What's ahead? Blue Jays postseason FAQ

October 5th, 2022

The Blue Jays are coming home to host the Wild Card Series, clinching the top AL Wild Card spot with two games to spare.

This comes after Toronto enjoyed a unique postseason clinch last week, locking up a playoff spot Thursday on its off-day. Thankfully for the Blue Jays, a win the next day against the Red Sox allowed for a proper celebration with champagne covering every inch of their clubhouse. Clinching home-field advantage was always the goal, though, and now the they are shifting their focus to peaking at the right time in their own building.

That first challenge will come against the Mariners, making their first postseason appearance since 2001 after clinching the second AL Wild Card spot.

These final days will also be about health for Toronto, as two key pieces are working their way back. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is out with a left hamstring strain and Santiago Espinal is out with a left oblique strain, but both players will be right on the edge of a return by the postseason, presenting the Blue Jays with some difficult roster decisions.

Consistency hasn't been this club's strength in 2022, but it's always been clear that the top-end talent is there to go on a run if it all clicks at the same time. The Blue Jays' path won't be easy, coming out of the AL as a Wild Card team with the potential of the mighty Astros waiting in the AL Division Series, but anything is possible once you're in.

Looking ahead, here are some questions to consider with the postseason now on the horizon:

What could the postseason roster look like?

There are some real decisions for the Blue Jays to make on the edges of this roster, which returns to 26 players for the postseason from the increased 28-man roster in September.

Positionally, the Blue Jays could carry the young Gabriel Moreno as a third catcher, but the odds of him being needed in a short Wild Card Series are unlikely. The club trusts Moreno's contact bat and his defense behind the plate, though, so he'll stay right on the radar should a need arise for a position player. There will also be a decision between Bradley and Bradley Zimmer for the fifth outfielder, but Bradley appears to be the clear choice.

On the mound, it's been clear that the Blue Jays don't trust in tight games or high-leverage spots, so this may be the point where the left-hander is left on the outside looking in. In that scenario, White would stick around as a multi-inning option should that need arise. Nate Pearson and Julian Merryweather will also get consideration, but it comes down to a number crunch in the bullpen.

How will the rotation line up?

With home-field advantage clinched, the Blue Jays have this lined up just like they wanted. Manoah will be on the mound for Game 1 of the Wild Card Series on Friday, and the ace of the staff seems to be built for the postseason after an incredible sophomore season with a 2.24 ERA over 196 2/3 innings. Gausman should be fine for Game 2 on Saturday after leaving his final regular-season start with a cut on his right middle finger, and that trademark splitter should continue to give opposing hitters fits in October. Toronto has to feel very confident about how this rotation lines up in Game 1 and 2 against any team.

If a Game 3 is necessary on Sunday, though, that's where this gets interesting. Stripling has been far more consistent than Berríos, and at this point seems to be the likelier No. 3. The Blue Jays have liked Berríos' stuff lately despite the results, though, so he could still be a factor in creative ways.

The Mariners are expected to go with Luis Castillo, their Trade Deadline splash, in Game 1. Castillo has posted a 2.99 ERA across 150 1/3 innings this season, and he held the Blue Jays to two runs over six innings with five strikeouts back on May 20 when he was still with the Reds. The Blue Jays should know Robbie Ray very well in Game 2, though, after the left-hander won an AL Cy Young Award with Toronto in 2021. Expect pitching coaches Pete Walker and Matt Buschmann to be involved in some hitters' meetings ahead of that one. 

Game 3 is where it gets intriguing. If the Mariners go with Castillo and Ray off the top, they would likely have Logan Gilbert for Game 3, coming off a 3.20 ERA and an excellent start vs. Oakland to close out the season. The Blue Jays did get to Gilbert for a combined seven runs over 13 innings this season, but he’d be a tough matchup in a winner-take-all game.

How have they done against their opponent?

The Blue Jays went just 2-5 against the Mariners in the regular season, which isn’t much of a sample size, but it’s not terribly encouraging, either. The Blue Jays won their series at home against the Mariners back in May, but they were swept in a four-game series in Seattle in July, part of a brutal road trip that eventually led to manager Charlie Montoyo losing his job. 

So much has changed since then, of course, and the Blue Jays should have a clear edge offensively.

Toronto leads MLB with a .263 team average, and it is second to only the Dodgers with a .760 OPS. The Blue Jays haven’t always been the best situational-hitting club, but their star power lies squarely in their lineup with George Springer, Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and so many others. The Mariners, on the other hand, rank 26th in team average (.230) and 13th in team OPS (.704).

Which lineup decisions will the Blue Jays be facing?

It's better to break down the day-to-day decisions than project a lineup, because that will change by the game. It starts at catcher, where Kirk will catch Manoah as he always does, but he and Jansen have split duties with Gausman. For what it's worth, Gausman has a 2.32 ERA throwing to Kirk and a 4.29 ERA throwing to Jansen.

If Espinal is back, the Blue Jays will also be facing a decision between him, Merrifield and Biggio. This leaves them some intriguing bench options, especially if Merrifield is available as a pinch-runner late, but this is where the Blue Jays will dig down into how each player's offensive profile matches up against the opposing starter. You could see some mid-game switches when the bullpen takes over.

The DH spot is interesting here, too. You could stick an outfielder there, which would put Tapia in the lineup, or be aggressive and use the backup catcher in that role if you like the offensive matchup. The Blue Jays have tried to create a more consistent lineup recently, but there are a dozen different ways they can go here.

How does the Blue Jays' bullpen match up?

Romano is the man, and he'll be given as much as he can handle. Expect to see aggressive usage with Romano.

Garcia remains the best bet for the "setup" role, while the group of Phelps, Bass, Mayza and Cimber has been trusted throughout. This group will rely more on matchups than some other postseason bullpens where roles are more defined.

The Blue Jays' 3.77 bullpen ERA ranks 13th in MLB, behind the Mariners' 3.35 ERA (seventh) and Rays' 3.31 ERA (sixth). It's all about the back-end arms in October, though, and if Toronto can get the ball to Romano, the club will feel good about its chances.