Toronto Blue Jays have a bright future despite early playoff exit

The Blue Jays  areheading home early from the playoffs, but the 2020 season was still a success.

The “Baby Jays” grew up in 2020.

The Toronto Blue Jays had every excuse not to contend this season. They’re still in the middle of a rebuild. Their players are still young and inexperienced. They were forced to play the entire season away from home.

But the Blue Jays didn’t let any of those reasons deter them from being a competitive club in 2020. They won 31 games and qualified for the playoffs for the first time in four years. And while their postseason run came to an early end on Wednesday in an 8-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, better days are certainly ahead for this ball club.

Bo Bichette, the Blue Jays’ 22-year-old shortstop, has still played just 75 games in his big-league career, less than half of a full season. Only six players in the Live Ball Era have as many extra-base hits through the same number of games, and two of them are Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. He’s one of only 26 players in the last 100 years to begin his career with back-to-back seasons batting above .300 with an OPS of at least .840; 10 of the other 25 are in the Hall of Fame.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the powerful infielder pegged for superstardom before he ever played a game in the Majors, took big strides at the end of the season toward fulfilling that promise. Over his last 11 games, Guerrero hit .342 and struck out just twice in 40 plate appearances. And while he sometimes looked lost playing first base, he was attempting to learn a new position in a hurry. He’s still just 21, the fourth-youngest player to appear in an AL game this season despite being called up last April.

Cavan Biggio, like Guerrero, is the son of a Hall of Famer, and he displayed poise at the plate that belied his relatively short career. He swung at just 16.3 percent of pitches outside the strike zone this season, the best rate in baseball. He and Guerrero have each played less than 200 games in their career. Biggio is the veteran of this trio at 25.

Then there is Teoscar Hernandez, who entered 2020 with the reputation of a hitter who struck out too much and didn’t hit for average. He led the Blue Jays with 16 home runs and hit .286, an increase of nearly 60 points from a year ago. His strikeout percentage of 30.4 percent was three points lower than in 2019.

On the mound, Hyun Jin Ryu still has three years remaining on his contract after posting the lowest ERA (2.69) by a Blue Jays starter in more than 20 years. Hard-throwing prospect Nate Pearson got his first taste of the big leagues and showed what he’s capable of by striking out five of the six Rays batters he faced on Wednesday. Jordan Romano emerged as a potential closer of the future, giving up just two earned runs in 15 appearances before suffering a finger injury in late August that ended his season.

Sure, there were some growing pains for what was the youngest lineup in the league this season. The Blue Jays gave up 39 runs above average in the field, the second-worst mark behind the Nationals. They made the third-most outs on the bases with 25, ahead of only the Indians and Cardinals. In the Wild Card series against the Rays, the first postseason experience for most of the roster, they went 0-13 with runners in scoring position and struck out 23 times.

Manager Charlie Montoyo, though, is only taking positives from this season and believes the best is still to come for his young players. “Great season. I’m proud of my kids to make it to this point,” he said following the season-ending loss on Wednesday. “Yeah, in this series we didn’t hit, we only scored three runs. That’s not enough to beat that team. But, besides that, I’m proud of my team, proud of my kids. It’s a great experience. I told them to enjoy the ride and, you know, it’s a learning experience.”

The Blue Jays have a number of decisions to make this offseason. They need a reliable second starter behind Ryu; Taijuan Walker, acquired at the trade deadline, is a free agent. They have to decide whether Guerrero will stay at first base, move back to third or become a full-time DH. They have to figure out who is the catcher of the future, Danny Jansen or rookie Alejandro Kirk.

But those decisions lie in the future. For now, the Blue Jays might feel disappointed after a quick playoff exit but have to keep their heads held high after a season that defied all expectations. This season was just the beginning; The Blue Jays, more mature, more experienced, and coming off a trip to the postseason, are ready to fly in 2021 and beyond.

Next: Rays advance, as Tampa will become Titletown USA

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