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Jays see ‘unfinished business’ after last year’s playoff heartbreak

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Blue Jays 
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — They’ve sat with it for almost a full calendar year now.

The disappointment, the frustration, and the anger.

Losing a series they expected to win in dramatic fashion last October to the Seattle Mariners in front of a stunned home crowd has been on the mind of those in the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse who went through it.

They knew the only way to truly get past those memories and emotions would be to get back to the exact same point again and, this time, find a way to succeed.

Through all sorts of ups and downs this season, they’ve now done that, clinching a wild-card spot for the second straight year late Saturday night, with that same M’s club falling short and being eliminated.

“You feel like there’s a little bit of unfinished business,” a champagne-soaked John Schneider said quietly in the corner of the clubhouse Sunday evening.

“It fuelled me a lot. Me, I know that for sure. These guys, too. Having the year end last year the way it did sucked and it sucked for a long time. Bo Bichette said it best in spring training: You have to learn how to lose together before you can win together. So hopefully we’re at that point. This is a really, really unique group of guys.”

Kevin Gausman feels the same way.

“Losing two games and going home sucked,” Gausman said. “We all kind of came into spring training with a bad taste in our mouths.”

On Sunday, the Jays did what baseball teams do at the end of a long, gruelling grind when they move on — they celebrated with champagne, a sprinkling of tequila shots and a cigar or two inside the clubhouse in order to make things official.

They also found out what city their Sunday night charter was heading for Monday’s postseason workout day.

Unlike last year’s home scenario as the top wild-card seed, this year’s scene will be set in Minneapolis against the 87-75 Twins.

After sawing off the season series with three wins apiece, the Jays go in as the lower seed but with more wins at 89-73.

Quietly, the Twins come in as one of the better teams in baseball over the last month, going 18-10 in the final month and scoring runs in bunches as one of the hottest offences around.

With Pablo Lopez and Sonny Gray expected to start Games 1 and 2 — in some order – the starting pitching matchups are intriguing.

Gausman will get the ball in the opener for the Jays, but the Game 2 starter might be a decision between Chris Bassitt, who has struggled on the road this year with a 4.50 ERA compared to a 2.86 mark at home, and Jose Berrios, a pitcher who is very comfortable at Target Field thanks to his eight seasons with the Twins.

After starting Game 2 last year in an 0-1 hole, Gausman will get to set the tone and help control his team’s fate.

“I feel as confident as ever,” Gausman said. “Listen, talent-wise we stack up with any team in this league top to bottom. Obviously, pitching has been a strength of ours and I think our defence has been a big underlying plus for us that not many people have talked about.

“A lot of guys play their entire careers and never make the postseason. I’ve been lucky enough to make the postseason a couple times, but you start with a clean slate and everybody has the same chance of winning the World Series. Obviously, there’s some teams that have a bye, but once you get in anyone can win.”

He wasn’t a part of last year’s disappointment, but bench coach Don Mattingly believes that experience, as well as this year’s topsy turvy season, can eventually help them.

“That’s the one thing I don’t think you can do is look back,” Mattingly said. "Last year doesn’t have anything to do with this year but guys have been through it. It’s experience.

“Keep grinding, keep believing, keep going. All you’ve gotta do is get in. I think we’re in a good spot. I feel like we’re kind of built for playoff baseball. Our pitching is good, our bullpen is strong, we have a lot of different options. For me, we’re not a high-powered offence, but we’re an offence that puts the ball in play when we need to and have guys that have been around. I think we’re in a good spot.”

Last October, George Springer’s season ended with a cart ride off the field after being injured in a collision with Bo Bichette, a sequence that’s still quite unfathomable in a lot of ways.

He’s confident in the group heading to Minnesota.

“Now that we’re back in, you draw on that experience from last year and you play the game,” the veteran of 65 postseason games said.

“This is a very resilient group, a fun group, and guys who understand what their job is. We’re playing an extremely good team so we’ll see what happens.”