Another year has gone by, but the story remains the same. After losing to the Seattle Mariners in the 2022 American League Wildcard (ALWC) series in epic fashion, the Toronto Blue Jays have once again bowed out of the Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs after two short games.
This time, the Blue Jays fell victim to a combination of the Minnesota Twins and their own questionable decision-making. After dropping the first game of this year’s ALWC by a score of 3–1 and ending the Twins’ 19-year playoff losing streak, the Jays still looked competitive early in Game 2. Jays starter José Berríos had pitched three scoreless innings — striking out five and walking only one — when manager John Schneider pulled him from the game in favour of Yusei Kikuchi. The lefty proceeded to load the bases and give up two runs in the fourth, allowing the Twins to sweep the Jays out of the playoffs with an eventual 2–0 shutout.
Needless to say, Blue Jays brass wasn’t exactly lining up to take credit for the controversial call. General Manager Ross Atkins used his end-of-season press conference to lay the responsibility at the feet of his manager, yet backtracked immediately, mentioning the decision may have been part of an organizational strategy.
The situation sowed frustration in the clubhouse and the fanbase, but it would be a mistake to assume that the season was lost in a singular moment. Regardless of their pitching decisions, a team can’t win a best-of-three series only scoring one run. The problems that sank the 2023 Blue Jays started well before October.
The Blue Jays offense failed in critical moments throughout the season. Throughout the season, the Blue Jays posted a .256 team batting average — good for eighth in the Major Leagues. However, they placed 16th in total runs batted in and dropped all the way to 19th in the category of runners in scoring position. That’s the second-worst among teams qualifying for the postseason. Even with the likes of George Springer, Bo Bichette, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the lineup, the Blue Jays simply didn’t convert enough scoring opportunities to present a legitimate offensive threat.
Nearly perfect pitching
Public controversy is also nothing new for this group. Mystery still surrounds the status of 2022 Cy Young finalist Alek Manoah, who left this season after deeming himself “not ready to compete.” Projected to start the season as the team’s ace, Manoah posted a 5.87 earned run average (ERA) across 19 appearances, earning him demotions to Jay’s minor league teams in the Triple-A and the Florida Complex League. He received injections in his throwing arm in September to deal with discomfort and inflammation, although team doctors failed to find any structural damage to it. It’s unclear whether the former starting pitcher will be ready for spring training next year.
The good news is that aside from Manoah, the Blue Jays’ pitching was actually a strong point for the team this year. The five other starting pitchers had ERAs well under 4.00, with the bullpen combining to keep an average ERA of 3.68. The pitching staff’s success was supported by the stellar defense in the field, with five Blue Jays players being nominated for Gold Glove awards. There was no shortage of pedigree or talent, but the roster never quite managed to equal the sum of its parts.
So, where do they go from here? Atkins confirmed that Schneider will return as manager for the start of the 2024 season, but his lineup will surely see changes. All signs indicate that defensive stalwarts Matt Chapman and Kevin Kiermaier will leave this off-season, and with the possible departure of Hyun Jin Ryu, the Blue Jays may also be looking for a fifth starter to round out their rotation. While young superstars Guerrero Jr. and Bichette are still under contract for two more seasons, time is running out to prove that this core can win a championship, or even a playoff game.
For now, it’s déjà vu all over again for Toronto sports fans. Another year, same story.