When Cleveland’s Carlos Santana caught a pop-up in foul territory to end the Blue Jays’ hopes in the 2016 American League Championship Series, it was fair to wonder how long it would take playoff baseball to return to Toronto.

The 2016 Jays roster was veteran-heavy with two of the team’s offensive cornerstones – Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion – without a contract for the following season. It felt a bit like a window was closing. And that feeling proved to be right.

The Jays went on to record three consecutive losing seasons and while they did return to the playoffs in 2020, COVID-19 prevented any possibility of those games being in Toronto. So when Santana and the rest of his team jumped around on the Rogers Centre turf to celebrate a trip to the World Series, a long, long wait began for the Jays and their fans.

Six years and a whole pandemic later, that wait is almost over. With the Blue Jays set to embark on their postseason journey beginning Friday afternoon at home against the Seattle Mariners, here is a look back at everything from this season that got them there.

High Expectations

The 2021 season was a bit of a head-scratcher for the Blue Jays.

Their 91 wins were sixth best in team history and came while playing in three different home ballparks. But not only did they ultimately fall short of the playoffs, they finished fourth in the American League East and were unable to retain MVP finalist Marcus Semien and Cy Young winner Robbie Ray that winter as each player left town for sizeable free-agent deals. There was plenty to be happy about what the Blue Jays did last year. And enough to be disappointed about, too.

That made the mission clear for 2022. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. said it himself in spring training.

“Last year was the trailer. What you are going to see this year is the movie,” he said of the team’s expectations.

Having replaced Semien and Ray with free agent starter Kevin Gausman and third baseman Matt Chapman, there was no reason to think this team would be in a worse position to contend than the season before. Odds-makers agreed.


Off-season summary

Notable Loss Method/Destination Notable Addition Method
INF Marcus Semien  Free Agent/Rangers  SP Kevin Gausman Free Agency
SP Robbie Ray  Free Agent/Mariners SP Yusei Kikuchi Free Agency
SP Steven Matz Free Agent/Cardinals 3B Matt Chapman Trade/Athletics
OF Randal Grichuk Trade/Rockies OF Raimel Tapia Trade/Rockies
OF Corey Dickerson Free Agent/Cardinals RP Yimi Garcia Free Agency

Most sportsbooks had the Jays as the favourites to win the American League and they were a consensus second behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in World Series odds. As TSN Baseball Insider Steve Phillips wrote in April, 2022 wasn’t exactly going to be championship or bust, but the belief of playing deep into October was there both inside and outside the organization.


Hot Start

Another reason for optimism surrounding the Jays heading into 2022? Jose Berrios.

Acquired from the Minnesota Twins at last year’s trade deadline, Berrios was both consistent and durable over his six-plus years in the Twin Cities and signed a seven-year, $131 million extension in the off-season to anchor what was supposed to be one of the better pitching staffs in the American League.

As it turned out, Berrios’ first outing on Opening Day would be a tone-setter for the worst season of his career. Facing the Texas Rangers on April 8 at Rogers Centre, the two-time All-Star allowed six of his seven hitters to reach base and was yanked with one out in the first inning.

With the score 7-0 in the fourth, the Jays’ bats everyone had heard so much about went to work, slowly chipping away at the Ranger lead. Down three in the fifth inning, Teoscar Hernandez drove one over the right field wall to tie the game and Toronto kept on rolling all the way to a wild 10-8 comeback win.

“I think there’s not a single player in this clubhouse that is going to forget today, what happened today,” Hernandez said of the win.

The following week, Toronto travelled to the Bronx to take on the Yankees and got a scare in the second inning of a game on April 13 when Guerrero had his hand inadvertently stepped on at first base. Despite blood dripping from his right hand, the 23-year-old elected to remain in the game and minutes later was circling the bases after homering off Gerrit Cole for the second time in three innings. Vladdy added a double off Cole in the fifth inning, which prompted the Yankees’ ace to tip his cap as Guerrero left the batter’s box.

If that wasn’t enough, Guerrero stepped to the plate against Jonathan Loaisiga in the eighth inning and crushed one into the second deck in left field. It was the second three-homer game of his career – the first saw him go deep twice off Max Scherzer a year prior – and the Blue Jays held on to win 6-4.

When asked about the gesture after the game, Cole could still barely believe it.

“Did you see his night? If you had a cap, you’d tip it too,” he said.


As April wore on, the Jays were rolling. They moved to 12-6 after a walk-off win over the Boston Red Sox on April 26 and had won five of their seven one-run games, something they struggled with a year prior.

While the Yankees’ historic start to the season had them well out in front in the division by late May, Toronto was controlling what they could control and reeled off an eight-game win streak from May 24 to June 2. But it was on the day they won their eighth straight that they got some troubling news that would disrupt their starting rotation for the rest of the season.


Signs of trouble

The Hyun Jin Ryu signing felt like an organizational shift for Toronto. After three straight losing seasons, the Jays were ready to take a step forward in the winter of 2019 and inked the South Korean star to a four-year, $80 million deal. At the time, it was the largest amount of money committed to a player in the Mark Shapiro-Ross Atkins era and the third largest in team history.

Ryu was as advertised in 2020 and may have been the team’s most valuable player in helping them return to the playoffs. But he was inconsistent in 2021 and entered this season as one of the pitching staff's bigger question marks.

Ryu’s first two outings were, in a word, concerning, and he went on the injured list with forearm inflammation on April 16. He returned a month later and strung together a few nice outings in a row, except his arm trouble persisted. On June 2, the Jays placed him on the IL again. This diagnosis was a lot more foreboding. In mid-June, Ryu had Tommy John surgery, effectively ruling him out of action until the end of his contract term.


While Kevin Gausman and second-year stud Alek Manoah were an impressive 1-2 punch, Ryu’s absence created a void in Toronto’s rotation, one not easy to cover up the way Berrios’ season had been going.

Through his first 15 starts, Berrios had a 5.86 ERA and allowed four or more earned runs in six of those outings. Rock bottom came on June 26 in Milwaukee when he surrendered eight earned in 2.2 innings as the Jays fell 10-3 for their fourth loss in six games.

“It’s taxing on the bullpen. At the end of the day, it’s all about pitching,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “For us to make a run, we need good pitching and that hasn’t happened the last couple of days."

“It was one of those days,” Berrios said.

However, it was not all doom and gloom. Even after the loss to the Brewers, Toronto was still eight games over .500 and remained in a playoff spot.

Much of that was due to Alejandro Kirk, who was quickly establishing himself as one of the best offensive catchers in all of baseball. The month of June was especially kind to the 23-year-old, who hit .341 with seven home runs, 18 RBI and a 1.086 OPS across 25 games.

Signed as a teenager out of Mexico in 2016 for $30,000, Kirk ran away with the starting catcher spot for the American League in the All-Star Game.

“Very emotional, for me and my entire family. We’re very, very close and we can’t believe it yet,” Kirk said via Mike Wilner of the Toronto Star.

Joining Kirk at Dodger Stadium was Guerrero, Manoah, closer Jordan Romano, infielder Santiago Espinal and outfielder George Springer, who skipped the festivities to rest his ailing elbow that would bother him most of the season.

The first half wasn’t bad for the Jays – 50-43 and in a playoff spot – but it also wasn’t great considering the pre-season outlook. And it cost Charlie Montoyo his job.


Major changes

Having lost five of their previous six, the Jays made their annual trip to Seattle in early July hoping to get a boost from the thousands of fans that make the trip from Western Canada.

They dropped the opener of the four-game set 8-3 and were walked off by Eugenio Suarez on a three-run homer that might still not have landed. After losing the third game 2-1, Toronto led late in the series finale but ended up losing for the ninth time in 10 games after a ball burst through the webbing of Guerrero’s glove at first base and Carlos Santana clobbered his second go-ahead home run in as many days.

“Baseball can be cruel sometimes when things aren’t going right,” Montoyo said.

Indeed it can be. The team fired Montoyo three days later, ending his tenure at a neat and tidy albeit disappointing 236-236 across three and a half seasons.

“I truly wanted this to work with Charlie and wasn’t able to make that happen,” Atkins said. “I’m extremely disappointed in where we are. I think we’re better than how we’ve played.”


In stepped John Schneider on an interim basis. Given that he’d been pretty much everything else within the organization, it made sense. Drafted by the team as a catcher in 2002, Schneider made it as high as triple-A as a player and pivoted to coaching in 2008. He led the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats to an Eastern League title in 2018; a team that featured Guerrero, Bo Bichette and Romano, among others.

Call it a change in leadership, a team with talent starting to play up to its potential, or a more favourable schedule – or a combination of all three – the Jays reeled off wins in eight of their first nine games under Schneider. In their first game back from the All-Star Break, Toronto set a franchise record for runs scored in a single game on their way to a 28-5 rout of the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

“That was awesome,” Schneider said after the game.


With the team playing better and the trade deadline approaching, many wondered how big of a swing the Blue Jays would take. Help in the starting rotation, bullpen and a left-handed bat were all on the shopping list. And there was no shortage of talent out there on the trade market.

Except the Jays… punted? Okay, that’s maybe a bit strong, but Zach Pop, Anthony Bass, Mitch White and Whit Merrifield weren’t exactly Juan Soto, Noah Syndergaard or Luis Castillo, who instead went to the chasing Mariners.

“We’re confident,” Schneider said after the deadline dust settled. “We like the team we have and we just made it a little bit better. It’s good to know what we have and kind of just roll from here.”


Late-season push

As August began, the Jays occupied the top wild-card spot with a two-and-a-half-game lead over the Mariners and a three-game cushion over the Tampa Bay Rays. But a mark of 13-14 that month pushed Toronto back down to the third spot and they started September just two games clear of the surprising Baltimore Orioles for the final postseason spot.

If there was ever a time to step up, this was it. Enter Bo Bichette.

From the start of the season until the end of August, Bichette had performed well under expectations. While his 17 homers and 66 RBI were only a minor drop-off from his pace the previous two seasons, Bichette’s .260/.305/.420 slash line left lots of room for improvement.

The 24-year-old began the month with a clutch late-game home run in Pittsburgh and then caught fire. In a five-game stretch from Sept. 2 to Sept. 6, Bichette totalled 16 hits, 14 RBI and five home runs, including a three-homer performance against the O’s in the second game of a crucial doubleheader. Toronto won four of those five games and Bichette kept hitting throughout the month, finishing September with seven homers, 27 driven in and a 1.134 OPS in 28 games.


Bichette was great. However, nobody was more essential to the Jays’ postseason push than Manoah.

Already enjoying a superb sophomore season, Manoah was there repeatedly when the team needed him the most, delivering gem after gem in the month of September. Coming off a loss with the opportunity to win the series and separate themselves from the Orioles by five games in the loss column, Manoah was there (8.0 IP, 1 ER). A week later against Tampa while battling a stomach bug – one bad enough that forced him to miss his scheduled start in game one of a doubleheader – Manoah was there (6.2 IP, 2 ER). On Sept. 24 after Toronto dropped their first two of a four-game set to the Rays, as aces often are when a team needs a win, Manoah was there (7.0 IP, 0 ER).

After that win, perhaps Toronto’s biggest of the season, Manoah said he enjoys when the lights are at their brightest.

“Love it, man… We’ve got a great team. Being able to come to battle with these guys, it’s what I dreamed of my whole life right here. Being on that mound, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

And who would argue? In six September starts, Manoah went 4-0 and yielded just four earned runs in 41.0 innings. All in all, he finished his sophomore campaign at 16-7 with a 2.24 ERA, turning in one of the best Blue Jays pitching seasons in recent memory.


The Jays officially clinched a postseason berth with an Orioles loss to the Red Sox on Sept. 29. On Monday, Toronto locked up home field after winning their fourth in a row while the Mariners lost to the Detroit Tigers, ensuring playoff baseball would return north of the border for the first time since 2016. Coming to town on Friday for the three-game first-round series will be the Mariners, who are 5-2 against Toronto this year.

“Unbelievable effort all season long,” Schneider said as the team celebrated clinching a postseason berth last week. “You guys have been f***ing incredible, and enjoy the s**t out of this.”

While the season’s overall level of success will ultimately be determined in the playoffs, it’s clear the team is proud of what they accomplished over the 162-game grind.

“It shows you that all the hard work, all the extra attention to the small things, it works,” Springer said last week. “Obviously there’s still a job to be done, but that’s something to hold our heads up high and say we accomplished our goal, which was to make the postseason.”