Less than 48 hours after the Toronto Blue Jays were officially eliminated from the possibility of Wild Card tiebreaker game, reality has set in. The Blue Jays’ season is over, while 10 other playoff-bound teams embark on their quest for a World Series trophy.
It seems unfair that this 91-win team didn’t even get a shot at a play-in game, but it’s just another heartbreaking footnote in one of the wildest seasons in Blue Jays history.
There’s a lot to reflect on what happened over the last 162 games, especially considering pre-season projection models predicted the Blue Jays to win between 85-87 wins.
In case you were curious about what we were saying about the 2021 Blue Jays pre-Opening Day, I thought it would be fun to revisit the five bold predictions laid out heading into the season opener.
1. Guerrero leads the AL in home runs
Result: Correct! (48 home runs, tied with Salvador Perez)
Not only did Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (and Royals catcher Salvador Perez) tie for the most homers in the American League, they led all of baseball in round-trippers with 48 apiece. Vladdy smashed his previous single-season high of 15 home runs during his rookie season in 2019.
Guerrero put forth one of the most impressive offensive seasons in Toronto Blue Jays history, posting eye-popping numbers worthy of an MVP award. He has many accolades coming his way at the conclusion of the season, that’s for sure.
Credit to the 22-year-old, he put in the work last winter and re-transformed himself into the uber-hitter that everyone thought he was going to be in 2019. It was a few years in the making, but Vladdy had his coming out party in 2021.
And to think, he’s only 22 and hits arbitration next year. Vladdy is a franchise staple for the Blue Jays and is under team control for the next four seasons, with the potential to get even better. Watch out, American League.
2. Semien (not Springer) is the big free agent contributor in 2021
Result: Correct! (Semien posts 6.6 WAR vs. Springer’s 2.3 WAR)
After signing the biggest free agent contract in Blue Jays history, George Springer had huge shoes to fill coming into the 2021 season. Anything less than an MVP-calibre season out of the gate might have been a disappointment to some.
Springer suffered an injury in spring training and spent three stints on the injured list, playing in only 77 games during his first year as a Blue Jay. When he was on the field, Springer proved his worth as the Blue Jays’ $150 million man, and Toronto was 48-30 with him in the lineup this year.
In actuality, Marcus Semien was the bigger contributor for the Blue Jays in 2021. He came in on a one-year, $18 million dollar deal, looking to bet on himself and set himself up for a monster contract the following year.
Semien played it perfectly, as he’ll be one of the most sought after middle infielders in this free agent class. Comparing WAR totals, Semien eclipsed Springer by more than four wins (6.6 WAR vs. 2.3 WAR), and the 31-year-old nearly matched Vladdy with the highest WAR total on the club.
3. Kirk wins the starting catching job
Result: Not quite (McGuire starts 61 games, Kirk starts 40)
Aside from third base, no position on the diamond was more of a revolving door than catcher for the Blue Jays. They used four backstops to get through the 162 game schedule, with Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, Reese McGuire and Riley Adams starting games.
Lo-and-behold, it was McGuire who started the bulk of the games behind the plate for the Blue Jays this year. Due to injuries to Jansen and Kirk, McGuire was thrust into the starter’s role because the Blue Jays quite literally had nobody else to call games.
To think that McGuire was designated for assignment and taken off the 40-man roster during the first week of the season. Kirk’s best playing days may still be ahead of him, as he posted pretty decent offensive numbers in the second half after returning from injury.
If healthy, Kirk likely would’ve won the lion’s share of games behind the plate, but due to an influx of catcher injuries, Kirk and Jansen gave way to McGuire and Riley (who was traded at the deadline for reliever Brad Hand.)
4. Blue Jays load up big time at the trade deadline
Result: Correct! (Blue Jays acquire Jose Berrios, Joaquim Soria and Brad Hand)
The Blue Jays were not shy on the trade market in 2021, as they did a tonne of their heavy lifting before the deadline by rebuilding their bullpen on the fly. They acquired Adam Cimber, Trevor Richards and Jacob Barnes in late June and early July.
But Toronto left their big trade for the day of the deadline when they snagged right-hander Jose Berrios from the Minnesota Twins for prospects Austin Martin and Simeon Woods-Richardson.
The Blue Jays surrendered two of their top prospects in a deal that shocked many around the baseball world, given the wealth of prospect capital for one starting pitcher. But the Blue Jays got a head-start on their offseason shopping by landing Berrios.
He came exactly as advertised in a Blue Jays uniform, posting a 3.58 ERA in 12 starts, lining up as Toronto’s number starter behind Robbie Ray. Berrios posted his third consecutive non-pandemic-shortened season of 190 innings pitched or more.
5. The Blue Jays (not the Yankees) win the AL East
Result: Not even close (Blue Jays finish in fourth place at 91-71)
The Blue Jays finished nine games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for first place in the American League East. Just to reiterate, the Jays had 91 wins this year, and that wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs.
The 2021 Blue Jays might go down as the best fourth place team ever, and their 91 wins would’ve been enough to win the National League East and slip in as a National League Wild Card team.
But this is the playground the Blue Jays were placed in; the perennial meat-grinder known as the American League East. It would’ve taken a lot of improvement for the Blue Jays to catch the Rays for the AL East crown, but the Blue Jays laid the building blocks for potential division titles in the future.
There’s a pathway next year for the Blue Jays to usurp the Rays and secure the American League East. It’s difficult to envision the Blue Jays take a step backwards after all the progress they’ve made in the last few years.