The Blue Jays clinched their first postseason appearance since 2016 on Thursday night in Buffalo, N.Y., with one of their best wins of the season, over the Yankees.
It all lined up just how Toronto planned, with ace Hyun Jin Ryu on the mound for the clinching game and his next start scheduled to come in Game 1 of the American League Wild Card Series on Tuesday.
As the Blue Jays prepare for the big stage, here is a look back at how this young club got here and some of the questions it now faces:
What could the postseason roster look like?
C: Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk
1B: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
2B: Cavan Biggio
SS: Bo Bichette
3B: Travis Shaw
UTIL: Joe Panik, Jonathan Villar
OF: Teoscar Hernández, Randal Grichuk, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Jonathan Davis
SP: Hyun Jin Ryu, Taijuan Walker, Matt Shoemaker, Robbie Ray
RP: Chase Anderson, Anthony Bass, Ryan Borucki, A.J. Cole, Rafael Dolis, Thomas Hatch, Anthony Kay, Ross Stripling, Shun Yamaguchi, Nate Pearson, Tanner Roark
IL options: First baseman Rowdy Tellez (strained right knee) and right-handed reliever Jordan Romano (finger strain) are working their way back from injury, and their timelines should become clearer in the coming days. Romano is considered the closer of the two, and manager Charlie Montoyo is comfortable with him returning to the roster without pitching again in the regular season.
What are the club’s outstanding issues?
The Blue Jays will need some production from their rotation behind Ryu, and their bullpen isn’t as solid as it was at the midway point of the season, so they’ll need to nail any and all pitching moves in the postseason. As their late-season games against the mighty Yankees showed, these games can spiral out of control in a hurry.
Toronto’s lineup will run hot and cold, and the club has struggled against top-end pitching, but that’s difficult to fix with a snap of the fingers. Something more in the Blue Jays’ control is the overwhelming number of fundamental errors they’ve made, both on the bases and in the field.
Almost miraculously, the Blue Jays overcame most of those throughout the regular season. There were many games in which they would give away multiple outs on the bases and hand their opponent a free out or two with defensive errors, before still finding a way to win late. It’s not that simple in October, when the opponents are stronger and the scores are almost always close. Toronto needs to play its best baseball, of course, but the Blue Jays also need to play their cleanest.
How does the rotation line up?
Ryu goes off the top, which is exactly what the Blue Jays envisioned when they signed him to a four-year, $80 million deal this past offseason. He’s pitched well in 2020 and seems to be making the right adjustments at the right times entering the playoffs, so he’ll give Toronto a great chance in Game 1 after posting a 2.69 ERA in the regular season.
Walker and Shoemaker are likely to follow Ryu, but the Blue Jays aren’t expecting them to pitch seven or eight innings. All season long, Toronto has used its multi-inning relievers and deep bullpen to protect the club's starters from seeing an opposing lineup the third time through. Ryu will be trusted to go deep, but otherwise, Montoyo would rather lift a starter an inning early than an inning too late.
Should the Blue Jays advance past the Wild Card Series and require some depth from their rotation, Ray, Stripling and Anderson are all options, while Roark, pushing through a difficult season, could be on the outside looking in.
What about the bullpen? Will the same strategy carry over?
It should, but the Blue Jays will need to pick their matchups well. The relief corps isn’t pitching as well as earlier in the season, which is understandable, given the heavy load they’ve been asked to carry, but there are still plenty of multi-inning options. The biggest question, perhaps, is who Toronto will go to as “the guy” when it needs that shutdown inning.
It could be Dolis, who has quietly re-established himself as a legitimate back-end pitcher in the Major Leagues this season. Bass has also filled a variety of roles in the later innings, while Cole has been quietly effective. Once Montoyo finds the hot hand, expect him to push that as far as he can.
Pearson -- the club’s No. 1 prospect, per MLB Pipeline -- is the ultimate variable in all of this after returning from a flexor strain, and if Romano and his 1.23 ERA can return from the IL as well, then Montoyo will have even more options.
Who’s peaking at the right time?
Hernández’s entire season has been a peak, and the Blue Jays will need their breakout star hitting for power if they hope to surprise anyone in the postseason. Gurriel Jr. has enjoyed an excellent season at the plate, too, as the two corner outfielders are expanding the “young core” title typically reserved for Guerrero, Bichette and Biggio.
Kirk has also added a brand-new element to this lineup. His high-contact, low-strikeout approach also offers some power, so if he’s not catching, he could be a fine fit as the designated hitter or coming off the bench late in games for a big plate appearance. The 21-year-old rookie barely has his feet wet, but the upside is undeniably there, and he could be an X-factor for Toronto’s postseason run.
Who do the Blue Jays need more from?
It’s Guerrero’s turn. All season long, from Bichette to Grichuk to Gurriel and others, the Blue Jays’ hitters have taken turns going on prolonged hot streaks that have carried the lineup. Guerrero has existed mostly in the middle, but Toronto needs more from one of its franchise cornerstones when the spotlight is on. He's coming off a massive series against the Yankees, too, and suddenly looks more like the Minor League superstar who debuted as the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball. When Guerrero is at his best, he's capable of taking over a game.
Grichuk cooled through the latter part of September and, while his defense has been impressive this season, the Blue Jays will need something more from him at the plate. Shaw is another bat who could provide more in the playoffs, too, and Toronto knows he has the power to do so.
How do the Blue Jays match up in the Wild Card Series?
The Blue Jays are likely headed for a matchup with the AL-leading Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, which would present a matchup between friends (and managers) Kevin Cash and Montoyo.
The Rays hold a 6-4 advantage in the season series this season, but the Blue Jays have outscored them, 48-44, largely due to a 12-4 win back in mid-August. Two of the Blue Jays’ losses came via walk-offs, so their extra-innings strategy could be particularly important in the Wild Card Series.
Ryu pitched in Toronto’s 2020 opener against Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg and allowed three runs over 4 2/3 innings, but he was much sharper in his second crack at the lineup on Aug. 22, when he threw five innings of one-run ball with six strikeouts.
While Walker hasn’t faced these Rays since joining the Blue Jays at the Trade Deadline, Shoemaker has faced them three times despite missing a month due to a right shoulder injury. Over those combined 15 innings, Shoemaker allowed six runs (3.60 ERA) with 17 strikeouts and four walks.
Hernández will be one Toronto hitter who should welcome a matchup with Tampa Bay, too, as he hit .351 with four home runs and a 1.162 OPS against their pitching staff over 10 games.
What is the schedule for the Wild Card Series?
Game 1: Tuesday, Sept. 29
Game 2: Wednesday, Sept. 30
Game 3 (if necessary): Thursday, Oct. 1