The Toronto Blue Jays haven’t had a bad season in 2021: they are 66-59, a good record in a very tough division (some would say the hardest in the league).
Yet, they don’t have too much to show for their efforts, as they are currently fourth in the American League East standings.
Toronto is a full 12 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the division lead, a difference that seems insurmountable at this point, with a little over a month to play.
The Blue Jays are still very much alive in their quest for a playoff spot, however, they are 4.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot, held by the Boston Red Sox.
The problem for them is that, besides the Red Sox, they have other two teams above them fighting for that last Wild Card berth: the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners.
You could make a case that the Blue Jays are comparable to both, or even better.
They Are Good, But Not Good Enough
However, even though they have fourth-best run differential in the AL at +116 (even better than the Red Sox and New York Yankees), they seem a year away from truly contending for a spot in the playoffs.
That is, by no means, a knock on the Blue Jays, a talented team with a diligent front office who moved to improve the roster at the deadline with starter Jose Berrios and relievers Brad Hand and Joakim Soria.
However, as good as they have been, they still look like the fourth-best team in the AL East at times.
The Blue Jays have an incredibly good foundation to really fight for the playoffs in 2022.
This year, they may make it into October, but their chances aren’t looking particularly good because they are running out of time and still need to surpass three teams in the standings, at least.
In 2022, they will still have Vladimir Guerrero Jr., George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Randal Grichuk, Bo Bichette, Berrios, Hyun Jin Ryu, Jordan Romano, a healthy Julian Merryweather, and other key performers.
Second baseman Marcus Semien, one of the very best players at his position and an All-Star in 2021, will be a free agent but Toronto seems to be in pole position to retain his services.
The Offseason Will Be Crucial
The key for the Blue Jays to contend in 2022 will be the development of their young players, especially their pitchers.
Rookie Alek Manoah has been brilliant in his 2021 cameo, with a 3.18 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 68 frames, and it’s scary to think how a full season from him could positively impact the Blue Jays’ staff.
The other highly promising arm, Nate Pearson, has been plagued by injuries in 2021, but remains a big part of Toronto’s future.
Nate Pearson made a 2nd rehab appearance at AAA yesterday, retiring all 3 batters he faced in the 6th inning. 8 pitches, 6 strikes, 1 K
Seemingly a step in the right direction. Would expect there are more rehab outings to come before he's activated for #BlueJays
— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) August 20, 2021
If Manoah keeps succeeding, and there is no reason to think he can’t, and Pearson is healthy, this team could fight for the division provided they can re-sign at least one between Semien and ace Robbie Ray.
If they can secure both of their high-profile free agents after the season, look out.
The 2022-2023 Blue Jays would be the best in baseball, the Dodgers of the East with the potential for sustained winning should ownership want to keep this core together.
That lineup, good lord 😂 7 All-Stars!
Elite Bullpen w/depth
I want this, BAD @BlueJays
— Nicholas Matthew KyRose (@nmkyrose) August 24, 2021
Toronto is set up to succeed for the next five years, but they may have dug themselves in too deep a hole in 2021.