TORONTO (AP)Vladimir Guerrero Jr. looked to Hollywood to lift the spirits of Toronto fans after the Blue Jays finished one win shy of a postseason berth in 2021.
”What we did last year was a trailer,” Guerrero said through a translator at spring training. ”Now you guys are going to see the movie.”
Unfortunately for Guerrero and Toronto, that movie turned into a horror show come playoff time.
The Blue Jays were swept out of their AL wild-card series against Seattle, dropping each of the two games. They were shut down by Luis Castillo in a 4-0 loss in the opener, and then blew an 8-1 lead in a 10-9 loss on Saturday.
”It’s really hard,? said Teoscar Hernandez, who homered twice and drove in four runs for Toronto in Game 2. ”There’s nothing I can say that’s going to make me feel better for a while.”
Toronto has lost five straight playoff games and eight of nine, dating to a five-game loss to Cleveland in the 2016 ALCS. The Blue Jays also were swept by Tampa Bay in the 2020 wild-card round.
Interim manager John Schneider went 46-28 after replacing Charlie Montoyo in July as Toronto finished one win better than the previous season to clinch the top AL wild-card spot. But when the playoffs arrived, the Blue Jays couldn’t deliver.
Even amid the pain of postseason defeat, Schneider pointed to consecutive 90-win seasons and a strong core of stars as reason for optimism.
”This group will be back in the exact same spot very, very soon,” Schneider said.
Besides Guerrero and shortstop Bo Bichette, the AL hits leader, Toronto also could bring back outfielder George Springer, third baseman Matt Chapman and Hernandez. Right-handers Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman are expected to help anchor the rotation.
Gausman wasn’t with the Blue Jays in 2021, but tasted his own October anguish when his San Francisco Giants lost to the Dodgers in the division series after winning 107 games in the regular season.
Gausman said the Blue Jays had visions of a deep October run, and echoed his manager’s positive outlook for 2023.
”From day one of spring training, the expectations on this club were sky high,” Gausman said. ”We’ve been playing this entire season with the expectation of being in the World Series. Now we kind of know what to expect next year when those are the same predictions. We’re all excited for that. Unfinished business.”
Toronto’s biggest free agent is right-hander Ross Stripling, who looked good after stepping into the rotation to replace injured left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu. Stripling went 10-4, reaching double digits in wins for the first time, and posted a career-low 3.01 ERA in 134 1/3 innings.
ALEK THE ACE
In his first full season, Manoah went 16-7 with a 2.24 ERA, fourth-lowest in the majors. Manoah gave up three first-inning runs in his postseason debut and, while disappointed by the outcome, knows he’ll be better off for the experience.
”Good to get the feet wet,” Manoah said. ”I went out there and grinded as much as I can.”
CLOGGED AT CATCHER
The Blue Jays are blessed with depth behind the plate, where Danny Jansen and All-Star Alejandro Kirk split time this season. One of the pair often started at designated hitter when the other was catching, and the two combined for 29 homers and 107 RBIs. Still, that productive pairing is blocking top prospect Gabriel Moreno, who appeared in 25 games this season. If Toronto doesn’t trade one of its catchers, the Blue Jays might move Moreno, 22, out from behind the plate. He saw time in left field, at second base and at third base in the final week of the year, and also has played third in the minors.
Expect general manager Ross Atkins to try to build a more balanced lineup in 2023 given that all six of Springer, Bichette, Guerrero, Chapman, Kirk, and Hernandez are right-handed hitters. Curiously, being stacked with powerful righties didn’t help Toronto against left-handed starters – the Blue Jays were 12-20 in games started by southpaws.
Springer, who finalized a $150 million, six-year contract with Toronto in January 2021, was limited to 78 games last season because of oblique and quadriceps injuries, and a sprained left knee. He played in 133 games this season, but skipped the All-Star Game and sat out 10 games in August because of a bothersome right elbow that’s expected to need attention this offseason. He also got hurt in a collision with Bichette during Game 2.
The Blue Jays may move Springer from center to right field next season to diminish the wear and tear on his battered body.
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