The Toronto Blue Jays are well positioned for their second straight playoff birth in three seasons. It would be their first postseason appearance under a traditional 162-game season since 2016. Toronto possesses one of the best lineups in all of Major League Baseball this season. They are led by a strong core that has developed and blossomed together for the past several years.
In a rather unexpected move, the franchise decided to make a change at the managerial position near the halfway point in the season. Charlie Montoyo had been the skipper in Toronto since 2019 before being relieved of his duties. After a rough first season, Montoyo and the Blue Jays made the playoffs in the shortened 2020 season but failed to advance past the first round. In 2021, despite winning 91 games, Toronto finished in fourth place in a crowded AL East and missed the postseason. This season the club started slowly when expectations were high, starting just 46-42 and prompting the change. Following the dismissal of Montoyo, they decided to name bench coach John Schneider as the interim manager for 2022. He has fared well so far with a record of 38-23 as the regular season comes to a close.
Toronto trails the first-place New York Yankees by 6 1/2 games in the AL East. They currently hold the first wild card spot in the American League, two games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners. They have a sizable 6 1/2 game lead over the best non-playoff team in the AL at the moment.
Crushing in Canada
The Toronto Blue Jays have been among the best teams across the league from an offensive standpoint in 2022. They lead all of MLB in hitting with a .262 team batting average and lead the AL in on-base percentage and OPS. They also rank in the top four in hits, doubles, RBI and total bases in MLB.
Contrary to so many other teams, there are not one or two individuals who stand out from the rest of the lineup. There are a multitude of players who have produced similarly compared to one another. The lineup consists of eight regulars who have an OPS+ between 112 and 137. Of those eight players, they all have a wRC+ (weighted runs created) between 112 and 138, according to FanGraphs.
Last year’s runner-up for AL MVP, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has arguably been the best of the bunch. While not having the MVP-caliber season he did last year, he has still been a very productive hitter in 2022. The face of the franchise is hitting .279/.343/.489 with 30 home runs and 88 runs driven in. Guerrero Jr. also has career highs in doubles with 34 and stolen bases with eight.
Also having great offensive seasons are Bo Bichette and George Springer. Bichette is hitting .283/.328/.474 with 24 home runs and 89 RBI. His OPS has steadily dropped every year since entering the league in 2019, but the young shortstop still remains a well above league-average hitter with a 126 OPS+ in 2022. Springer has been a very dependable hitter his entire career. Since coming over from the Houston Astros following the 2020 season, he has remained consistent. Springer is hitting .261/.340/.454 with 21 home runs and 67 RBI. He has also stolen 13 bases this season, just three shy of his career high he set back in 2015.
The duo of Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen behind home plate for Toronto has been fantastic. Kirk has proven he can handle the workload that comes with an entire season, 2022 being his first full year in the big leagues. The first-time all-star is hitting .299/.385/.433 with 13 home runs and a 134 OPS+ on the year. Although early in his career, he has set career bests in strikeout rate and walk rate. Jansen has been with Toronto his entire career and has had a breakout year at the dish in 2022. The 27-year-old is hitting .258/.332/.511 with a career high 13 home runs in 208 plate appearances. Jansen’s OPS+ of 137 leads the team, although he only has about a third of the plate appearances that some others in the Toronto lineup have accumulated.
Traded to the Blue Jays during the offseason from the Oakland Athletics, third baseman Matt Chapman has been very effective. He is more known for his defense, with three gold gloves and two platinum gloves at the hot corner. His offensive production has been nothing to scoff at, however. Chapman is slashing .238/.328/.459 with 27 home runs, 27 doubles and 75 RBI. He has been striking out more than usual in the last three seasons, but his ability to draw walks and hit for power at decent rates have helped his value.
Outfielder Teoscar Hernandez has had yet another above-average season offensively for Toronto. The 29-year-old is hitting .259/.311/.462 on the year with 20 home runs and 67 RBI. Hernandez is hitting the ball harder than he ever has in his career. He ranks in the 95th percentile in average exit velocity and the 98th percentile in hard hit percentage, according to Baseball Savant. His average exit velocity of 95.3 mph is the hardest of his career.
The last of the most impactful players in the lineup is the versatile Lourdes Gurriel Jr. The 28-year-old is hitting .291/.343/.400 with 32 doubles in 2022. He has increased his walk rate and lowered his strikeout rate, but his power has taken a significant hit. Gurriel has just five home runs on the season, well below his career averages.
Breakout Star Leads the Staff
The Toronto Blue Jays’ starting rotation has seen a few guys struggle this season, but the emergence of 24-year-old Alek Manoah has been a welcome sight for the pitching staff. The 6-foot-6, 285-pound right-hander has taken strides to improve upon his rookie year in 2021 that turned some heads. Manoah has a 2.40 ERA and a 1.007 WHIP on the season. In 183 innings of work in 29 starts he has struck out 168 batters. For the second consecutive year, he has led the AL in hits by pitches, but has controlled his command with an improved walk rate compared to last season.
In his first year as a Blue Jay, Kevin Gausman has been solid in 29 starts with Toronto in 2022. The 31-year-old veteran has posted a 3.32 ERA and AL-best 2.37 FIP on the season. Gausman has a strikeout rate of 10.6 per nine innings and a career-low 1.5 walks per nine innings. He has also limited opposing hitters to just 14 home runs in 165 innings, less than one per nine innings pitched.
Fellow veteran right-hander Ross Stripling has had his best season since 2018 when he was an all-star for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has an identical ERA and FIP, both currently sitting at 3.21. In 22 starts he has done a nice job limiting the long ball with just 12 surrendered in 123 innings. He has also set career lows in walk rate and WHIP in 2022.
There have been a couple of disappointments in the rotation for Toronto in 2022. Acquired from the Minnesota Twins ahead of the 2021 trade deadline, Jose Berrios has struggled this year. His ERA sits just a tick below five and his ability to strike batters out has eluded him. Opposing hitters are having plenty of success against Berrios, hitting .284/.335/.468, all career worsts since 2016. Berrios has a strikeout rate of 7.7 per nine innings, also his worst since 2016.
Yusei Kikuchi has had an even tougher time in 2022. The Japanese left-hander is in his first year with Toronto after spending three seasons with Seattle. His ERA improved each year with the Mariners, but 2022 has been a rough debut season in Toronto. He has a 5.53 ERA and 5.90 FIP with a brutal ERA+ of 71. Unlike several of his teammates in the rotation, he has not been able to show command on the mound. A career-high 5.3 walks per nine innings and 23 home runs in less than 100 innings pitched has led to his demise in 2022.
In the bullpen for the Toronto Blue Jays, no pitcher has consistently been among the elite relievers in baseball that some other teams can proclaim. Although, there are plenty of relievers who can get the job done when called upon.
The trio of Jordan Romano, David Phelps and left-hander Tim Mayza are all sporting ERAs below three in 2022. They all have nine inning strikeout rates of eight or higher. Romano, with a team-high 34 saves, and Phelps have only allowed six combined home runs in 118 innings between the two.
Right-handers Adam Cimber and Yimi Garcia have been almost as good, each with ERAs just above three and FIPs hovering around 3.50. In his second go-around with the Blue Jays, Anthony Bass has been superb, with just a 1.37 ERA in 22 games since being acquired from the Miami Marlins before the trade deadline this year.
Rowdy at the Rogers Centre
Unquestionably one of the best postseason atmospheres in all of baseball, playoff games in Toronto could be crazy in 2022. With the roof closed in October and a classic home run horn that echoes throughout the dome, Rogers Center provides an electric environment during the postseason. This Toronto Blue Jays’ lineup has the firepower to go punch for punch with any opposing offense in baseball. The rotation is not as deep as they had hoped due to some underperformances within the starting five. There is plenty of experience, however, to pair with a budding ace in Manoah who appears destined to perform on the biggest stages. The bullpen runs fairly deep and should be able to hold their own when called upon in big spots.
Toronto last won the World Series in 1993 when they defeated the Phillies in a 4-2 series. In game six, Blue Jays’ legend Joe Carter hit a walk-off three-run home run to cap off back-to-back championships. If there is any magic left in the previously-named SkyDome, the Blue Jays have a chance to extract it in 2022, riding the bats of their young stars in the lineup. At the very least, it should be a rambunctious scene in Toronto if they host a three-game wild card series.