About one third of the way through the MLB season, the Toronto Blue Jays record sits at 30-21. Through 51 games, Toronto’s total numbers suggest the club has been very competitive, which it has, but the win-loss ratio camouflages the complexity of this first stretch.
A lot has happened this season. Here are three things we’ve learned so far about the 2022 Blue Jays.
Replacement core has been great
It’s not fair to crown the Blue Jays "kings of the off-season" just yet, but the front office’s big moves have paid off big time. When Toronto replaced the departing group of Robbie Ray, Steven Matz, and Marcus Semien with Kevin Gausman, Yusei Kikuchi and Matt Chapman, there were shreds of doubt if the incoming trio could live up to expectations. Those doubts have sailed.
It all started with Gausman, who signed a five-year, $110-million deal in free agency. The right-hander has been nothing short of flawless in his first 10 starts with Toronto, authoring a 2.51 ERA, a league-leading 1.57 FIP and a 70:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Chapman, whom Toronto acquired by trade from the Oakland Athletics, hasn’t been fully effective at the plate (.648 OPS in 50 games). But coupled with Gausman, the pair’s clubhouse impact has been immeasurable. During some of Toronto’s tougher losing stretches, that leadership was put to the test, especially after losses.
“Chapman and Gausman will say something like, ‘Hey man, we just gotta keep moving, we just gotta keep fighting. Tomorrow's a new day to pick it up,’” said infielder Santiago Espinal. “Having those little messages, not every day, but like every once in a while, that they do is amazing.”
Kikuchi’s been mostly solid, too — volatile, but nasty when things click. Overall, the 2022 talent injection has worked. And when you gander at the struggles of Ray (4.93 ERA in 11 starts), Matz (6.03 ERA in nine starts) and Semien (.528 OPS in 50 games) elsewhere, the roster moves feel even sweeter.
Improved defence and pitching complement the mighty bats
"Pitching and defence" is a motto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo preaches in almost every meeting with the media. Last season, Toronto executed the pitching part. This season, the Jays are nailing both.
“I know everybody talked about our offence the whole time, but I know in the big leagues you’ve got to pitch and catch it,” Montoyo said. “Because it's not that easy to hit, as you guys can see.”
Montoyo alluded to the Blue Jays’ offensive struggles in the first three weeks of May, where his club scored just 56 runs, 28th in baseball over that period. During that ugly stretch, Toronto still battled for an 8-10 record, in large part because the defence was so reliable.
The Blue Jays’ four outs above average on defence is ninth best in MLB. An already great Chapman, a stellar Espinal and a gradually improving Bo Bichette round out an infield group that has consistently executed the routine plays and even made some great ones.
Now that the offence is finally stickin’ it — Toronto has an .818 OPS since May 21 — the Blue Jays have won eight of their last 10.
Fun factor is key to success
As the Blue Jays slowly tacked on wins to their hot streak, Gausman noticed a change in his teammates’ attitudes.
“Obviously, it's fun when you win,” Gausman said on Tuesday. “So [we’re] having a lot more fun, but we're just playing loose. I think maybe we were getting a little tight early on.”
The fun factor has always been a delightful characteristic of this Toronto team. The young Jays squad still sports a sleek home run jacket when a player goes yard; teammates shower each other in seeds and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has started a tradition of dumping a jug of ice water on the star of each game.
When the Jays are winning, they’re vibing, and usually vice-versa — Guerrero’s putting display and Raimel Tapia’s push-ups at home plate Thursday spoke to that.
Vladdy's working on his short game ⛳️ 🤣 pic.twitter.com/POp6Worxfv
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) June 2, 2022
If you peel back a layer, though, there’s plenty of structure inside the jovial clubhouse. Every winning team has fun, but the way the Blue Jays have supported each other through the good and bad this season is very rare.
“I think if you've asked every single guy in this locker room, it's like you are fully behind the guy next to you; you're rooting for him to succeed,” reliever Trent Thornton said. “And I think that’s what makes this team so special.
“Every guy is truly pulling for each other, and we want to win; we're hungry to win. And I think when you put all those ingredients together, you get a team that is gonna go places. And this team’s got a really special future ahead.”
Opportunities to win a World Series don’t come along often. It’s still early, but with the way they’re cruising right now —and the fun they’re having while doing it — the 2022 Blue Jays have a mighty good chance to contend for a championship.
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