How the Toronto Blue Jays are a team on the rise in the wrong division

How the Toronto Blue Jays are a team on the rise in the wrong division
Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Blue Jays have a superb roster that, talent-wise, should be able to compete for the American League pennant, but at 65-58, they’re in fourth place in the American League East, and four and a half games out of the second AL Wild Card seed.

Wait, what?

Yes, the Blue Jays are a respectable team with upside, yet they’re in fourth place in their division. This isn’t a situation where the Blue Jays are a bad team or regressing. Ironically, they’re currently three games better than they were in the sport’s 60-game 2020 regular season.

The Blue Jays’ dilemma when it comes to competing in the AL is that they’re blocked by their own division.

Toronto Blue Jays have a well-rounded ballclub

Regarding their roster, manager Charlie Montoyo has a deep and well-versed team that has only improved with age. The Blue Jays have one of the best and most promising offensive attacks in MLB. An order featuring the likes of potential AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez, Marcus Semien, Randal Grichuk and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. can go toe-to-toe with any team.

On the whole, the Blue Jays entered Tuesday second in MLB in batting average (.263), OPS (.781) and home runs (186), third in hits (1,089) and sixth in runs (624). This has come with George Springer missing most of the season due to injuries and Cavan Biggio losing grip in the big leagues.

A once worrisome topic for their sake, the Blue Jays’ starting rotation has blossomed into a sturdy force. Hyun-Jin Ryu is an ace. Robbie Ray is having a resurgent campaign. Rookie Alek Monoah has been spectacular. Steven Matz has gotten his MLB career back on track.

Two months ago, the Blue Jays were having alarming issues in the late innings with their relief corps.

President Mark Shapiro went all in on addressing the issue, acquiring Adam Cimber, Trevor Richards, Joakim Soria, and Brad Hand for the summer stretch. Oh, and they acquired Twins’ stud right-hander Jose Berrios, surrendering a pair of top five-caliber prospects in Simeon Woods Richardson and Austin Martin.

What’s the glaring weakness on this team?

Toronto Blue Jays’ AL East rivals are a hassle

Toronto Blue Jays’ AL East rivals are a hassle
Jul 10, 2021; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Rays catcher Mike Zunino (10) is congratulated by Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) after hitting a home run during the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are the collective wrench in the Blue Jays’ operation.

Tampa Bay could lose their entire starting rotation and still make the playoffs. No, seriously, their top three starting pitchers from last season are either gone or out for the remainder of the season due to injuries (Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow). The Rays grind out games with their arsenal of versatile pitchers, are seeing their offense pick up the slack and are atop the AL East at 77-48.

New York has awoken. Winners of their last 10 games, the Yankees are playing their best baseball of the season with a handful of key players finally performing up to their billing.

Their offense is firing on all cylinders while starting pitchers Jameson Taillon, Nestor Cortes Jr. and Jordan Montgomery are becoming vital pieces to the equation. The Yankees are playing like the team they’re expected to be, that being an AL contender.

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Boston is slumping of late but still in possession of the second AL Wild Card. Their offense is formidable, as it has powered their unexpected 2021 season which includes a potential playoff appearance. This team has a wealth of playoff experience on its side to lean on, as well as left-hander Chris Sale being back on the mound, which is an enhancer for a lacking rotation.

The Blue Jays are within reach of the Red Sox, but even if they catch them they still have to overcome a pair of AL West teams in the Wild Card standings in the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners.

A roadmap to the playoffs past 2021 is complex for the Toronto Blue Jays

A roadmap to the playoffs past 2021 is complex for the Toronto Blue Jays
Aug 23, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette (11) slides home to score against the Chicago White Sox in the sixth inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jays have made strides in each of the last three years while strengthening their strengths and throwing everything but the kitchen sink in trades to fill holes on their roster. And they still find themselves in the bottom portion of their division. Newsflash: it doesn’t get any easier past 2021 for the Blue Jays.

The Rays show time and time again that they’re equipped to overcome injuries and free agent departures no matter how impactful a player may be; this season is a testament to that ability. The Yankees are a perennial contender with a deep-rooted core.

All the Red Sox have to do is make some tweaks to their pitching staff in the offseason, and in the present, they’re still a legitimate competitor.

Outside of the AL East, the A’s and Houston Astros are consistent playoff participants, and it’s fair to expect more than one team to have a winning record in the AL Central next season. The Blue Jays have an electric, multifaceted offense, a reliable and improving starting rotation and a veteran bullpen. What are they supposed to do?

They added one of the best outfielders in the game in Springer this past offseason when they didn’t necessarily need a hitter of that ilk. Corey Dickerson joined the outfielder rotation a couple months ago. It’s difficult to identify parts of this depth chart that need upgrading. As for the pitching staff, Ray and Matz are in the midst of seasons that warrant contract extensions and Manoah is just getting started.

The Toronto Blue Jays have the makings of a contender but the divisional environment of a team that will come up short. Their path to contention past 2021 is utterly outplaying their divisional foes. The talent is present but the execution has to be sheer perfection for them to break through. This is a unique situation.

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