TORONTO – After a busy off-season with some big names, the Toronto Blue Jays started the regular season feeling excited about their chances of a playoff return.
Entering the final week of the 2021 campaign, the Blue Jays are right in the thick of a wild-card chase.
The Blue Jays have been on an upward trajectory after a deep rebuild over the past two seasons, and a strong September has improved their chances of making the cut after the season this year. Boasting a deep, homer-heavy offense and an improved starting rotation, Toronto could prove to be a formidable opponent in October.
Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said on a recent media briefing, “I spoke to the team at Spring Training and I said everybody talks about our hitting and that’s fine, because we’re going to swing the bat. We’re going and we’ve got a good offense.” Call. “But at the end of the day in the big leagues you win with pitching and defence.
“Our pitching has been great, we have had a great start and our defense has played well. That’s one reason we’ve been doing so well here lately.”
Toronto is chasing former American League rivals Boston and New York in the race for two American League wild-card spots. The Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics also have a chance to make the cut.
Wild-card teams will meet in a play-in game on October 5, with the winner advancing to the AL Division Series and the loser going home.
Sluggers Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., and Marcus Semien have had MVP-caliber seasons for the Blue Jays, with Bo Bichet and Teoscar Hernandez providing middle-order pop and starter Robbie Ray in the running for the Cy Young Award.
Power bats like George Springer and Lourdes Guriel, Jr. have helped lengthen the lineup. Markham, Ont. close Jordan Romano has helped anchor the bullpen and Tim Mezza has served as a quality setup man.
“Of course we’re doing a lot better than people think because it’s the first full year for these kids,” Montoyo said. “You never know what’s going to happen when the kids get 500 (or) 600 at-bats for the first time.
“But after everything we’ve done this year, I’m very proud to be here at this point.”
The team played at two different home ballparks this season before returning to Toronto’s Rogers Center in late July.
The pandemic forced the Blue Jays to open their home schedule at their Spring Training home in Dunedin, Fla., before eventually moving north to their Triple-A colleague in Buffalo.
Given the unique locations, fans of opposing teams – notably the New York Yankees in Buffalo and the Tampa Bay Rays in Dunedin – sometimes outnumber Toronto fans. It made some so-called home games feel like street sports.
“This team never made an excuse to go through everything we went through,” Montoyo said. “I think that was the key. Not complaining about being in three different ballparks and being in a minor-league ballpark and the crowd going against you.
“He didn’t complain the whole time because the moment you start doing that, the teams go their own way.”
After Monday’s break, the Blue Jays will begin a crucial three-match series against the Yankees at Rogers Center on Tuesday night.
A recent change to provincial rules will increase the capacity to 30,000, a welcome boost for the Blue Jays who hope the home field advantage over the next six games can help push them over the hump.
Toronto will close out the campaign with the weekend set against the last-placed Baltimore Orioles.
The Best of Five AL Division Series begins on October 7. The playoffs will continue till the World Series starting on October 26.