After winning 92 games in the regular season, the Toronto Blue Jays flamed out in humiliating fashion in the best-of-three American League Wild Card series.
Seattle Mariners ace Luis Castillo blanked them 4-0 in the first game, then a team-wide implosion sent them packing in game two. A combination of bad managerial decisions and general ineptitude from the bullpen erased a once promising 8-1 lead.
Now, as the Mariners do battle against the Houston Astros, the Blue Jays players are watching the post-season unfold from the comfort of their couches. Let’s unpack their season and what could come next.
For all their peaks and valleys, the Jays improved on last year’s win total and qualified for the post-season for the first time in a full season since 2016.
Securing the first Wild Card spot gave their young players a chance to play playoff baseball in front of two sold-out crowds at the Rogers Centre. Despite the disappointing outcome, this experience should motivate them to get back and do better next time.
On an individual level, several Jays exceeded expectations. Alek Manoah finished his first full big-league season with a sparkling 16-7 record, 2.24 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. He logged 196.2 innings, going at least five in all 31 of his starts.
Newcomer Kevin Gausman lived up to the massive five-year contract he signed in the off-season by recording a 3.35 ERA and 205 strikeouts across 31 starts. Free-agent-to-be Ross Stripling also excelled both in the rotation and out of the bullpen in a swingman role.
Last but not least on the pitching side, Markham, Ontario’s Jordan Romano emerged as a frontline closer after locking down 36 saves. His blazing fastball and wipeout slider combination helped him become an American League All-Star for the first time.
Catcher Alejandro Kirk also broke to the tune of a .285 batting average and an impressive .372 OBP. The twenty-three-year-old also made major strides defensively; Manoah and company frequently benefitted from his improved pitch-framing abilities.
George Springer also played his heart out when healthy, posting 25 home runs, 76 RBI, and 14 stolen bases from the leadoff spot in the batting order.
Two names: Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi.
The former, an established front-line starter fresh off inking a massive seven-year extension, posted the unquestionable worst season of his career.He recorded an atrocious 5.23 ERA and 1.42 WHIP, allowing a league-worst 199 hits over 32 frustrating starts.
Meanwhile, Kikuchi, acquired to bolster the rotation on a three-year contract, pitched himself into a mop-up role out of the bullpen by year’s end. He posted a dreadful 1.50 WHIP thanks to a baffling 58 walks in only 100 innings pitched.
Unfortunately, while nowhere near as disappointing as those two, young star Vladimir Guerrero Jr. significantly regressed after an otherworldly 2021 season.
His home run total dropped from 48 to 32, his batting average dropped from .311 to .274, and his on base percentage cratered from a league-best .401 to a mediocre .339. He continually struggled to get the ball in the air, grounding into a league-worst 26 double plays.
While he redeemed his offensive stats with a fantastic September, Bo Bichette once again struggled defensively at shortstop with 23 errors. Inconsistent mechanics and over-anxiousness continue to stand between him and his full potential as a player.
Despite their enviable core of young players, the Jays epic collapse against the Mariners spotlighted their glaring Achilles heel: the bullpen.
Outside of Jordan Romano, their rag-tag band of relievers lack the high velocity fastballs needed to consistently strike out elite hitters in high-pressure situations.
Several posted respectable stat lines—like workhorse Adam Cimber and Yimi Garcia—yet pale in comparison to the high-leverage arms on other contending teams. Division rivals New York, Tampa Bay, and Baltimore all have better options to close games.
Unfortunately, the Jays aren’t in great financial position to buy relievers because they’ve already got a ton of money tied up in sub-optimal pitching.
Berrios, Kikuchi, and the recovering Hyun-Jin Ryu will make almost $50 million combined next year—it’s an awful lot of money for three giant question marks.
Management also needs to strongly consider extending Guerrero Jr. and Bichette this off-season; both have no doubt seen the long-term deals signed by fellow mega-stars Julio Rodriguez, Wander Franco, and Fernando Tatis Jr, among others.
Their potential extensions could be back-loaded to mitigate the financial problems of today, but doing so would open the door for even greater issues down the road.
With all that said, Jays fans should be optimistic looking ahead to 2023.
Twenty or so teams and fanbases around the league would love to have their core of players, many of whom have the potential to be among the league’s elite.
However, General Manager Ross Atkins has his work cut for him this off-season as he looks to improve the team’s pitching and lineup balance. Misguided decisions could easily turn this talented group into baseball’s Toronto Maple Leafs—a perennial disappointment.
Next year, hopefully fans will be chanting “let’s go Blue Jays” deeper into October.
Blue Jays, fans, playoffs, Season Recap
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