Julia Kreuz tips Bo Bichette to be Toronto's biggest star in October but which other Blue Jays hold the keys to success in the wild-card series and beyond? (edited)
JULIA KREUZ: It's time for October baseball. And the Blue Jays are back at it. It's not going to be an easy road by any means, so here's a look at some potential X factors for the Jays as they try to make it a deep postseason run.
I'll start with my pick for the ultimate postseason star. That, to me, has got to be Bo Bichette. Bichette has absolutely come alive in September. He's been hitting pretty much everything you send his way, piling on the RBIs and homering at a pretty impressive clip for a guy with his type of swing as well. The athleticism is on full display, and he's making the most of it.
Now, the time of year may have something to do with it as Bichette will tell you himself, competition is really what drives him. With so much on the line, this is where Bichette shines. And that is what we have seen in September. There's no reason for that not to continue in October as well. So he thrives on the big stage, and he has worked himself into a pretty unflappable presence at the plate. If Bichette can limit his errors at shortstop, I don't see why he wouldn't emerge as maybe the Blue Jays' biggest playoff star.
OK, but we all sort of expect Bo Bichette to do well in the playoffs. What about a guy that might be sort of an under the radar contributor that could also emerge as an X factor? That person to me may very well be Lourdes Gurriel Jr. If he can be a healthy and recover fully from the hamstring issues, expect Gurriel to be a sneaky contributor in October.
This is a guy that gets on base at a pretty unbelievable clip. He makes great contact, and he doesn't strikeout a whole lot. Yes, his power has been down from other years, but the Blue Jays can find power elsewhere. They have guys like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Matt Chapman, Teoscar, or Springer. They really don't need Gurriel to be a power hitter. And just getting on base at playoff time is huge.
Plus Gurriel can be clutch. Just look at his numbers with the bases loaded, and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about. His average there is 0.364 and OPS over 1,100 in those situations, including a grand slam. This is a guy that is not easily scared in the big moments. He's also more often than not delivered with runners in scoring position, which has sort of been a struggle for the Blue Jays in 2022. Gurriel has also improved on his defense in the outfield, and he's still one of the most electric arms out there. So I would expect him to be a big contributor as the Blue Jays run along in October.
On the other side of the ball, who will emerge as the Blue Jays ace? And I would have to go with Kevin Gausman. Yes, Alek Manoah is poised for a postseason debut for the ages. We are all excited to see how he fares when the lights shine just a little bit brighter. But Kevin Gausman has been there and he has done that. It's not just that the splitter is devastating and you wouldn't want to be a hitter in October with maybe your season on the line facing that type of pitch.
It is also that he has had six postseason outings in the past, and he has shown that veteran presence or that veteran experience is beneficial for a team like the Blue Jays, who have a guy like Manoah who is just starting his postseason history here. Now, of Gausman's six postseason appearances, just one of them was a start. And that was last year when he was with the Giants. He went 5 and 1/3, struck out seven, but he allowed four runs. He did take the loss in that occasion in the NLDS. I'm sure Gausman is ready to get back out there and improve on that postseason ERA.