Blue Jays ready to knock down door to postseason

March 17th, 2022

The Blue Jays were the team that had to overcome the most last season, playing in three different ballparks, from Toronto to Buffalo to their Spring Training park in Dunedin, Fla. In the end, they were the best team not to make it to the postseason, the youngest, the most exciting. And probably the most dangerous by the time the regular season ended.

They ended up 91-71 and finished a game behind the Red Sox and the Yankees, who ended up playing the American League Wild Card Game at Fenway Park. For the Yankees to at least make it from the last Sunday of the regular season to the Wild Card Game, the New York had to beat the Rays, 1-0, on an Aaron Judge infield single, and the Red Sox had to come from 5-1 down against the Nationals, finally getting ahead of them on a Rafael Devers homer in the top of the ninth.

One game behind the Sox and Yankees. Took two games like that to knock Toronto out. And every Jays fan knows that the baseball postseason was poorer for it, along with being a whole lot less fun.

Here is what Vlad Guerrero, Jr. said about a half-hour after the Red Sox came back to beat the Nats, and the Blue Jays' season was officially over:

“It hurts. Knowing that you win 91 games and you didn’t make the playoffs, it really hurts me, hurts all my teammates. Like I said before, that’s just gonna make me stronger. [I’ll] come back next year even better than this year.”

It is clear now that the Jays, whose most recent acquisition is Matt Chapman -- another young guy who can really play -- share the exact same sentiments as their biggest star. Before the Jays added Chapman to their roster, they had already added two frontline starters in Kevin Gausman and Yusei Kikuchi.

I pointed out to Brian Cashman, the Yankees' general manager, on Wednesday night that it is pretty clear at this point that the Blue Jays, who probably aren’t done adding value to what is the most loaded batting order in their division and in their league, do not appear to be messing around here.

This was Cashman’s reply: “When you’re trying to win, you don’t mess around.”

We have talked for the past few years about how the Blue Jays were coming hard in the AL East. They added free agent George Springer after the 2020 season, and now they add these two starters, and a new starting third baseman in Chapman. Here is how good the Blue Jays are: They can lose Robbie Ray to free agency and Marcus Semien, who merely hit 45 homers for them in 2021 and played 162 games, and still look, right now, like as much a favorite to win the East as the Rays, who won 100 games last year, or the Red Sox, or the Yankees.

Put it another way: the Blue Jays are tired of knocking on the door. They now give clear notice, by making the most personnel noise in their division so far this spring, that they are more than ready to kick that door in.

Their general manager, Ross Atkins, sees how a predecessor of his with the Blue Jays, Alex Anthopoulos, added to the amazing young talent he had in Atlanta to win it all in 2021. Clearly the Blue Jays are looking to do the same.

Of course the Yankees can’t possibly be done adding players. The Red Sox, so far, haven’t started. The Rays have been quiet as well. They are the teams that finished ahead of the Jays last season, in a division that ended up with four 90-win teams, a pretty amazing number. You know they were all looking over their shoulders at Toronto last September, and into the first weekend of October. By this September, they might all be chasing the Jays.

“It’s exceptionally exciting,” Atkins said once Chapman had arrived in Dunedin. “One of the highlights of my day was seeing some of the looks on the faces in our clubhouse, with how excited our team is to be adding someone of that caliber with his reputation. This is obviously a very good fit for us.”

Chapman is a very good fit on a team that will be as exciting this season -- even without Semien’s power -- as it was last season. Vlad is still in the house. He hit 48 homers in ‘21. Springer hit 22 in just 78 games. Do the math how that projects out over 162. Bo Bichette hit 29 homers, knocked in 102 runs. Teoscar Hernandez hit 32 homers. Randal Grichuk, the center fielder, hit 22, knocked in 81 runs. Lourdes Gurriel hit 21 homers, knocked in 84.

Chapman, who hit 27 homers for the A’s, doesn’t turn 29 until the end of April. Vlad just turned 23 on Wednesday, and Bichette turned 24 the first week of March. Gurriel is 28, Hernandez is 29. The geezers of this group are Springer, who’s 32, and Grichuk, who didn’t turn 30 until last August.

We are now well past the point where people are saying, “The Jays are coming.” The Blue Jays are here. They’re tired of chasing the big boys in the AL East, and want the big boys to start chasing them. Their general manager, Atkins, said that adding Chapman to the group is “exceptionally exciting.”

Like his baseball team.