National Post (Latest Edition)
Season over for Blue Jays as Rays too much to handle.
Tampa hits ace ryu hard in short outing
On the plus side, whoever is responsible for editing the highlight video of the Toronto Blue Jays 2020 playoff run is in for a light day of work.
A couple of Danny Jansen home runs on a loop, maybe a couple of Nate Pearson heaters, and knock off early. No deadlines to worry about, no stress in choosing which cuts to use. We should all be so lucky.
The good news ends right about there. After a comprehensive pasting from the Tampa Bay Rays, an 8- 2 result that was every bit as unflattering as the score line, the Jays exited the post- season in a two- game sweep. After two days of controversy over whether Toronto management erred in deciding to hold ace starter Hyun- Jin Ryu out of Game 1, he succeeded only in proving that maybe they should have held him out longer. Bo Bichette added to the unpleasantness with a couple of uncharacteristic early errors, and for a second straight night the Toronto lineup was overwhelmed by a hard- throwing Tampa starter. It was always going to be tough for a Jays team that snuck into the expanded playoffs to hang with the deeper and battle-hardened Rays, but their evident self-belief didn’t translate into much of a fight at Tropicana Field.
The question now is whether the baby step forward that the Baby Jays took in 2020 will be turned into something more significant in whatever the 2021 Major League Baseball season eventually looks like.
And the answer to that is hard to suss out, given their bizarre circumstances in this bizarre season in this most bizarre of years. They played home dates at a minor- league park in Buffalo, and lived out of hotels for two straight months. They had injury problems, as did many teams in a season that was stopped in spring training by a pandemic and then restarted months later in a mad panic to try to squeeze a vague semblance of a season in to fulfil television obligations. And at the end of a 60-game schedule, plus a wee little two- game soupcon of a post-season, the Blue Jays of 2020 carry many of the same uncertainties that the Blue Jays of 2019 had when that campaign ended.
The young core of position players still looks promising, with Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio in the infield and Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., swinging big bats at the corner outfield positions. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would normally be a perfectly exciting 21- year- old infielder — and he still is — but he has not yet proven to be the fearsome slugger that was widely and eagerly anticipated throughout the sport, and his defence and conditioning was suspect enough that the team gave up on him as a third baseman.
Then there is the starting pitching. When last season ended, it was by far the team’s biggest need, and it remains exactly that. Ryu was signed for big money from the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he lived up to the top- of- the- rotation salary, posting a sub- 3.00 earned-run average and amassing a pile of quality starts. His disastrous playoff outing on Wednesday night, in which seven runs in less than two innings appeared at least partly due to arm fatigue, doesn’t change the fact that he should be a reliable front- end starter when healthy. Pearson, the thunder- armed 23- year- old, gave a glimpse of his ace potential in Tampa with two dazzling relief innings on Wednesday. After that?
Eeks. The rest of next year’s rotation will likely be comprised of some combination of the veteran pending free agents who started games for Toronto this year and the various young arms who could step into the role of a regular starter. But that was supposed to be the plan for this season, and general manager Ross Atkins ended up having to make late-season trades just to plug holes in the rotation. Do he and team president Mark Shapiro have the makings of a major- league rotation somewhere in their organization? Will they end up doing another patchwork thing in 2021 and hope that is enough to get the team back in playoff contention again? Have they done a tidy enough job of looking after Rogers Communications’ pennies that they will be able to make another Ryu-like splash?
The playoff appearance, however brief, likely buys Shapiro and Atkins time to try to turn the Jays from a team with promise into one that is a regular contender. This season was weird enough on all fronts that it would seem a truly odd time for Jays ownership to decide that it bet on the wrong guys to transform the organization after the wild fun of the latter Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos years.
Normally, a young team getting a taste of the playoffs can point to the valuable experience gained that will set them up for future success. But after a quick two-andout, a series played in an empty stadium that didn’t allow them to experience the usual post- season electricity, it’s hard to point to what useful lessons were learned for the Jays. Learn how to hit some of the best starters in the game? Don’t make costly errors? Avoid Tropicana Field at all costs?
The most relevant lesson is that Tampa has been a playoff- calibre team for three years now, and the Blue Jays are some distance from that.