By Cole Parkinson
We’re a few short weeks from the MLB’s postseason officially starting and the Toronto Blue Jays look to be in a great spot to find themselves in the dance. With September closer to its end than its beginning, the Blue Jays have certainly looked solid over the last several weeks — so much so that they’re right in the thick of things for the AL East.
The New York Yankees looked like they were going to run away with the division in mid-Summer, but that lead has shrunk considerably in September. The Jays were in second place on Monday morning with an 83-64 record and only 5.5 games back of New York. So, while a Wild Card spot still seems like the likely scenario for the Jays, a division title is certainly not out of the question yet.
And the race is only getting tighter for the three AL Wild Card spots as Toronto, Seattle, and Tampa are jockeying for position. If you’re Toronto, you don’t want to be playing playoff games in the Trop, so I’d suggest making sure Tampa Bay doesn’t leapfrog you in the standings. We’ve seen some funky stuff down under the dome in St. Pete, and there’s no chance I’d want the Jays’ season hanging on winning games there.
Obviously, home-field advantage would be huge for the Jays, but if Seattle were to finish in first and the Jays in second, I bet we see tons of fans travel down to Seattle for that series. During the regular season, those games are nearly half Mariners fans and half Blue Jays fans — would it be the same for the Wild Card games? I’d like to think so considering how close of a drive it could be for lots of the west coast Canadians. Though I’m sure Seattle will try and make it as hard as possible for Jays fans to get into the building.
Even though there are still a few games left on tap, it does seem like the Jays are almost a lock to get into the playoffs — and a sweep of Baltimore would have solidified that even more. Despite that blown game this past Sunday, the Jays have a six-game lead over Baltimore and the Chicago White Sox, who are both on the outside looking in.
Bo Bichette has been a big reason for why the Jays have been on such a tear over the past few weeks. It may have been a struggle for the shortstop early in the season, but he’s gotten incredibly hot as of late. He’s bumped his AVG over .280 and now has 24 home runs, 89 RBI, 11 stolen bases, and an OPS of .803 as of Monday morning. While it’s seemed like the offence has never really clicked all at once for long portions of the season, things are coming together nicely now in the fall.
One thing that I’ve noticed as of late, is the move away from being “the guy” who has to hit home runs or extra-base hits. It certainly seems the lineup from top to bottom has had no issue taking a walk or sacrificing themselves to put runners in scoring position. At this time of the year, winning ball games is all that matters and if you go 0-4, but have good at-bats that lead to runs — that’s all that should matter.
This team knows what it’s like to miss the playoffs — I mean they just missed by a single game last season, so if that’s not motivating I don’t know what is. And while the offence is certainly this team’s calling card — the pitching has been good as of late too. Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, and Ross Stripling have been the three anchors of the rotation in 2022 and while Jose Berrios struggled for larger portions of this season, his last few outings have been good. Over his last three games, he’s pitched 18.1 innings, giving up only five earned runs. His strike-out totals are still low, and that’s definitely a concern, but as long as he’s giving the Jays a chance to win, that’s all that really matters. Having four options in the playoffs to start games is huge and while Manoah and Gausman are your 1A and 1B starters, Stripling and Berrios are great options that could come in a give the Jays a chance to win.
The top end of the bullpen has also been dominant with Jordan Romano, Yimi Garcia, Tim Mayza, Adam Cimber, Anthony Bass, and David Phelps.
The addition of Bass has been huge and it gives interim manager John Schneider options late in the game. With Romano getting the ninth, Garcia has been the go-to setup man with Cimber, Mayza, and Bass getting the other high leverage situations.
With series up coming against Philadelphia (Sept. 20-21), Tampa Bay (Sept.22-25), New York (Sept.26-28), Boston (Sept. 30-Oct. 2) and wrapping up with the Orioles (Oct.3-5), the Jays still have tons of ways to solidify their playoff position. It’s going to be a great last few weeks of the season and let’s hope the Jays can find themselves either at the top of the AL East or the top Wild Card team with home-field advantage.