As of Thursday afternoon, it’s official: the Toronto Blue Jays will be playing post-season baseball once again.
While the team can feel confident they’ll be competing for the World Series, the matter of who they’ll play is far from settled. With the wild-card field bunched up, they could see the Tampa Bay Rays, Seattle Mariners, or Cleveland Guardians in a three-game series.
Each of those clubs presents its own challenges, and they all have a few players particularly well-equipped to thrive against Toronto for one reason or another.
When Toronto’s opponent is locked there’ll be time to dissect the matchup in detail, but it doesn’t hurt to get a quick head start on scouting potential Blue Jays killers.
Here are a position player and pitcher on each potential wild-card opponent that could give the Blue Jays fits:
Mariners — Eugenio Suarez
As a rule of thumb, it’s wise to fear a hitter with a 49 home run season on his resume, but Suarez looks especially dangerous based on his recent production.
His season-long numbers are excellent, but he’s produced at a truly elite level over the last two months. Since the beginning of August, the 31-year-old has slashed .257/.365/.618 with a 180 wRC+ — fourth-best among qualifying hitters in that time span.
Suarez’s success is also supported by a spike in flyball rate unlike anything he’s produced since his 2018 breakout.
With his power, that level of consistency in putting the ball in the air is a recipe for huge numbers.
If the Blue Jays were to host the Mariners, Suarez’s thump would be likely to come into play as Rogers Centre is the sixth-best ballpark for right-handed hitters to clear the wall according to Statcast.
Guardians — Josh Naylor
Because the Blue Jays don’t have a left-handed starter — and Tim Mayza is their only bullpen southpaw — left-handed power bats could cause them difficulty in the playoffs.
Naylor can be easily countered with lefties as he hits .181/.287/.248 against them. When he gets a righty, which he usually would against Toronto, he’s tough to stop with a slash line of .277/.328/.508.
The Mississauga, Ont., native has also been effective against the Blue Jays starters in limited action. Naylor has faced the quartet of Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, Ross Stripling and José Berríos 21 times and has recorded 12 hits.
His left-handed power is also even more imposing in Cleveland considering Statcast ranks Progressive Field as the sixth-best ballpark for left-handed hitters overall, and the seventh-best venue to hit home runs.
Rays — Jose Siri
It might seem silly for a guy with a 78 wRC+ to strike fear into the Blue Jays, but Siri is so electric in the other facets of the game that he should.
Even in a three-game series, Siri seems like a safe bet to make a spectacular play or two — like this running grab on a 105.4 m.p.h. Bo Bichette line drive:
Siri is a difference-maker in the field who has a good chance of erasing an extra-base hit at any time.
He’s also an exceptionally efficient base stealer who’s 14-for-16 on the season with 181 minor-league swipes on his resume.
That’s a concern for the Blue Jays. Although they’ve controlled the running game at a roughly average rate over the course of the season, some of their top pitchers are vulnerable to it.
Kevin Gausman, for instance, has allowed 18 of 22 base stealers to succeed. Only Sandy Alcantara has allowed more steals, and he’s pitched 49 more innings. Base stealers are also 10-for-11 against the Blue Jays’ high-leverage duo of Jordan Romano and Yimi Garcia, making Siri a late-game threat — if he can get on base.
That could be a tall task at times but like Naylor, the centre fielder should benefit from a heavy diet of right-handed pitching. He’s much more effective against righties (93 wRC+) than he is against southpaws (35 wRC+).
Mariners — Andrés Muñoz
While Muñoz is far from a household name, he’s been one of the scariest relievers in baseball of late.
Since the beginning of August, the right-hander has appeared in 21 games. He’s kept opponents off the board in 20 of them, striking out 40.7 per cent of the hitters he’s faced along the way.
It isn’t just Muñoz’s recent form that’s intimidating, it’s the quality of his stuff — or, more specifically, his velocity. The right-hander’s velo (100.2 m.p.h.) is the second-highest in the majors, and the Blue Jays have had a hard time with top-of-the-line velocity.
Over the past two seasons, Blue Jays hitters have hit .195 on pitches 100 m.p.h. or more without producing a single extra-base hit. While triple-digit fastballs are rare, they are becoming more common and Toronto has yet to prove they can hit them.
Seattle is equipped with a stable of quality starters, but the Blue Jays have had some level of success against each of them. The same can’t be said with their battles with the Mariners’ underrated setup man.
Blue Jays hitters are 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts. That’s a small sample, but if Toronto plays Seattle the team’s batters could see a lot of Muñoz with results like this:
Guardians — Emmanuel Clase
We flagged Clase as a possible matchup issue for the Blue Jays prior to the season, and based on the campaign he’s put together it’s impossible not to recognize him again.
Simply put, Clase is death to right-handed hitters. Of the 408 pitchers who have faced at least 100 righties this season, the Guardians closer has allowed the second-lowest wOBA (.183) with a single home run against.
Unsurprisingly, Clase has been successful against Toronto this season, pitching four scoreless innings without conceding a base runner. Current Blue Jays are cumulatively 3-for-27 against him all time.
Like Muñoz, Clase also touches triple digits with some regularity. He’d also benefit from playing in his home park if he came up against the Blue Jays — and he has a 0.53 ERA at Progressive Field, holding hitters to .104/.127/.130 line.
That could be small-sample-size noise, but the Blue Jays would rather not put that theory to the test.
Rays — Jeffrey Springs
The Blue Jays have seen plenty of Springs lately, and they’ve rarely gotten the better of those confrontations.
Springs has faced current Toronto hitters 93 times in his career, and they’ve hit just .216 and slugged just .330 against him.
It might seem odd for a southpaw to consistently get the better of such a righty-heavy lineup, but the southpaw has been far more successful versus righties in his career. Springs has allowed right-handed hitters to produce a .689 OPS — well below the .829 mark lefties have managed.
That’s primarily due to his changeup, which has generated the eighth-best run value of any change this season. It’s a pitch he can have immense success against the Blue Jays with considering much of the team’s core — with the notable exception of Bo Bichette — has struggled against southpaw changeups this season:
AVG vs. LHP changeups
SLG vs. LHP changeups
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Springs has succeeded against the Blue Jays by feeding them a heavy diet of changeups before, and there’s no reason to believe he couldn’t do it again.