The first half of the 2021 MLB season is in the books, and it’s been an eventful one for the Toronto Blue Jays. Anchored by one of the best lineups in baseball, the Blue Jays are sending four position players to the All-Star Game.
Despite their offensive prowess, contributions from the starting rotation, bullpen, and bench have been lacklustre. On the pitching side, they’ve had great production from players like Robbie Ray, but Hyun-Jin Ryu has struggled as of late.
Then there’s the case of the Blue Jays bullpen, which has been a growing area of concern dating back to the month of May. The mounting pitching injuries haven’t helped, as the club had a severe lack of trustworthy arms in the bullpen.
Despite their faults, the Blue Jays aren’t worlds away from a playoff spot, but they’re running out of time to make traction in the second half and gain ground on other teams in the postseason picture.
Starting lineup: A-
Other than the Houston Astros, the Blue Jays boasted the next-best lineup in baseball during the first half of the 2021 season. They rank either first or second in the hallmark offensive categories, and their run differential is one of the best in the AL.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has been hands-down the best producer in the Blue Jays lineup, as he made his long-awaited breakout and is a legit MVP candidate during his third full season in the big leagues.
Free agent signing Marcus Semien proved to be one of the Blue Jays’ best pieces of business in the offseason, and players like Bo Bichette and Teoscar Hernandez emerged as legitimate lineup pieces.
And to think, this was all done while the team’s $125 million free agent acquisition was on the shelf. Former All-Star George Springer spent two trips on the IL and didn’t return to the Blue Jays in a full-time capacity until late June.
Aside from a few tweaks here or there — maybe an everyday third baseman or a legitimate left-handed power bat — Toronto’s starting nine is solid as-is.
This lineup gives off a very 2015 Blue Jays vibe; a one-through-nine that can pummel opposing pitchers, with two top-ten MVP candidates in Guerrero and Semien at the forefront.
Something about this lineup is very special this season, and it would seem like a waste to squander this opportunity to see what these hitters could do in the playoffs.
Starting pitching: C-
Starting pitching has been a completely different story. The Blue Jays have used 13 different starting pitchers in the first half, all to varying degrees. In a weird turn of events, Robbie Ray, not Hyun-Jin Ryu, has been the ace of the starting staff.
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The Blue Jays have unlocked something special with Ray, who was a buy-low candidate at last year’s trade deadline. Toronto brought him back on a one-year, $8 million deal, and Ray has more than lived up to that contract already.
Ryu landed on the IL once and hasn’t quite been his dominant self this season. Meanwhile, pitchers like Steven Matz and Ross Stripling have more or less treaded water for the Blue Jays as back-end starting pitchers.
One of the most exciting (and somewhat unexpected) developments in the first half was the promotion and subsequent success from rookie Alek Manoah. In eight starts, he’s come as advertised and looks like an exciting pitching option for many years to come.
Aside from Ray, however, Toronto’s starters have failed to pitch deep into ball games, which has had an adverse effect on the bullpen. Not that very many starters are going long into games anymore, but the Blue Jays rank 5th last in starting pitcher innings this season.
When the Blue Jays’ bench options consist of Joe Panik, Rowdy Tellez, Santiago Espinal, Reese McGuire, and Jonathan Davis, that gives a very clear picture of their bench situation.
Without a serious lack of legitimate bats on the bench, it severely limits Charlie Montoyo’s options in late-and-close situations. Both Panik and Tellez were traded, leaving Espinal as the Blue Jays’ primary option off the bench.
The club somewhat addressed that issue by acquiring Corey Dickerson from the Miami Marlins, but his timetable is uncertain, meaning the Blue Jays would be wise to keep shopping for some more lefty bats on the trade market.
The Blue Jays’ bullpen coughed up their fair share of games in the first half. The exact number of games isn’t quite certain, but Toronto’s relievers had a knack for letting opponents back into games when they had no business doing so.
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Injuries ravaged the Blue Jays’ bullpen, and with a lack of trustworthy options, Montoyo had to throw other relievers in high leverage situations. Sometimes it worked. More often than not, it blew up in his face.
The front office addressed the lack of bullpen arms by trading for Jacob Barnes, Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards, but by the time the Blue Jays executed those trades, it was almost too late.
Other than Jordan Romano, there are no outstanding arms in the Blue Jays’ bullpen right now. And until Romano develops a cybernetic arm and can pitch every relief inning for the Blue Jays for the foreseeable future, they’ll be leery to hand the ball to anybody else.
Fielding has been an area of growth and development for the 2021 Blue Jays. They are a young team on the position player side, which means this is the first full season when they’ve been stationed at their respective positions.
There have been some growing pains with players like Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio, but this is Bichette’s first full foray into playing shortstop at the big league level. They also thrust Biggio into the full-time third baseman’s role for the first time in his career.
Guerrero has done an admirable job at first base, but aside from that, there haven’t been very many pleasant surprises on the diamond when it comes to defence for the Blue Jays this season.
As expected, the Blue Jays rank in the bottom-third in baseball in metrics like defensive runs saved, fielding percentage, and outs above average. There’s nothing but room to grow for these fielders in the second half.
It feels like a wasted golden opportunity to have one of the best hitters on the planet captaining one of the best lineups in baseball, and yet the Blue Jays are still several games out of playoff spot.
Logic dictates they should sit comfortably in a playoff spot this very moment. But due to some spotty defence, shaky bullpen and middling rotation, the Blue Jays sit on the outside looking in for a playoff spot.
There’s still a lot of baseball left to play, but the offence has held up its end of the bargain in the first half; it’s time for the pitchers to pull their weight, too. Or it’s time for the front office to get some arms who can.
Analysts might point to the Blue Jays’ impressive run differential, but this lineup can’t out-slug opponents by a 8-7 or 10-8 score every night. They’ll go through their dry spells, and in those cases, the pitching needs to be near perfect.
For that reason, the 2021 Blue Jays get a C+ grade for their first half performance. If the starting pitching and bullpen was a little better, they’d elevate into a B- or B grade, but without improvements to the pitching department, the Jays might miss out on the playoffs altogether.