Blue Jays hungry after near-miss of wild card berth in 2021

·3 min read

TORONTO (AP) — After a busy offseason, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said his team has “closed the gap” on fellow contenders in the competitive American League East.

If last year’s finish is any indication, Toronto didn’t have much ground to cover.

Despite playing home games in three different cities, the Blue Jays went 91-71 in 2021, going 25-11 after finally landing back in Toronto. They led baseball with a team-record 262 home runs, including 48 from young star Vladimir Guerrero Jr., tying him for most in the majors.

Still, Toronto’s season ended in disappointment when the Blue Jays finished one game behind New York and Boston in the AL wild-card race after all three teams won on the final day.

“One game, it’s heartbreaking at times,” outfielder George Springer said. “For us to go through that, especially the last day of the year, I think it left a bad taste in our mouths.”

With that foul taste lingering, manager Charlie Montoyo knew his players would be ready to go this spring.

“They’re hungry,″ Montoyo said. “I love that part of our club. They’re hungry to go.”

Last season’s near miss fueled the competitive fire of slugging shortstop Bo Bichette, who got an offseason lesson in intensity while working out with former All-Star Troy Tulowitzki.

“What the best teams do is they’re more prepared than anybody else,″ Bichette said. “They get out there and they work when they feel tired. That’s the kind of standard we’re going for here.”

NEW LOOK

The Blue Jays lost two key free agents when AL Cy Young award-winning left-hander Robbie Ray signed with Seattle and infielder Marcus Semien joined Texas. Toronto also lost left-hander Steven Matz to St. Louis.

Atkins beefed up Toronto’s rotation by signing right-hander Kevin Gausman to a five-year, $110 million contract, and lefty Yusei Kikuchi on a three-year, $36 million deal.

The Jays bolstered their infield by acquiring three-time Gold Glove winner Matt Chapman to play third base, and also signed free-agent right-handed reliever Yimi Garcia. During spring training, Toronto traded outfielder Randal Grichuk to Colorado for speedy outfielder Raimel Tapia, adding another left-handed bat to its righty-heavy lineup.

START ME UP

After acquiring right-hander José Berríos from Minnesota at the 2021 trade deadline, the Blue Jays signed the star pitcher to a seven-year, $131 million contract last November before landing Gausman and Kikuchi in free agency.

Add in veteran left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu and second-year righty Alek Manoah, who went 9-2 in 20 starts as a rookie, and Toronto’s rotation ranks with the league’s deepest.

​​”It’s impressive,″ Berríos said. “We’ve got great arms, good talent.”

SPRING IN HIS STEP

Springer played only 78 games in his first season with Toronto, missing time with injuries to his oblique, quadriceps, and knee. This year, he’s off to a healthy start.

“I like the spot I’m in,″ Springer said. “I didn’t put any more emphasis on one thing or the other, just making sure that I do what I got to do and be smart about my work.”

PURE PLATINUM

In addition to his three Gold Gloves, Chapman won Platinum Gloves as the best defensive player in the AL, regardless of position, in 2018 and 2019.

“He’s one of the best third basemen I’ve ever seen in the big leagues,” Montoyo said.

ROOKIE TO WATCH

Catcher Gabriel Moreno likely won’t crack the opening day roster, but the highly touted Venezuelan might reach the majors for the first time in 2022. Moreno stood out in Arizona Fall League action last year, hitting .329 with 18 RBIs in 22 games. Moreno has also seen time at third base in the minors, although Chapman’s arrival may limit the need for that defensive versatility.

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