TORONTO — Three months ago, the Toronto Blue Jays barely had a home.
Now, they have a spot in the postseason.
Call it entertaining.
Call it fortunate.
Call it a good stepping stone.
Call it the start of a Cinderella run.
You can call it whatever you want, and assess it in many different ways.
But in the shortened 60-game sprint with expanded playoffs, the Blue Jays did what they needed to do to become one of eight American League teams to move on, and despite what looks to be an uphill battle against one of the best teams in baseball in the Tampa Bay Rays, there’s both belief internally and lots of daily evidence across baseball that absolutely anything can happen in a three-game series.
Based on how this season has gone for a young and inconsistent ballclub that authored a seemingly endless string of comeback wins, followed by a seemingly endless string of lopsided defeats, in order to clinch their first postseason berth since 2016, expecting the unexpected when the playoffs start next Tuesday is probably the smart bet.
These are the Buffalo Blue Jays, after all, and this is the year 2020.
“Man, I’m just so proud of my club and everything we’ve gone through all year,” manager Charlie Montoyo said amidst the post-game celebrations at Sahlen Field.
“I think the pressure’s off. Honestly. Just go and play and have fun and enjoy it.”
It’s hard to quantify chemistry, but this team has been quarantining together since the month of July began and they believe that’s played a large role in their ability to persevere through adversity.
“I think the biggest thing we’ve had is chemistry,” said Cavan Biggio, a jack-of-all-trades, heart-and-soul player who has been tremendously important to the success of this Blue Jays team on a night in, night out basis. “We’ve been a tight group of guys this whole time. You can make it as bad as it is or as good as you want. Going into our situation, not being able to play in Toronto and coming to Buffalo and playing on the road for the first couple of weeks, we could have easily looked at it as if, ‘Man, our backs are up against the wall, it’s okay if we don’t win this year, it’s kind of a crazy year.’
“The way we took it is we’re here for each of us in that locker-room and I think it’s shown over the longevity of this long year with injuries and guys going down and guys stepping in and picking it right up.”
Things didn’t look good when Ken Giles went down on the opening weekend of the season, and Montoyo shouldered the criticism for leaving his star closer on the mound as he winced in pain.
It really didn’t look good when Bo Bichette was lost to a freak knee injury in the middle of August, and Nate Pearson followed with an elbow injury a few days later.
Instead, the Jays took off, going 11-5 to close out the month of August after the Bichette injury.
An extremely inconsistent month of September has followed, but the Jays had done enough to convince GM Ross Atkins to make a push at the deadline, and while they in no way mortgaged the future for an underdog run, that faith has been proven right in the end.
“We have the pieces and we have the depth, but most importantly I think our chemistry is pretty special,” Biggio reiterated.
“Kind of the cool part about this team is we’re never really out of a game,” he added.
It’s the eighth trip to the postseason in franchise history, and this one is truly unique.
From an ongoing pandemic to a 60-game season to significantly expanded playoffs, this October is much, much different than any other and the Blue Jays have without a doubt been beneficiaries.
But when you look at the big picture, it can’t be ignored that the Jays took a leap from a 95-loss team to one that is now guaranteed to finish with at least a .500 record with three relatively meaningless games to go in the regular season.
The offence has gone from one of the league’s worst to top 10 in baseball, averaging around five runs per game.
They paid Hyun-Jin Ryu $80 million over four years to be an ace and he delivered, posting a 2.69 ERA and the Jays went 9-3 in his 12 starts.
Without him, they aren’t a playoff team.
Talent-wise, Biggio, Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez and now Alejandro Kirk form a lineup core that’s only getting better.
Biggio can see that a mile away.
“I think we’re just scratching the surface on what we’re going to be able to do at this level,” Biggio said. “To see it coming out this early on in our careers, it gives us a little glimpse of what we could end up doing in the future.”
Bichette saw it coming together quicker than many imagined back in February.
Before the pandemic. Before expanded playoffs.
“I expect us to compete,” Bichette said to open spring training. “I expect us to do really well. We have a lot more talent than people realize. I don't think people are taking into account that some of our guys are going to take steps forward and become really impact players.”
The question now is how many more steps forward do they have in them this season?
They’ll start to answer that next week.