Blue Jays May be ‘Underdogs’ All Season

The Toronto Blue Jays are a good young team, but may not get the recognition they deserve this season


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The Toronto Blue Jays woke up Monday morning sitting in second place in the AL East, 1.5 games back of the Red Sox. Having gone 7-3 over their last 10 games, the head into Beantown with a chance to take over first place in the division. They most recently took 2 of 3 from the Phillies and swept Atlanta, looking like a solid baseball team. But, they likely won’t get the love that other teams will. They’ll likely be seen as playoff underdogs all season.

 

Currently, Fangraphs lists their playoff chances as such: 52% chance of making the playoffs, 35.4% chance of winning the Wild Card, 16.6% chance of winning the division and 3.6% chance of winning the World Series. There are those who would suggest that these odds are better than they may have been at the beginning of the season, or over the winter and all is well and good. However, there are a few reasons to think these numbers are selling the Blue Jays short.

 

The New York Yankees are 22-18 (at the time of writing) and a half game back of Toronto. They have not resembled the AL Beast everyone has billed them to be. They have too much talent to believe they’ll continue to occupy the third spot in the division, but they haven’t looked like the runaway winner. Yet, Fangraphs has them with a 85.6% chance of making the playoffs, a 29.3% chance of winning the Wild Card, less than Toronto, but that’s because they have a 56.3% chance of winning the division, apparently. They also have a 16% chance of winning the World Series. Only the Dodgers’ 16.4% chance is higher. Sure, it is New York and everyone’s attention is never far from there, which casts a shadow on others, but come on.

 

Let’s talk about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. This kid is asserting himself among the game’s very best players. Yes, he’s off to a hot start, but 7 weeks into the season and he is continuing to show the star power we all knew was coming. In 39 games, the 22 year old has 11 homers, a slash line of .319/.440/.609 and a wRC+ of 188! His big league bat has arrived. Do we really think that an MVP-esque performance is going to result in his team finishing in (a projected) third place?

 

If we consider Vlad the Younger in the context of the rest of the lineup, it is difficult to see how this team won’t grab some of the spotlight. Marcus Semien (1.5 fWAR) is on his way to earning his $18M already with his 126 wRC+. Bo Bichette is not far behind him with a 124 wRC+. And, how about Randal Grichuk and his 112 wRC+? Teoscar Hernandez missed time, but is sitting pretty with a wRC+ of 130. This offense is too good not to be recognized.

 

OK, OK. We knew this team would hit, so that’s nothing new. We knew the offense would carry the Blue Jays as far as the pitching would let it. But, Toronto’s pitching has actually been a pleasant surprise. They’ve been hit with a slew of injuries, so no one would be surprised if the team lost a bunch of games. But, being 5 games over .500 is partly due to the work the pitching staff has done. Consider the following from our friends at Baseball Reference: the Blue Jays are 7th in the American League with a 3.84 ERA, 4th in ER (145), 5th in BB (118), 5th in hits (308) and 10th in strike outs (351). Those are somewhat surprising numbers.

 

If we really want to focus in, the bullpen has been this team’s saving grace. The relievers have totaled 163 innings of work to the starters’ 176.2, which is crazy when you think about it. The bullpen has seen nearly as many innings as the rotation. In their 176.2 innings, they have collected a WHIP of 1.221, a 3.15 ERA (compared to the 4.48 for starters), a K/BB% of 2.42 (starters: 3.76) and are holding hitters to a .218 average. Folks in MLB will tell you that relievers are the unsung heroes and the 2021 Blue Jays’ group exemplify that rather well.

 

Guys like Tyler Chatwood have been a revelation. In 14.2 innings of work, he’s put up 0.6 fWAR, 0.61 ERA (1.29 FIP) and a K% of 38.2% (21 strike outs). He’s already picked up 7 holds and we’re just starting the third week of May. He’s got a 0.82 WHIP and is holding hitters to a .160 average. Oh, and he’s not given up a single home run thus far. He’s turning out to be a rather shrewd pick up for the Blue Jays’ front office.

 

Sure, Chatwood may not be able to keep up this pace for a full season. Sure, Vlad may come back to Earth a little bit. But, if you look at how many injuries this Blue Jays team has had to deal, and to whom the injuries have occurred, with in such a short time, it is a wonder they’re just 1.5 games back of the division lead. They’ve also yet to play teams like the Orioles and Tigers. They’ve had a tough schedule to start the season and they’re still doing well.

 

The MLB season is long and lots can happen, but if you consider the bad luck this team has had and where they are in the standings, it’s easy to see the ‘lots that can happen’ only helping them. They have not had George Springer back full time and in good health. I don’t want to pull the ‘as good as a trade deadline deal’ card, but when he does return, the offense will only be that much better. Speaking of the Trade Deadline, the Blue Jays have a golden opportunity in that they have a rich farm system – they now have 8 prospects in Baseball America’s Top 100, which is the best in all of baseball – and they have payroll flexibility that few teams can boast. There is reason to expect that they’ll make some upgrades that will impact their playoff odds.

 

Being the only team to play outside of Canada is the typical reason the Toronto Blue Jays do not get the coverage and attention they deserve. Perhaps, in 2021, playing in Dunedin and then Buffalo makes them that much more of an oddity. One supposes it would be easy for them to fly under the radar. But, the playoff odds are based on math. It says here that even math is not giving the Blue Jays the respect they deserve. That is not likely to end any time soon. Math doesn’t care about our feelings. However, if you look at this team, they’re better than people think. And, that’s OK. I’m happy cheering for this ‘underdog’.

 

 

 

 

*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.

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Shaun Doyle

Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.