With the Blue Jays punching their ticket to the post-season, we have a few days to look back to the spring to evaluate how the club has fared against the lofty expectations.
While there are numerous ways we could do this, I’m going to look back to my 5 Big Questionshttps://jaysbalk.com/2022/04/07/bold-predictions-podcast/ and 5 Bold Predictions. Let’s start with the Big Questions.
Can Vladimir Guerrero Jr & Bo Bichette do it again?
2021 Bichette: .298/.343/.484, 29 HR, 102 RBI, 25 SB (159 GP)
2022 Bichette: .285/.329/.468, 24 HR, 92 RBI, 12 SB (through 154 GP)
2021 Guerrero: .311/.401/.601, 48 HR, 111 RBI (161 GP)
2022 Guerrero: .275/.338/.475, 30 HR, 93 RBI (through 155 GP)
Verdict: It’s safe to say neither of the burgeoning Blue Jays superstars succeeded in equalling their production from a year ago. Guerrero’s power has been down, while his chase rate and ground ball percentages are back up. He was still an All-Star, and his down seasons are career years for many mere mortals. Perhaps replicating 2021 was a tad unrealistic, but better production from their best hitter might have the Blue Jays sitting in a better position. Meanwhile, Bichette has saved his season with an out-of-this-world September after scuffling for large chunks of the year. The good news is both can salvage 2022 with strong performances in October.
Can the young core live up to the hype?
The spotlight will shine not just on Vlad & Bo, but also on George Springer, Jose Berrios, Kevin Gausman, Jordan Romano, and others. High expectations are being placed on a team that’s not even made the playoffs yet in a full season. Will they wilt under the pressure, or catapult themselves into the class of other elite teams?
Verdict: With the expectations equalling the levels only seen around these parts in 2013 and 2016, the Blue Jays delivered a solid, if somewhat uneven season. It seemed the club only had rare stretches where hitting and pitching were both firing on all cylinders simultaneously. Despite a 46-42 record and holding a playoff spot, the inconsistencies led to the firing of manager Charlie Montoyo in July. The team had World Series aspirations, so this will be an incomplete grade until we see what happens in October. Not winning the division is certainly a bit of a disappointment, but a nearly historic first half from the Yankees maybe had more to do with this result than the Blue Jays uneven work through July.
Is the bullpen deep enough to avoid the disasters of 2021?
This group was often criticized for not having enough “swing and miss” and relying too much on trying to generate soft contact, where most teams in 2022 try to blow you away with velocity. In reality, the bullpen was never a main reason why the team was losing, at least no more than any other contending team, and certainly not on the level of 2021. The group boasts Jordan Romano, who is among the league leaders in saves, and reliable setup men Yimi Garcia, Anthony Bass, Adam Cimber, and Tim Mayza. It’s a group that is certainly deep enough to support strong starting pitching in a playoff run.
Will this be the Summer of George?
It was more than a little disappointing how little we got to see George Springer last season, as he suited up in only 78 games. The good news? The Jays were 48-30 in those games. Over a full season, that projects out to 99 wins.
Verdict: The good news is that outside of a pair of minor knee injuries, Springer’s core and lower half were not compromised like we saw last year. The bad news is that he’s been plagued by an elbow injury for nearly the entire season, forcing him into frequent DH days and even an IL stint in August. In fact, he went basically a month from late July to late August without playing centre field once. Despite that, he’s still been able to slash .262/.339/.467 (all marks which are down from last year) but he’s slugged 24 home runs and driven in 72. When he’s stirring the drink at the top of the order, the team succeeds. And much like Vlad and Bo, if he has a strong October, many folks won’t remember what June and July looked like. The young team will be relying heavily on his postseason experience and veteran leadership.
Is there one more ‘Big Move’ to be made?
Verdict: No. The biggest offensive piece brought into the fold was Whit Merrifield, and the bullpen additions were limited to Anthony Bass and Zach Pop. Given how well the offence has performed, minor upgrades were understandable. The biggest and most controversial decision was the one to not add a significant starter by the trade deadline. The injury to Hyun-Jin Ryu and the wild ineffectiveness of Yusei Kikuchi has left a massive hole, salvaged only by Ross Stripling’s breakout season. Amazingly, they’ve stayed relatively healthy in the rotation as they enter October, but they’ve been exposed by not having even adequate performance in September from the fifth starter spot. Thankfully, you can get by in October without a fifth starter, and their four strong starting pitchers will give them a fighting chance in any postseason series.
Bold Predictions Revisited
Expectation: Bo Bichette has a 30/30 season hitting over .300
Reality: He’s at 24/12 batting .285. So we got close on home runs and average, but stolen bases were way off the mark, and being caught stealing 8 times didn’t help.
Expectation: The Blue Jays would have three 15-win starters (Manoah, Gausman, Berrios)
Reality: Manoah has already hit 15, Gausman is at 12, Berrios 11. Gausman has been one of the unluckiest pitchers in the league both in terms of BABIP and run support. He’s still got one more start to reach 13 wins, and with a bit more luck could have easily hit 15. Berrios reaching 11 seems about right, as he’s had a lot of really good starts but many duds that capped his ceiling.
Expectation: Lourdes Gurriel Jr would have a better offensive season than Teoscar Hernandez
Reality: This one is a bit of an incomplete grade, as both had extended stints on the IL.
Hernandez: 126 GP, .257/.308/.469, .777 OPS, 119 OPS+, 22 HR, 72 RBI
Gurriel: 121 GP, .291/.343/.400, .743 OPS, 113 OPS+, 5 HR, 52 RBI
Amazingly, Gurriel might have been the more consistent of the two after a typically slow April. But he also transformed himself into more of a contact hitter, sacrificing power for contact, and was a valuable piece of the order, filling in for Springer as the leadoff hitter when he was injured. He also hit 3rd when Bichette was struggling, and his profile will allow Schneider to slot him anywhere in the order if he can get healthy for October.
Expectation: Nate Pearson would replace Jordan Romano as closer
Reality: LOL! Pearson was once again plagued by injuries and hasn’t even made it to the MLB level this season (though that could change this weekend). Making me look even more stupid, Romano was an All-Star and ranks third in the league with 35 saves, just two behind Kenley Jansen for second place.
Expectation: The Blue Jays would win 100 games for the first time.
Reality: They sit at 87 wins with six games to go. Under Montoyo, they were on pace for 84. Under John Schneider, they’re playing to a 97-win pace. Are the Schneider Jays the real version of this team? This was admitteduly a very bold take within the AL East. They’ll need to go 5-1 in the final two series of the year to eclipse last year’s 91 wins.
Many oddsmakers and pundits picked the Blue Jays to win the World Series, or at least represent the American League. Most people surely thought winning the American League East would be a stepping stone to that, but it is far from a necessity. Remember, the Jays reached the ALCS in 2016 as a wild card team. It’s a more difficult path, but the Blue Jays are definitely talented enough to make a long run. The fun and stress of October baseball are just around the corner.