Jays in playoff mix down the stretch

Written by ECA Review

It has been a season of ups and downs for the Toronto Blue Jays, who are poised to earn one of three American League wildcard berths, so fans in Canada will (likely) be enjoying October baseball again this year.

The bad news, though, is that recent history is not on the Blue Jays’ side, as wildcard playoff appearances in 2022 and 2020 resulted in no wins in back-to-back 2-0 series defeats.

Optimistically, this year could be different. The Jays’ pitching seems more reliable than in the recent past, and injuries that have created some anxious moments for manager John Schneider are expected to be in the past once the post-season begins.

But back to the ups and downs. Bo Bichette qualifies in both categories. The shortstop led the American League in batting average through two-thirds of the season (.321), but was sent to the sidelines with an injured knee in early August.

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., was on top of the hitting world in July, swatting homer after homer while winning the Home Run Derby. But in regular-season play, the fifth-year first-baseman has been a disappointment. Through the first two weeks of August, Guerrero, Jr., who slugged 80 home runs in his previous two seasons, had hit only 18, tops on the team, but far below fans’ expectations.

The Jays spent $3 million on a one-year contract for free agent outfielder Daulton Varsho, with his 27 home runs for Arizona last year the big attraction.. But Varsho’s bat has been relatively quiet this year, with only a .214 batting average and 13 home runs though 116 games.

Toronto’s other free-agent acquisition, Brandon Belt, has been equally mediocre — a .254 batting average and 11 home runs. And outfielder George Springer, who had 39- and 34-home-run seasons for Houston Astros, has only 14 round-trippers this year.

But the pitching has been solid. The Jays will probably wind up with four starters with 10 or more victories — Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi. Last year’s breakout pitching star, Alek Manoah, got off to a horrible start to the 2023 season, and is now in the minors, and Hyun-jin Ryu, who missed a full year due to Tommy John surgery, was a pleasant surprise upon his return before getting hit in the knee by a line drive in his second outing.

Still, Schneider is counting on him to play a major role in the post-season. With Gausman, Bassitt, Kikuchi, Berrios and a rejuvenated Ryu available to start in the post-season, the Jays won’t be a pushover.
Seattle, Boston and the Yankees are in the mix with the Jays in the wildcard race, but with five weeks left in the regular season, fingers are crossed north of the 49th parallel that the Blue Jays will prevail.

Slap Shots
• Steve Simmons of Sunmedia, on Vladimir Guerrero’s contributions to the Blue Jays’ offence: “Sure, he can bash home runs when he’s hitting them off his manager John Schneider, as he was at the Home Run Derby, but he doesn’t get to face Schneider night after night in the American League.”
• A groaner from RJ Currie of sportsdeke.com: “Two Tennessee high school girls basketball teams once got banned from the playoffs for intentionally losing a game to avoid facing the top seed. The first thing that gave them away was they came out in tank tops.”
• Janice Hough of leftcoastsportsbabe.com, on San Francisco Giants’ offensive troubles: “SF Giants scored just twice (on five hits total) in their last two games. And won one. Is this what being a soccer fan is like?”
• Jon Greenberg of The Athletic, on the baseball fight between Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez and Tim Anderson of the White Sox, the latter being a one-punch loser:  “(Anderson) should get seven games for starting it and another seven for losing. That’ll teach him to square up like he’s Sonny Liston.”
• Not exactly a confidence booster for Leafs fans was a headline at yahoo.com after the Maple Leafs signed goalie Martin Jones: “Leafs sign NHL’s worst goalie of past five years”
• Vancouver comedy guy and avid Jays’ fan Steve Burgess: “There is no yawning abyss of despair to equal the sight of the Blue Jays with the bases loaded.”
• Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle, after Golden State star Steph Curry went on stage to sing with Paramore: “Great, but if Curry pulls a hammie doing this stuff, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
• RJ Currie again: “A 61-year-old Brit planned to televise himself getting buried alive on British TV. Here in Canada, we simply watch the Edmonton Elks.”
• Headline at the onion.com: “(Bears quarterback) Justin Fields Praises Receivers For Running Routes Despite No Intention To Ever Throw Ball
• Headline at fark.com, after a Billy Walters’ book detailed excessive gambling habits of Phil Mickelson: “Found out why Lefty wanted that LIV money”
Care to comment? Email brucepenton2003@yahoo.ca

by Bruce Penton

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