The Toronto Blue Jays have qualified for the 2020 post-season, but is that enough? We think so.
Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase
In a season chock full of more unknowns than sure things, the 2020 Toronto Blue Jays have qualified for the post-season for the first time since 2016. Most fans and pundits agreed in March that a youthful Blue Jays roster was full of promise. Very few of us could pass a lie detector test if asked during spring training if we believed the team would deliver a playoff berth.
Once the COVID cancellations mounted and MLB announced an abbreviated 60-game slate, fans began to feel a stirring in their souls. When it was announced that the 2020 Playoffs would invite 8 teams from each league to play in October, fans began to tweet and shout that MAYBE Toronto could stay competitive until the final weeks of the regular season. Some brave Blue Jays souls whispered from underneath their masks that this team of the future could make the playoffs now.
The 2020 Blue jays would need to barnstorm their way to the post-season, since their Rogers Centre home was declared off-limits by the Canadian government and their foster home of PNC Park in Pittsburgh was denied them by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Yes, the host city of their AAA affiliate, Buffalo New York, welcomed them with open arms. But the less-than-bright lights of Sahlen Field and the stigma of having to play in a “minor league ballpark” took some of the edge off of the excitement. Buffalo and a transformed Sahlen Field proved to be a magical home-away-from-home, but truth be told Toronto survived a 60-game road trip and emerged as a bonafide playoff team a season or two earlier than the front office reasonably expected to.
But are you satisfied with the Blue Jays simply making the playoffs in 2020? Forget the purists and projectionists who do their best to dismiss any accomplishments in an abbreviated season. You know the type-and their hype: “No team can really be considered champions only playing 60 games.” “You can’t compare the accomplishments of the 2020 Blue Jays with the 1985/1992/1993/2015 et al playoff teams because they weren’t tested over a full 162-game schedule” BLAH BLAH BLAH.
On one level they are right – you cannot compare this 2020 teams to ANY team in Blue Jays history. There has NEVER been a season like this one, and no team has had to deal with the restrictions and limitations imposed by MLB and local governments that the 2020 version has. As for being tested, as a COVID survivor let me assure you that the testing processes these players have had to go through virtually daily were probably worse than any muscle pull or bone bruise.
My contention is that Blue Jays fans should be deliriously happy and forever grateful to every player on this roster (yes, even Roark and Fisher and Drury) for giving them a season to remember. As cynical as I have been about the endless strategic adventures of Charlie Montoyo, the daily fantasy draft roster deconstruction of the front office, and what the harm contending a year early might cause in 2021 and 2022, I have made sure to add the 2020 Blue Jays to my Grateful List. Was this season a total success? N0 – what season ever is unless Disney has an option on its story. But let’s look at the 2020 campaign through 2 distinct lenses to gain a clearer look at what has been won on and off the field.
THE BIG FREE AGENT SIGNING
More than one eye brow was raised when it was announced that the Blue Jays had signed Hyun Jin Ryu to a 4 year, 80 million dollar free agent contract. No one really disputed Ryu’s talents. But with the exception of his years in the KBO and during his contract year of 2019, the innings limited by an array of injuries during his Dodgers Days did not seem to add up to 80 million dollars. Most market analysts saw a Ryu deal more in the range of 30-40 million, or a shorter-term contract given his age (33). But make no mistake about it – Ryu was worth every cent of his 2020 salary and has already justified the remaining 3 years of his deal.
After his final start of the regular season, a PLAYOFF CLINCHING 7 INNING WIN against the Yankees, Ryu’s record stood at 5-2, with a 2.69 ERA while averaging more than a strikeout an inning over 12 starts. Yes, the bulk of his starts lasted less than 6 innings, but the uncertainty of a cohesive team pitching strategy is to blame more than any injury. According to Baseball Reference, Ryu’s methodical pitching methods resulted in a 3.0 WAR.
He pitched more than twice as many innings as any Blue Jays starter not named Tanner Roark. He stranded nearly 81% of baserunners yet never gave into hitters or catchers, throwing what he wanted to throw whenever he wanted to throw it. The most amazing 2020 statistical line for Ryu is his pitch selection; able to command 5 different pitches in virtually any count, he somehow managed to not through even his best pitch (changeup) more than 28% of the time.
What you will not find in any stat line is what Ross Atkins valued at 20 million per season. When Hyun Jin Ryu is on the mound, his teammates expect to win a ballgame. Expectation is not always performance, but Ryu remains composed and confident every inning of every start. I’m not sure there is a word in the Korean language for “stud”, but Ryu translates into a winning frame of mind in the language of 2020 baseball.
Bo Bichette is the star. Vladimir Guerreo, Jr. is the man-child most Blue Jays fans hang their hopes for a winning future upon. Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. are beasts at the plate and have exceeded all expectations. Alejandro Kirk- every culture needs a folk hero.
Cavan Biggio is the MVP of the 2020 Toronto Blue Jays.
Before you go running to your bookshelves and breaking out your analytical arguments found on Fan Graphs and MLB NOW, sit back, relax, and let me tell you a story of actual on-field performances. Biggio is hitting .253, but his OBP is a leadoff worthy .375. Biggio has 8 homeruns, which would project out to 22 homeruns over a standard 162 game schedule. It isn’t fair, you say, to project his stats over 162 games? BUZZER SOUND – sorry friends. Heading into the final game of the season Cavan Biggio led the major leagues in Plate Appearances. So he is most likely Blue Jay to play a full season. He has yet to be thrown out attempting to steal in 20 attempts over his brief career and is one of the few Toronto players that doesn’t turn the base paths into a Three Stooges routine.
Most importantly, Biggio plays where is asked without a whimper or call to his agent. In 2020, he has appeared in 37 games at 2B, 14 games in RF, 3 games in LF, and has added 9 games at 3B to his versatility and value. More than any of the Four Offspring, Cavan has translated the genetic and baseball makeup of his major league father into value to his team. Cavan Biggio sees the whole game without blinking and instinctively knows the right thing to do, even if he does not execute successfully every time. If Montoyo should ever get excited enough to get tossed from a game, the lineup card should get handed to Biggio. His future on the field is bright; his value in the dugout and in the locker room is Most Valuable.
The problem with rooting for a winning team after a few years of losing is one rarely is satisfied with just one win or success. I am as guilty as any of cursing a baserunning error or placing unsupportable expectations on the star players. A lone voice from the US fanbase, I am genuinely worried that the 2020 playoff success will significantly hamper the near-term successes of a ridiculously young roster. Even more panicked by the realization that making the playoffs in 2020 means Charlie Montoyo will return to the dugout to haunt us for another year. But there is plenty of time to keep ourselves warm by the Hot Stove and nitpick our way from October 2020 to Spring Training 2021. Are you satisfied with the 2020 Toronto Blue Jays? You damned well better be – or I suspect you may never be satisfied with your team.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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