Photo credit:Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
The 2023 Blue Jays Season Retrospective – Part II: Struggles with the AL East, Alek Manoah to the Florida Complex League, and more
By Evan Stack2 months ago
With 2023 winding to an end, let’s take this time to look back on the year that was for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Over the course of a few parts, I’ll be going through what happened during one of the most controversial Blue Jays seasons in recent memory. Part II of the 2023 season retrospective isn’t as pretty as the first.
Dealing with the AL (B)East
The Blue Jays got off to a nice start against interdivisional opponents, ending April with a 4-2 record against the Rays and the Yankees. However, from May forward, the AL East was not very kind to the Blue Jays, and it raised a lot of questions about Toronto’s ability to contend for a division crown.
Between May 1st and the end of the first half of play on July 9th, the Blue Jays were a combined 3-17 versus AL East opponents, including two sweeps against the Red Sox and one sweep against the Orioles.
Boston took all four of an early May four-game tilt thanks to some late-game heroics from Connor Wong and Alex Verdugo, as well as tagging ace Kevin Gausman with 10 hits and eight earned runs in the series finale. In other words, the Blue Jays didn’t have a chance. The Red Sox continued their success over Toronto with a Canada Day weekend sweep in early July, which I will allude to later.
The Yankees stole three of four from the Blue Jays between May 15th and May 18th, highlighted by the “side eye saga” from Aaron Judge. During an eighth-inning at-bat of the series opener, Judge appeared to be peeking toward the Yankees dugout prior to seeing a pitch from Toronto reliever Jay Jackson. While that alone raised some questions, those questions were duplicated and amplified once he hit a home run later in the at-bat. Jackson would later admit that he was tipping his pitches, but that didn’t stop any feuds between the two teams during the remainder of the series.
If any games in 2022 didn’t make it official, posting a 1-5 record against the Baltimore Orioles during the aforementioned first-half time frame in 2023 made enough evidence. Furthermore, the Rays stole three of four at the Trop towards the end of May.
Although hardly any of these games were pretty, the Blue Jays did perform a historical beatdown against the Rays on May 23rd with a 20-1 win. Admittedly, 10 of the 20 runs were hit off of position players, but when it comes to playing at the Trop, you take what you can get. It was the first time they scored 10+ runs at Tampa Bay since August 31, 2010, when Toronto beat Tampa Bay 13-5.
The mysterious case of Alek Manoah
Alek Manoah’s performance was one of the biggest storylines of the 2023 season. After a third-place finish in the Cy Young voting in 2022, Manoah began his next campaign with a complete 180. During the first 13 starts of the 2023 season, Manoah posted a 1-7 record with a 6.36 ERA while also allowing an .893 opponents OPS, and 48 strikeouts versus 42 walks.
Whether it was an inability to finish off hitters or making a competitive pitch, Manoah was unable to get himself back on track. He had many games that left fans wondering if an option to the minor leagues was coming, but the ultimate tipping point came on June 5th against the Houston Astros. Manoah allowed seven hits and six earned runs while only recording a single out, leaving the bullpen in a major bind ahead of a critical four-game set. Shortly after that game, it was announced that Manoah would be optioned to the Florida Complex League.
Manoah was also the victim of a managerial mistake on May 20th against the Orioles in which John Schneider made an accidental second mound visit during the sixth inning. By rule, the pitcher must be removed from the game if two mound visits are made within the same inning. To make matters worse, Manoah was having one of his better starts of the season that day, allowing only two runs across 5.2 innings.
Danny Jansen walks off a game twice in two weeks
Danny Jansen has always had a knack for the clutch hit, but he was able to record one twice in a four-day span. On May 14th (Mother’s Day), Jansen stepped up to the plate in the 9th inning with the bases loaded and two outs with the Blue Jays trailing 5-4 against the Atlanta Braves. Facing standout closer Raisel Iglesias, Jansen sharply grounded a single into left field, scoring two runs and winning the game.
Just a few days later on May 18th, Jansen broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the 10th inning against the New York Yankees with a three-run walk-off home run against lefty reliever Wandy Peralta. Nearly a month prior to that home run, Jansen hit a game-tying two-run home run against Peralta in the 9th inning of a game in the Bronx. Jansen owns Peralta – we have enough evidence.
Chris Bassitt’s scoreless innings streak
Chris Bassitt will never throw the hardest fastball or have the nastiest breaking pitch, but my goodness is he effective. Blue Jays fans had an opportunity to see this throughout the early stages of May, as he orchestrated a 28-inning scoreless streak. This feat included a complete game shutout against the Atlanta Braves on May 12th, the first for the Blue Jays since Mark Buehrle did it in 2015. It was also the first time a Blue Jay pitched a complete game since Marcus Stroman in 2017.
The scoreless innings streak was impressive, but Bassitt arguably one-upped himself on June 2nd when he shut out the New York Mets over 7.2 innings. So much was riding on this game; Bassitt was facing his former team that refrained from signing him to an extension, and he was also duelling against Justin Verlander, the guy the Mets elected to sign. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, Bassitt planned on flying back to Toronto after the game for the birth of this child.
Canada Day heartbreaker
Earlier, I referenced the Boston Red Sox having Toronto’s number in the first half of the season, and part of that included the annual Canada Day game. The Blue Jays trailed the Red Sox 6-2 entering the 7th inning, but the Blue Jays clawed back late. Matt Chapman scoring on a pickoff attempt error in the 7th, and also slapped a two-run home run to right field to cut the lead to one.
Justin Turner’s solo home run in the top of the 9th provided the Red Sox with insurance, but that didn’t stop the Blue Jays from providing the pressure. Trailing 7-5, the Blue Jays put up runners on second and third with two outs, setting the table for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Guerrero came through, singling on a line drive to right field, however the tying run was thrown out at home plate by Alex Verdugo.
Other miscellaneous events
6/11/23: Cavan Biggio’s game-winner vs. Minnesota – On the heels of a sweep at home against the Minnesota Twins, Cavan Biggio launched a three-run home run in the bottom of the 8th inning to complete a comeback in the series finale with a 7-6 win.
6/23/23: Vladdy breaks the Rogers Centre home run drought – Although the renovations provided shorter outfield dimensions, it took Vladimir Guerrero Jr. until June 23rd to hit his first home run at Rogers Centre. He crushed a 434 foot nuke to left field off of Oakland A’s starter James Kaprielian for his 10th homer of the season.
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