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The Blue Jays Build Up Some Scar Tissue

Toronto, the team nobody wanted to face in the playoffs, came up one game short of making the field. The club's young, dangerous core won't forget what it feels like.

The best rivalry in the sport (Red Sox vs. Yankees) with everything on the line. A 50% chance of a division series involving the second-best rivalry (Giants vs. Dodgers). An ascendant club battling a team of villains (White Sox vs. Astros). This is going to be a marvelous postseason. It’s a shame the Blue Jays won’t be there.

When Boston and New York both won on Sunday, Toronto became the best team to miss the playoffs in two decades. The Blue Jays scored 183 more runs than they allowed this season, fifth best in the majors, and they won 91 games. But they finished in fourth place in the American League East, eight games back of the Rays and one game out of the second wild-card spot. (The 2002 Red Sox were the last team to do something similar.) Toronto came just about as close as a team can come—if either the Yankees, who won by one run on Sunday, or the Red Sox, who won by two, had lost, the Blue Jays would be playing a Game 163 on Monday to determine who would make the wild-card game.

Winter in Toronto will be cold. Lefthanded ace Robbie Ray will be a free agent this offseason, as will slugging second baseman Marcus Semien, the best signing of last offseason. But before you look ahead to its draft position (No. 23), spare a thought for what a spectacular summer this team had.

Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Marcus Semien (10) is greeted by first baseman Vladimir Guererro Jr. (27) after hitting a solo home run against Baltimore Orioles in the fifth inning at Rogers Centre.

Marcus Semien and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. provided the pop for a lineup that hammered the most home runs in the majors.

The Blue Jays opened the season at their spring-training home of TD Ballpark, an 8,500-seat field next door to an elementary school and across the street from the Dunedin (Fla.) Public Library. They moved in June to Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y., usually the home of the Triple A Bisons, and played another 23 games there. Finally, on July 30, they played their first game at the Rogers Centre since September 2019.

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Amid the chaos, 22-year-old first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit 48 home runs to pace the majors, and fell 10 RBI and eight points of batting average short of the Triple Crown. In a season in which Shohei Ohtani had not broken baseball—so any season in history before this one—Guerrero would be guaranteed the AL MVP award. Shortstop Bo Bichette, at 23, was worth 5.9 WAR. Centerfielder George Springer missed a third of the season but had an .873 OPS, proving that he can hit even when his Astros teammates don’t tell him what is coming. The team led baseball in home runs and finished a point back of Houston in batting average. Ray led the AL in games started (32), ERA (2.84), innings pitched (193⅓), strikeouts (248) and WHIP (1.045). Their players generated the most WAR in the American League (52.3).

And they kept the race close, going 22–9 in September and October. Toronto was dangerous enough that the Yankees, given the choice of whom to face in the event of a tiebreaker to determine the wild-card teams, elected to go to Fenway and play the Red Sox. And the Jays were fun, debuting one of the more ridiculous sartorial decisions of any team in recent memory: the Home Run Jacket, a navy blazer adorned with the names of all the countries from which the players hail. Any time a Blue Jay hit a dinger, a teammate was waiting outside the dugout to slip the coat on his shoulders.

So why didn’t they make the playoffs? In a word: bullpen. The team lost righties Kirby Yates (Tommy John) and David Phelps (lat surgery) in Dunedin, and GM Ross Atkins was never able to compensate. Righty Rafael Dolis pitched well enough to close, then poorly enough to be demoted to Triple A. Righty Julian Merryweather looked promising but missed most of the season with an oblique injury. Righty Tyler Chatwood wasn’t the answer, either. Nor was righty Trent Thornton. Righty Joakim Soria and lefty Brad Hand, acquired late in the season, could not right the ship. The unit finished with a 4.08 ERA, worse than that of any of the playoff teams.

So we’ve seen the last of these Blue Jays this year. But they won’t forget this season, Guerrero said on Sunday. They will remember what it felt like to soar high and what it felt like to fall short. They will also remember that they were the team no one wanted to face this month. The rest of the league got a reprieve this year. Don’t expect it to continue.

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