TORONTO- For the first time since 1993, the Toronto Blue Jays gave their fans something they’ve been waiting for: the Blue Jays clinched the playoffs after a 3-game series sweep over the Tampa Bay Rays, ending their 22-year playoff drought. This will be the Blue Jays’ first playoff appearance since Joe Carter hit a 3-run walk-off home run allowing the team to the 1993 World Series over the Philadelphia Phillies.
For many Blue Jays fans, it’s hard to believe that the Blue Jays are in the postseason. Over the 3-game series versus the Rays, the fans at the Rogers Centre were notably more electrifying as 47,000 people heard the news that the Blue Jays secured a wildcard birth. Fans were waving their rally towels and the players celebrated with champagne and beer facials.
Their incredible journey starting when Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos made one of the biggest splashes in free agency in franchise history, which included signing Russell Martin to a five-year deal worth $82 million. The Canadian back stopper returned to his native country and brought his excellent pitch framing, working with the young pitching staff, which ultimately increased the Jays’ ability to shut down the running game and clutch hitting.
Following the Martin signing, Anthopoulos pulled off a surprising trade that change the franchise dramatically. All Star third baseman Josh Donaldson was acquired from the Oakland Athletics for Brett Lawrie, Franklin Barreto, Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman. This move was one of the more shocking trades during the offseason since Athletics’ GM Billy Beane mentioned that Donaldson wasn’t available during that time. But Anthopoulos’ persistence convinced Beane to make such a deal and it may have turned out to be one of his best trades during his tenure.
The first half of the season didn’t look promising for the Jays when they heard the news that their young right-hander Marcus Stroman went down with a torn ACL and Michael Saunders was sidelined with a meniscus tear in his left knee. They started off the season off slow with mediocre pitching, sluggish starts from Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and relying on young talent with six rookies on the opening day roster.
Before July 27, the Blue Jays went 50-50 and were seven games behind the New York Yankees. Prior to the non-waiver trade deadline, Anthopoulos realized that enough was enough and was one of the most active executives at the deadline. Anthopoulos pulled off another blockbuster by acquiring Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins for Jose Reyes, Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro and Jesus Tinoco. Although often injury prone, Tulowitzki provides gold glove defense at shortstop and another power bat in their potent lineup.
During the first half, pitching was a huge concern. Anthopoulos addressed that when he acquired David Price from the Detroit Tigers for Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Jairo Labourt. Price is the ace that the Blue Jays needed since the removal of Roy Halladay and his presence was felt in the rotation and in the clubhouse. Since becoming a member of the Blue Jays, Price went 9-1 and pitched 74.1 innings with a 2.30 ERA and 87 strikeouts. Price said himself that playing at the Rogers Centre is by far the best atmosphere he’s ever played in.
Price and Tulowitzki were the big names, but Anthopoulos also acquired some upgrades in left field and the bullpen with speedy Ben Revere and hard throwing righty Mark Lowe. All of the new additions helped the Blue Jays become one of the hottest teams during the second half of the season. They continue to score runs, outpitched their opponents and improve their overall defense. Since August 1, the Blue Jays went 37-14, which is the best record during that span.
Even with the new additions, the Blue Jays are getting contributions from their core players. R.A. Dickey pitched a lot better during the second half. Bautista and Encarnacion found their groove at the plate. Roberto Osuna has been lights out since becoming the Blue Jays closer. Donaldson made an major impact during his first season with the Blue Jays. The all star third baseman is having a career year with 41 home runs and 121 RBI. Donaldson is a legitimate candidate for AL MVP honours for his impact with his bat and glove. The Blue Jays are the only team in the majors to have three players hit more than 35 home runs and 100 RBI.
Now that the Blue Jays clinched the playoffs, they are not done just yet. Their magic number to clinch the AL East Division is four and they are currently tied with the Kansas City Royals for the best record in the American League. Though the Blue Jays would have home field advantage since they have a better series versus the Royals 4-3, the AL East division is still up for grabs with the Yankees right behind them. But more importantly, the Blue Jays are looking to finish the season with the best record in the American League.
For the Blue Jays securing a playoff spot, the real work is about to begin as they will be looking to bring the World Series Championship back to Toronto.