The Toronto Blue Jays’ 2021 season very well could be about to take off after hovering around .500 for the first half
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As of this writing the Blue Jays sit fourth in the AL East with a 44-42 record, 9.5 games back of the first place Red Sox. The Rays and A’s hold down the two wild card spots, with the Jays 4 games back of the second spot, with the Mariners, Yankees and Cleveland ahead of them. The stretch drive will be entertaining at least, and potentially epic at best.
While the Jays 44-42 record is underwhelming, there is every reason to believe they can go on a run and make things very interesting and extremely entertaining over the second half of the season. With a run differential of plus 70 the Jays have the best mark among the teams chasing the wild card leaders and are 45 runs better than the second wild card team. In fact their run differential is three runs better than the AL East leading Red Sox. While run differential is not the end all be all statistic, it does point to the fact that the Jays’ record could be better than it currently is.
The Jays have an elite offence led by MVP candidate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Supporting Vlad are three other all stars in second baseman Marcus Semien, shortstop Bo Bichette and right fielder Teoscar Hernandez. In addition to this group is a recently healthy perennial MVP candidate centre fielder George Springer.
After a somewhat underwhelming start to the season the Blue Jays starting pitching has stabilized and can be considered a marginal strength. Hyun Jin Ryu, and Robbie Ray form a formidable 1-2 punch. Alek Manoah and Ross Stripling are a capable 3-4 starters and Steven Matz is a good number 5… as far as fifth starters go.
Areas of concern include the bullpen (more on this understatement later), defence in left field and third base as well as offence from the catching position and left field / DH. The good news is that these areas should either realize significant improvement from within during the second half, or can be addressed via trade.
Due to a combination of injuries and under performance the Jays bullpen has been a real problem over the last two months. In fact, when you consider the state of the Jays bullpen and the number of late leads that have been given up over the last two months, a significant improvement in this area could lead to a massive increase in winning percentage over the second half of the season.
The good news is that the Jays front office have already started to address the bullpen deficiencies with the addition of Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards. Additional upgrades via trade are likely, and can have immediate and significant impact in the win / loss column. Furthermore, the eventual return of Ryan Borucki (soon) and Julian Merryweather (somewhat less soon) will further improve this area of concern.
The solution to the lack of offence from the catching position will come from within the organization. Danny Jansen will be better in the second half than the first – it is almost impossible not to be. More importantly, the Jays will realize that Alejandro Kirk is the catcher of the immediate future and he will get the majority of the time behind the plate, significantly improving the offence from this position.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has been the primary left fielder and both his offence and defence have been underwhelming so far. The good news is that Gurriel Jr.’s OPS has been increasing every month this year and he should finish the season closer to his career OPS of .800 than his current season OPS of .705. Alternatively, the Jays may decide that they cannot wait for Lourdes to reach his potential and may look for an immediate improvement from outside the organization.
Regarding the rotation, the Jays will at a minimum trade for a depth starter which will either be used to piggy back with Matz or move Matz to the bullpen entirely. There is an outside chance that the front office parts with significant prospect capital to acquire a controllable mid rotation veteran which will significantly improve both the rotation and bullpen as Matz (or Manoah to limit his work load) could be moved to the pen.
The final option to improve the Jays roster is to promote a prospect or two from the farm. Maybe, just maybe, when Simeon Woods Richardson returns from the Olympics he reports directly to the major league squad to provide an immediate injection of quality starting pitching for the playoff run.
Any way you look at it, the Jays are poised to improve in the second half of the season. Whether by acquiring immediate help for the bullpen via trade, help for the offence from within via Kirk and Gurriel or a blockbuster to improve the rotation or left field / DH (can you say Nelson Cruz?) – the Jays have the personnel and resources to make a drive for the playoffs during the second half of the season. Given the quality of the teams in the AL East not named the Orioles, the race to the playoffs for the Blue Jays will be hugely entertaining over the coming months.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Jason C MacDonald has been a Blue Jays fan since the late 1980’s. His lifelong passion for Baseball and the Blue Jays has recently led him to start writing at JFtC. When not working at his day job or driving his two teenage sons to their sporting events Jason is usually reading, listening, watching or now writing about baseball.