TORONTO – There are similarities, if not direct parallels, between the current Toronto Blue Jays and the pre-trade-deadline version of the 2015 squad that offer a bit of perspective at this tenuous moment.
• Back then, Josh Donaldson was in the midst of an MVP-calibre season (he ultimately won), the way Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is right now.
• Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion were enjoying monster seasons of their own in supportive roles, similar to Marcus Semien and Bo Bichette today.
• A leaky bullpen, with the occasional bout of Circus-Music defence, continually ate away at that team’s offensive foundation, much in the way this team’s recent relief woes have frittered away a troubling number of wins.
• And both clubs were sitting on a huge cache of prospects.
Now, there are some notable differences, mostly favouring the 2021 club, including that the current group will eventually add George Springer to the outfield and has more help coming on the injured list. But as you’re processing the frustration from Friday night’s implosion, even after Saturday’s 7-2 rebound against the Boston Red Sox, it’s worth considering the big picture before demanding that GM Ross Atkins do something rash like panic and make a dumb trade.
Remember that in 2015, when Donaldson made his famous, “This isn’t the try league, this is the get-it-done league, eventually they’re going to find people who are going to get it done,” comment, it was May 16. Former GM Alex Anthopoulos didn’t pull off his remarkable trade deadline upgrades for another two-plus months, not for a lack of trying, but because deals weren’t available to him until then. They were eight games out of first place at 50-51 on July 28, the day they acquired Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins, and as their flaws were patched up, they closed the season out at 43-18.
That’s not to suggest that the same thing will happen this summer, but more to suggest that this team could similarly take off with the right retrofits.
These Blue Jays are 7½ games back of the Tampa Bay Rays, 5½ back of wild-card leading Boston and neck and neck with the New York Yankees, so if they don’t patch things up, the division can really separate from them. But if you return Springer, Julian Merryweather and Ryan Borucki to this team, and then add a couple relievers, you’ve got a real threat to claim a wild card, at least.
The Blue Jays can, and should, do more than that for a deserving roster, too.
Until then, the offence has to do the heavy lifting, the way it did again Saturday in support of a strong Steven Matz, who allowed one run in 5.2 innings of work. Guerrero hit a two-run homer in the first, Cavan Biggio and Bichette sandwiched solo shots around a two-run drive from Semien in the fifth, and Reese McGuire added a solo shot in the ninth.
It was their game from start to finish.
“Last night was a tough loss, definitely a game that we believe that we should have definitely won and a bounce-back win like today is huge, especially in this division where it's very competitive,” said Biggio, who also had a single and double.
“All great teams do it and it's something that you have to learn to do," he added later. “This team is pretty special and it's got the capability to do so. It's not dwelling on games like last night and finishing games like today. The last couple of innings were similar to last night and we ended up just shutting the door and learning from it.”
And manager Charlie Montoyo, being unfairly lambasted for deploying the arms available to him, will have to endure the painful process of coaching relievers through their struggles and identifying who gets to keep their job when reinforcements, either from the IL or external adds, arrive.
“It's different guys getting chances. That's how it works, you know?” he explained before the game. “Or the same guys as normal, give them the chance again because they've got good arms. They can make an adjustment and do better. Just because somebody does bad, you're not going to put them to the side. Give them a chance again. That's how you get better.”
Tyler Chatwood and Carl Edwards Jr. got that chance Friday and, well, not so good. Opportunity fell to Anthony Castro and Rafael Dolis on Saturday and it turned out better, while Jordan Romano was available after forearm tightness shut him down the night before.
Castro stranded two inherited runners from Matz to end the sixth while Dolis allowed a run in the eighth but got some help when Semien’s leaping grab on a Christian Vazquez liner led to an unlikely double play. Romano had a three-up, three-down ninth, shaking off a 106.7-m.p.h. comebacker that ricocheted off his glove and off his delicates to throw out Bobby Dalbec.
Castro, in particular, was pivotal in a rally-quenching role that had belonged to Chatwood, but is currently vacant. When the Blue Jays sent Matz out for the sixth, the right-hander was set up as the guy to come into “high leverage,” said Montoyo.
"You know how it goes here in Boston – all of a sudden something happens, a five-run lead disappears like that,” he added. “So we knew Castro was the one for high leverage and he did an outstanding job.”
To help the process along the Blue Jays could also get creative with some young arms the way they did in 2015, when Aaron Sanchez returned from an injury and immediately became a game-changing weapon in the bullpen. Nate Pearson and Thomas Hatch could offer a similar boost this year, but Montoyo said the Blue Jays aren’t considering that “right now.”
“They're still getting stretched out to be starters,” he said. “As of right now that's the plan.”
Circumstances may eventually change that, but the Blue Jays have both talent, currency and runway. Most importantly, their players continue to demonstrate an impressive resiliency amid trying circumstances, getting back up the next day no matter how badly they get hoofed in the gut the previous night.
“Even though we have a good young bunch of guys on this team, we also have some veteran guys, those guys have been around and done it and they help out in that regard, guys like Semien and others,” said Matz. “It's a good team, you feel like you're always in the fight when you have a lineup like that, it can put up five runs in an inning at the drop of a hat. That gives us pitchers confidence, as well, to just keep staying in the fight.”
The 2015 Blue Jays did that until a few pivotal adds leveraged their talent into an American League East title. Atkins and crew have six weeks to fill the cracks in the foundation and give the 2021 team the chance to find out just how good it can be.