This weekend’s series against the New York Mets perfectly encapsulated the overarching experience of the 2021 Blue Jays thus far.
The team got shut down by a rookie starting pitcher on Friday and then they followed that up on Saturday by blowing up for 10 runs. Saturday’s game appeared to be a game-changer for Toronto’s momentum, as a new-look lineup injected life into the bats and George Springer fired up the team with arguably the best catch we’ve seen this season.
Then, on Sunday, they gave it right back. Ross Stripling had a solid start, the bats came through with a three-run rally in the sixth inning, and then the bullpen went ahead and did what it’s done so, so, so many times this season, melting down immediately after. To put a bow on top, the team flirted with a comeback late in the game but ultimately failed to do so.
One step forward, two steps back.
Since coming out of the All-Star break at full speed and kicking the shit out of the Texas Rangers in a three-game sweep, the Blue Jays have dropped four of five. They now sit 49-46, a distant nine-and-a-half games back of the Red Sox for the American League East crown and four games back of the second wild card seed with the Yankees and Mariners to jump.
Still, despite the mediocrity, Baseball-Reference has the Blue Jays at 47.1 percent post-season odds, ahead of the Athletics, Yankees, and Mariners…
FanGraphs is a little bit more skeptical of the Blue Jays, listing them with 28.9 percent odds of reaching the post-season, behind New York and Oakland, but, still, they’re very much in the mix.
Up next is a huge series in Boston with the Red Sox. At this stage, it’s probably best to accept that the Red Sox aren’t the frauds we expected, or, well, hoped they were. The team’s offence is among the best in baseball and their pitching has been good enough to just let the bats do their thing.
We’ll see Thomas Hatch make a spot start on Monday against Nick Pivetta, Robbie Ray will go Tuesday against Garrett Richards, Steven Matz will face Tanner Houck on Wednesday, and then Hyun Jin Ryu will finish off on Thursday against Eduardo Rodriguez. The Blue Jays have the benefit of not facing Boston’s ace, Nate Eovaldi, and they’re going up against three pitchers they’re very familiar with, as Houck is the only one they haven’t faced before.
In order for the Blue Jays to keep their ever-so-faint division aspirations alive, they have to win this four-game series at Fenway. A two-for-two tie or anything less and that would officially put a close on winning the AL East. That said, at this point, the focus isn’t so much on Boston, it’s really on the wild card, and staying in the race with New York, Seattle, and Oakland for that last spot.
How the Blue Jays do in this series will have a say in how Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins approach the upcoming trade deadline.
If they go ahead and somehow execute a four-game sweep of the Red Sox, the Blue Jays are then suddenly only five-and-a-half out of the division and they’re likely only a game or two out of the wild card. That would justify being buyers and potentially adding a big-name player to go on a run.
Now, that obviously isn’t very likely. The Red Sox are a good team and they’re very good at Fenway. If the team goes and wins one or two games in Boston and they remain way out of the AL East crown picture, it’s difficult to justify selling top prospects in order to acquire a rental or two. But that doesn’t mean the team should go into seller mode.
There’s been a lot of talk about the Blue Jays folding up and taking offers on their two key impending free agents, Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien. Both are due for significant raises in the off-season and there’s certainly no guarantee either of them will stick around. Logic would then indicate that if the Blue Jays don’t fancy themselves a playoff team, recouping some prospects for both players would be the sensible play.
But the Blue Jays are in a unique position, one that makes it very difficult to justify selling.
This team has endured a massive grind over the past couple of seasons. They bounced around in 2020 without a home for the first few weeks of the season, navigated a wealth of injuries, and snuck into the expanded post-season despite all of that. In 2021, they started off in Dunedin, seldom feeling like the home team due to the presence of opposing fans, and then made a mid-season move to Buffalo, where they still aren’t really always the home team.
The team is finally set to return home on July 30. Lifting the stress of uncertainty by settling into a permanent home and getting the boost of what will be an incredible reception from the home fans in Toronto, who haven’t seen the team since they were tanking in September 2019, will surely be huge for the team.
As I said earlier, they’re only a few games back of the wild card and the schedule the rest of the way is quite light. The Blue Jays face Minnesota and Detroit six times and the Orioles 10 times, with other mediocre teams like Cleveland, Washington, Seattle, and the Angels sprinkled in for 13 games.
Having the team endure what they endured only to pack it in and sell right before they finally come home just because they’re five or six games back of a good-not-great Oakland team for the second wild card seed would be incredibly demoralizing for a group of young players that are craving the experience of meaningful late-season baseball.
I mean, imagine being Vladdy Jr., doing everything he did in the off-season to put together the MVP-calibre season he’s currently having, and then having your front office trade away your ace and arguably second-best position player in order to add this year’s version of, like, Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods Richardson ahead of the trade deadline. How would you feel about locking into a 10-year contract extension with that club, if they asked in the winter?
I don’t like to speak fully in absolutes, of course. Like, if the L.A. Dodgers phone up and say “hey, we want to run this thing back-to-back and we need to replace that gigantic piece of shit Trevor Bauer and upgrade on Gavin Lux, we’ll give you our top-five prospects for Ray and Semien,” then, sure, you can pull the trigger. But that’s really, really unlikely.
What makes the most sense right now is for the Blue Jays to continue making the moves we’ve already seen them make this season. Avoid moving top prospects and add some controllable talent like Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards who can help the team beyond this season.
Ultimately, this group has been through hell and they deserve a chance to play meaningful baseball in front of their fans. Giving up now sends a really ugly message to everyone.