Why Berríos' rebound season could be key to Blue Jays' rotation being among MLB's best

Feb 24 2023, 12:42 am

With Opening Day a little over a month away for the Toronto Blue Jays, there are plenty of questions about the team’s ceiling for the 2023 season.

After back-to-back 91- and 92-win seasons, the pressure is on for the Blue Jays to make a deep playoff push.

There’s intrigue about the new-look outfield featuring Daulton Varsho and Kevin Kiermaier, high expectations for Vladimir Guerrero and Bo Bichette, and an interest in how manager John Schneider will fare in his first full season as an MLB head honcho.

But quietly, there’s another player who might actually be the biggest X-Factor in how Toronto performs this season: starting pitcher José Berríos.

And if Berríos is able to turn things around after struggling through 2022, it could be a major boost for Toronto’s rotation to shape up as one of the MLB’s best.

What went wrong in 2022?

After being acquired on trade deadline day in 2021, Berríos’ second season in Toronto wasn’t exactly what the Blue Jays were hoping for after locking him up on a long-term deal prior to last year.

With Toronto trading 2020 first-round, fifth overall pick Austin Martin and pitching prospect Simeon Woods-Richardson to Minnesota in exchange for Berríos, the expectation was high for him to have a long, successful career with the Blue Jays.

But in his first full season in Toronto, Berríos led the American League in both hits (199) and earned runs against (100), hardly what you’d like to see from a pitcher in his first season of a $131 million, seven-year contract. His ERA topped out at 5.23, the worst he’s had since his 58 innings as a rookie in 2016 and the highest among qualified pitchers in the league.

“I think it was an outlier thing for him,” Schneider said earlier in spring training, as per TSN’s Scott Mitchell. “For a guy with his experience, track record, stuff, he’s in a great mental spot right now.”

Berríos’ 2023 expectations with Blue Jays

Berríos pitched 172.0 innings in 2022, 18th amongst American League starters but third amongst Blue Jays, behind Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman. Apart from Toronto, only Seattle and Cleveland featured three starting pitchers who reached 170 innings or more. Despite his struggles, he was able to remain fully healthy and gut out a tough 32 starts, managing a 12-7 record.

With Manoah and Gausman in the mix for Toronto, Berríos doesn’t have to be the team’s ace for Toronto to have a successful season.

But if all three of Toronto’s top starters play to their potential — added in with the expected July return of Hyun Jin Ryu — Toronto has the chance to have one of the top pitching staffs in the league this season.

“Last year I didn’t give up and be lazy,” Berríos said earlier in spring training, as per the Toronto Sun’s Rob Longley. “Things didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but we’re here and have another opportunity, a new season… I’m excited to do it again.”

The long-term contract is signed. The trade is long in the past at this point.

If he’s something special, it could be a season to remember in Toronto.

Adam LaskarisAdam Laskaris

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