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Steve Phillips

TSN Baseball Insider

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The Toronto Blue Jays needed some help to extend their season on Sunday but didn’t get it.

They took care of business by bludgeoning the lowly Baltimore Orioles 12-4 but needed either the Washington Nationals to beat the Boston Red Sox or the Tampa Bay Rays to beat the New York Yankees.

The Red Sox rallied from a 5-1 deficit to win 7-5, led by a ninth-inning two-run homer by third baseman Rafael Devers. The Yankees had a ninth-inning walk-off win over the Tampa Bay Rays when Aaron Judge hit a grounder off the glove of Rays pitcher Andrew Kittredge to score Tyler Wade from third base for the only run of the game.

It was a bitter end to a tremendous season. I’ve been in this spot before, waiting to see if we would play in game 163. My Mets team had to play the extra game in 1999 against the Cincinnati Reds. We had to watch and wait until the Reds game was over to know whether we would qualify. We felt the joy of extending our season, but the wait was excruciating. 

The Jays had to have had so much hope as they were pounding the baseball against the Orioles on Sunday, scoring 12 runs in the first five innings. They saw that the Yankees and Rays were scoreless, and the Red Sox were trailing most of the game. They just knew they were going to play at least one more game. But the rug got pulled out from under them. Before they knew it, it was over. 

The Jays are the best fourth-place team I have ever seen. They weren’t good enough to get in the playoffs but might have been good enough to win it all. 

The American League playoff participants had to have sighed in relief to see that the Jays were eliminated because they would have been a tough matchup. The Jays’ offence was crushing the ball down the stretch, the defence was playing well and their pitching  was dealing.

In the long run, there are positives about the finish to the season. Many World Series champions reflect upon previous seasons where they came up short and the motivation they garnered from failure. The 2021 season can be that for this Jays team. Certainly, the team gained invaluable experience over the last month of the season.

Plus, the Jays players and the fans fell in love with each other. The young studs finally got to play again in front of the home fans in Toronto and it was electric. Can you imagine what the atmosphere will be like when there are no limitations on attendance? 

The playoffs are going to be tough to watch with the Yankees playing at Fenway Park on Tuesday against the Red Sox. Two AL East teams fighting to earn the right to play another AL East team, the Tampa Bay Rays. This is like watching your three brothers battle it out. Painful for sure, but no doubt motivating.

The Jays’ front office will do their own deep-dive evaluation of where they came up short this year. There is no one answer for where they could have won an extra game or two. The offence, pitching and defence all struggled at points during the season, but that is baseball.

Remember, no other team had to deal with living out of their suitcases like the Jays. They started the season in Dunedin, then moved to Buffalo, and finally back home to Toronto. That made them a road team for a significant portion of the season.

Injuries were an issue, but they were for every team. At one point they had eight relievers on the injured list, which led to some late-inning losses. The bullpen is the one area where they just didn’t have enough depth to overcome the injury bug and where they could use some additional depth and experience.

An important off-season ahead

This will be a huge off-season for the Jays. They can only hope to hit the jackpot like they did last year.

George Springer, Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien certainly showed why they were worthy investments. The Jays have Springer for five more years, but Ray and Semien are free agents. Ideally, the Jays would love to have them both back. There may be a path to do it, but ownership is going to have to put forth some big money.

If the Jays can only afford one of them they should undoubtedly sign Semien. He is a perfect fit on this roster. He hits for average, power and takes his walks too. He’s a good baserunner and Gold Glove defender. Plus, he is a leader and solid citizen.

If they can’t afford Ray, they should look for the next pitcher they can fix. Pitching coach Pete Walker does an excellent job getting his guys to make the necessary adjustments. Ray, a top contender to win the Cy Young, will likely turn his one-year $8 million deal into a five-year $120 million contract in free agency.

The Jays may also look for a third baseman who profiles more conventionally offensively. I like Santiago Espinal and Cavan Biggio but would prefer them as utilitymen who get plenty of playing time. They could also be trade chips to fortify the pitching staff. Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager will be a free agent and his left-handed bat would help balance the lineup.

I would like to see the Jays add a veteran reliever or two to help nurture some of the young arms and stabilize the bullpen. Jordan Romano is a capable closer, but I would like another pitcher with saves on his resume as protection. Relievers like Mark Melancon, Kendall Graveman and Ian Kennedy are all available as free agents. 

It’s going to be an interesting and exciting off-season for the Jays. The potential is certainly there for 2022 to be their year. 

Playoff Predictions

AL Wild Card:  New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox

Winner: Yankees

 

AL Division Series

New York Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays

Winner: Rays

 

Chicago White Sox vs. Houston Astros

Winner: Astros

 

AL Championship Series

Houston Astros vs. Tampa Bay Rays

Winner: Astros

 

NL Wild Card: St Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Winner: Dodgers

 

NL Division Series

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Francisco Giants

Winner: Dodgers

 

Atlanta Braves vs. Milwaukee Brewers

Winner: Brewers

 

NL Championship Series

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Milwaukee Brewers

Winner: Dodgers

 

World Series

Houston Astros vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Winner: Astros