and beyond, who is due to undergo Tommy John surgery.
However, Giles only appeared in four games for the Jays this season, sporting a 9.82 ERA over 3.2 innings pitched. So, the silver lining is that the team reached this point in the season without his arm after relying heavily on his 1.87 ERA in 53 appearances last season. The playoffs are a different animal, however, and the Blue Jays undoubtedly could’ve used his World Series experience as they try to make a deep run this October.
Finally, the Blue Jays are currently the only playoff team in the American League that possesses a negative run differential, and it’s not even close. Despite a 30-27 record, the team owns a -16 run differential compared to the division rival New York Yankees (+44) and likely first round opponent Tampa Bay Rays (+52).
The major discrepancy is a result of numerous blowout games over the past two weeks:
- September 11 vs NYM: 18-1 L
- September 15 vs. NYY: 20-6 L
- September 16 vs. NYY: 13-2 L
- September 18 vs. PHI: 7-0 L
- September 22 vs. NYY: 12-1 L
Remarkably, those five losses over their last 14 games account for a -60 run differential that would see the Jays overall differential improve to +44 if those games were wiped away.
Thankfully for Toronto, the only values that count are in the win-loss column where they’ve done well enough to find themselves in the playoffs. Their fans will just be hoping to see more of ‘the good’ over the weeks to come.