The Blue Jays overcame being a full-time road for two months and make it to the MLB postseason for the first time since 2016. What’s one more trip for a first-round series?
They don’t know yet where they’ll be for Game 1 because seeding in the AL field is coming down to the final weekend of the season. The only certainty is that Toronto can finish no higher than fifth, so it’s assured of being away from the team’s Buffalo “home.”
Where they’ll play is low on the list of wild cards in a Blue Jays postseason, however. There are least four more important areas of uncertainty:
1. What will the starters provide?
Toronto has the worst rotation ERA (4.70) among the eight AL playoff teams, but the short first round can mitigate that.
Ryu started Toronto’s clinching victory Thursday, so he’ll be available for Game 1. Taijuan Walker is in line to pitch Game 2. Those two have been the team’s best starters overall in September, ahead of Matt Shoemaker and Robbie Ray. But Walker did have a bad outing recently; he allowed seven runs, although just one earned, in 1 2/3 innings on Sept. 20 during the Jays’ dreadful series at the Yankees.
The rotation issues will be a larger concern if the Jays get to the best-of-five ALDS, which this year will have no off-days. Ryu and Walker give them a decent shot at reaching that point.
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2. How will the young hitters respond?
Kids are key to Toronto’s lineup, namely Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Even though all three grew up in the game, they’ve never experienced the postseason as players. They can ask older teammates like Joe Panik, Travis Shaw and Randal Grichuk for tips, but there’s no substitute for playing mind games in real time.
The lack of crowds next week might help them succeed. Not having a buzz in the stadium could keep them from getting overamped. On the other hand, it could keep them from fully locking in. They’ll know as soon as they step into the box for the first time.
3. What can Nate Pearson give them?
The Jays will evaluate the rookie flamethrower this weekend for a potential multi-inning relief role. Pearson has missed the past five weeks with elbow tightness. He will need to show not only that he’s healthy but also that he has command following the layoff; he averaged 6.6 walks per nine innings prior to his IL stint.
If he passes those tests, then Pearson becomes an attractive option in the middle innings. But if the Jays really wanted to get wild, they could use him to open Game 3. That way, he could go through his normal warmup routine and then go all-out in the first two innings. Shoemaker, Ray, Tanner Roark, Ross Stripling or Chase Anderson could follow in long relief.
4. Which offense will show up?
Here’s where not playing in Buffalo could hurt the Jays. They’re third in the AL with an .828 home OPS, behind only the Yankees and Angels. Their road OPS is 107 points lower, at .721, although that’s still good for sixth in the league. They could be playing in St. Petersburg, Minneapolis, Oakland or Chicago next week; that’s a wide spectrum of hitter’s and pitcher’s parks.
More importantly, can the Jays produce against decent to good pitchers? The power numbers say they can: Toronto is tied for fourth in the AL with 82 home runs. And the contact stats indicate the same: It has the fourth-fewest strikeouts in the league with 483, or 8.47 per game.