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By definition, the teams that reach the World Series are talented groups playing excellent baseball. It’s impressive to see — so impressive in fact that after watching a team like the Rays or Dodgers win game after game for a few weeks, it can be tempting to conclude that their model is the path to success rather than a path to success.
Probably best to guard against that kind of thinking, or you might just find yourself chasing the competition year after year. But that’s not to say we should ignore the best teams in baseball, either.
So having stated our intention not to reach for trends that aren’t really there, let’s turn to this year’s World Series contestants with a simple question in mind: What attributes of the Rays and Dodgers might the Toronto Blue Jays do well to imitate?
• Elite defence: How many times have Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Kevin Kiermaier and Manuel Margot stolen extra-base hits this month? It’s been incredible to watch, and it’s not just the outfielders. Corey Seager and Willy Adames make all the plays at short, while Ji-Man Choi and Joey Wendle have impressed with the glove, too.
Comparatively, the Blue Jays aren’t nearly as strong on defence, even when it comes to making routine plays. Already, GM Ross Atkins has said that’s an area the Blue Jays must improve.
• Offensive depth: You know the saying “You can never have too much pitching?” Watching the Dodgers, I’ve started thinking the same applies to offence. The depth of their position player talent is so great that A.J. Pollock, who tied Betts for the team lead with 16 home runs, didn’t even start Game 1 of the World Series. Bellinger, the reigning NL MVP, hits sixth. It’s incredible, and a reminder for the Blue Jays to keep adding to a lineup that already projects to be above-average.
• Velocity plays: To this point in the World Series, 18 pitchers have pitched. That’s telling in itself — a reminder that you need lots of trusted arms in October. But it’s perhaps more noteworthy that two thirds of those pitchers have thrown a pitch at least 95 m.p.h., and five of the six who haven’t are lefties. Put another way, the only right-handed pitcher to appear in the World Series and fail to hit 95 m.p.h. is Pedro Baez, who topped out at 93.5.
In the past 12 months, the Blue Jays have added considerable velocity, mostly thanks to the development of their prospects. This World Series is a reminder that there’s more work to be done on that front. Granted, velocity alone is only useful if you pair it with strike throwing, another area in which the Blue Jays are hoping to improve. But Charlie Montoyo would surely love his own stable of guys who throw 98.
Identifying those desired attributes is the easy part, of course. Every team in baseball wants velocity, deep benches and a strong defence. But if there’s a lesson here, it’s that the best teams in baseball strengthen their strengths.
Multiple centre fielders? No problem — we’ll put one in right. More than nine good hitters? Well, someone’s getting a night off. Already have four hard-throwing right-handers? How about a fifth and a sixth and a seventh.
By reaching the playoffs, the Blue Jays showed they’re ready to win now, but even as a core emerges, there’s still so much room to improve around the edges. The more of that the front office can do this winter, the better the team's chances of an extended 2021 run will be.