Well Jays fans, we finally made it. The Jays don’t have a home, they’re nowhere near us, and they’re not playing a full season… but we finally have regular season baseball. If you hopped on for the 2015/16 playoff runs and hopped off when things got tough, then maybe I can help get you excited again. This season is unlike many we’ve seen for the organization, and it’s one that has potential to be a whole lot of fun. If you’re looking for reasons to tune in over the next couple months, here are my top five storylines for the 2020 Blue Jays.
1. An Actual Ace On The Staff
It's been a long time since the Blue Jays had a bonafide ace on the staff. Marcus Stroman showed flashes but never quite made it there. Aaron Sanchez burst onto the scene like wildfire but never panned out. Names like Kyle Drabek, Cy Young winner R.A Dickey and once 15 game winner Brett Cecil gave Jays fans hope. There was even a short stint where the Jays had a chance to hold on to David Price long-term.
Ever since the Roy Halladay days though, the Blue Jays have never really held claim to one of the games best pitchers. This season, however, things look quite different at the top of the rotation.
In what feels like a year ago now, Ross Atkins shocked the baseball world during the offseason by signing Hyun-Jin Ryu. At the time, Ryu was one of the biggest names on the market, coming off a season in which he led the MLB in ERA. The 2019 NL Cy Young runner up enters the season with a top 5-10 spot among starters, and will be relied on heavily to carry the weight of a rotation lacking top end starters.
For a franchise that has been lacking in quality starting pitching for as long as most fans can remember, this season should be a breath of fresh air into the franchise.
2. A Full Season From Bo, Cavan, Lourdes And Vlad
Speaking of a breath of fresh air… how much fun were the Blue Jays in the last few months of the season last year? With the return of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., And the call-ups of highly touted prospects Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the team finally began to show signs of life.
While the group of youngsters is still far from being considered veterans in this league, they are now all at least entering their second season in the big leagues. Obviously sophomore seasons can go either way for guys, but a now seasoned middle of the lineup full of guys that barely crack the legal drinking age is an exciting sight to see.
Apart from Lourdes, the group will play the same amount of games as every other big leaguer barring any significant injuries. Jays fans will truly be able to see how their gang of youngsters really matches up with some of the games greats around the league.
3. An Expanded Playoffs And A Short, Anything Can Happen Season
If you follow the MLB at all, you know all about the battle to figure out how long the Covid-19 shortened season would be. When the dust finally cleared, it was determined that there would be a 60 game season played, with teams split up into East, Central and West to limit travel.
Then, on Thursday, it was announced that on top of the regular season being shortened, the postseason would be expanded from 10 teams up to 16. What was already anybody’s guess as to who would be playing in the fall classic, turned into even more of a crap shoot. Come seasons end, it is very likely that most divisions will be separated by just a few games.
What this means for the Blue Jays, is that they are just a hot streak away from putting themselves in the mix. Is it likely that this team would sustain an elite level for 162 games? Probably not. But at just 60 games, a postseason team could go .500 for half a season, then win 20-25 of 30 games to put themselves among the league’s top 16.
This very same Blue Jays squad proved last season that they have the firepower to do just that. Over the final 18 games for the Blue Jays, they went 12-6 to put themselves among the league's best over that stretch. To top things off, they did that without nearly two weeks of one of their biggest stars in Bichette after he went down with a concussion.
This season’s squad features the same deadly lineup, but also added names like the aforementioned Ryu, Tanner Roark, and a healthy Matt Shoemaker who showed last year that he still can dominate when he’s at his best. If these three guys can lock it down at the same time that the lineup gets hot, then we could be watching the Blue Jays play in October once again.
4. The Potential Uprising Of Some Future Stars
The big four may be the most talked about group of youngsters in the Blue Jays organization, but they definitely aren’t the only ones in the organization. Given the length of this season, and the recently announced expansion of the postseason, the Jays may need to be winning games down the stretch in order to help their postseason chances. What this could mean, is that Blue Jays fans might get a look at the depth of prospects that the system has to offer.
First and foremost, the man fans are likely to see as soon as sometime next week is Nate Pearson. As one of the top ranked prospects in baseball Big Nate isn’t a very well kept secret… but he really doesn’t need to be. The big righty is a fireballer on the mound, consistently reaching speeds of up to 100 MPH. He showed in his first exhibition game that he still needs some fine tuning with his command, but once that is sorted out, he will be an unstoppable force on the mound for Toronto.
The two names that you are less likely to see barring any unforeseen circumstances are Jordan Groshans, and 2020 first round pick Austin Martin. Both prospects are listed as shortstops, but both can be moved around the infield, and in Martin’s case to the outfield as well. If it comes down to it, both youngsters have proven they can handle the bat, and could give a much needed boost at positions where the Jays are lacking a little bit.
The trouble will be whether or not GM Ross Atkins has any interest in starting the clock of either of the two super prospects. If Atkins is willing to negotiate with Pearson and one, or maybe both, of Martin and Groshans, in exchange for wins down the stretch, then teams are gonna be in for some trouble.
The names don’t stop there though. At any given time this year, Jays fans are likely to get a look at names like Anthony Kay, Santiago Espinal, and Thomas Hatch, along with more recognizable guys like Trent Thornton, Jacob Waguespack, Rowdy Tellez, and Ryan Borucki. The future is bright up and down the roster, and Jays fans may just luck out and see a lot of it in this shortened venture.
5. The Vladdy At First Base Experiment
If you really want to dive into it, I wrote a piece on why the Vlad to first move is the best thing the Jays can do right now. To sum it up, there’s more time to train (barring they find a home stadium), and it opens up a bunch of options for future stars like Groshans and Martin.
Whether either of those two things turn out to be true throughout the season, it should make for a fun storyline to watch for the entire season. Each and every game we’ll get to watch this young man grow into what will hopefully be the Hall of Fame caliber first baseman everyone hopes he will be.
Love them or hate them, the Blue Jays are the only team Canada has. While the last few years haven't been the greatest, things are beginning to look up for the young squad. It may be time to put personal vendettas against management aside to enjoy everything this wild season has to offer.