How far off were the Blue Jays from the World Series? By my count, about nine wins.
Beyond that, the difference between this year's MLB finalists and the Jays may not be as stark as it seems. Luck, timing, and matchups certainly factor into a World Series run, but the 2022 Phillies and Astros prove the reality of what it takes to win a pennant. It's worth comparing Toronto to these two World Series teams to find out where the Jays need to improve this offseason:
By runs scored, OPS, and plenty of other stats, the Jays had a better collective offense this year than either of the remaining MLB finalists. The Jays ranked fourth in runs scored, the Phillies seventh, and the Astros eighth.
One difference between the Jays and these finalists' lineups, though, is diversity. While each of Toronto's top batters is unique, there are still many commonalities—mostly right-handed, high-power bats with good contact skills. The Astros, in particular, feature a variety in approach—from Jose Altuve’s elite contact, to Yordan Alvarez's massive power, and Yuli Gurriel's contact skills. Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins has discussed the value of that versatility before, and potential for the Blue Jays to address it going forward.
"I do think there is something to having similar types of hitters and game planning for them that we need to dig deeper into and how we can account for that and offset that," Atkins said.
But, broadly, it seems the Jays certainly have the offense to compete with any other World Series contender.
The Astros are in their own stratosphere when it comes to starting pitching. Astros starters posted a .5 lower rotation ERA than any other American League squad this season, with the AL's best ERA, WHIP, and most strikeouts. They also possess unmatched depth, with José Urquidy and Luis Garcia—mainstay starters on any other team—moving to the bullpen for the playoffs.
The Phillies' pitching rotation, on the other hand, is built strikingly similar to the 2022 Blue Jays'. The Phils have Zach Wheeler and Aaron Nola up top, mirroring Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman, and Ranger Suarez providing fewer innings but solid numbers from the third spot, à la Ross Stripling.
What the Phillies are getting right now that Toronto did not is reliability from the depth rotation spots. Toronto and Philadelphia's next starters in the regular season, José Berríos and Kyle Gibson, posted similar numbers with ERAs over five. But in the postseason, the Phillies had the rotation depth to turn away from Gibson and give starts to Noah Syndergaard and Bailey Falter.
A course correction from Berríos in 2023 would help pull Toronto's rotation in line with these title contenders. But with Stripling heading to free agency, there's at least one spot for a significant winter acquisition.
Once again, the Astros' pitching almost needs to be set to the side. Nobody's bullpen was as good as Houston's this year.
But, just like the starting staff, the Jays' relief core isn't too far off from the Phillies. The NL champs have gotten a step up in relief in the playoffs, though. In 42.1 innings from the 'pen this October, Philly relievers have a 3.19 ERA, 11.27 K.9, and 2.76 BB/9. Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado have carried strong regular seasons into the playoffs and provided the Phillies elite strikeout weapons in front of David Robertson.
If we're looking for what separates these two teams' bullpens from the Jays, it's not oversimplifying things to point to the high-whiff pitchers like Dominguez and Alvarado and Houston's Ryan Pressly and Héctor Neris. In terms of run prevention during the season, the Blue Jays' relief core was better than Philly's. But when the calendar turns to October, the outs get harder to get, and the runs get harder to prevent, it's those high-whiff arms that the Phillies and Astros have turned to.
For the Jays, that's a "problem" they don't necessarily have to address this winter. Toronto can return almost its entire relief core in 2023. But next deadline, if there's a high-whiff stopper floating on the trade market, this year's World Series finalists show he may be worth trading for.
"We're aware that we need to be one of the best bullpens to be there at the end of the year," Atkins said at his season-ending press conference.