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Are the Toronto Blue Jays legitimate contenders?

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - JUNE 19: Marcus Semien #10 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 after a victory against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on June 19, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

Almost at the halfway mark of the season, the Toronto Blue Jays currently hold a 43-39 record. A few games over .500 record isn’t bad by any stretch of the means, but it isn’t necessarily the record of a World Series contending ball club. That’s why the question has to be asked; are the Blue Jays legitimate contenders?

The bullpen has been a major issue

One major reason the Blue Jays’ record isn’t higher than it is, is the under-performance of their bullpen.

The Blue Jays bullpen has been among the worst in baseball this year. With a 4.01 ERA, 4.18 BB/9, and 0.3 WAR, Toronto’s bullpen is ranked as the 25th best this year, according to Fangraphs.

Coming into the season, Toronto was supposed to have terrific relief pitching. With Ryan Borucki, Julian Merryweather, Jordan Romano, David Phelps, and Kirby Yates closer. While some of those names have pitched for the Jays this season, others are done for the season, and one didn’t throw a single pitch this season.

Kirby Yates, who was supposed to be the team’s closer this year, underwent Tommy John Surgery just a week before Opening Day and is sidelined for the entire season. David Phelps underwent surgery on his right lat about a month ago and is also out for the entirety of the 2021 season. Ryan Borucki has been on the injured list since May 14th with a forearm injury, and Julian Merryweather is out with an oblique injury and isn’t set to return until late June.

The injury bug has hit them hard

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 20:  Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Teoscar Hernandez (37) injures his foot after making a running catch running catch during the Major League Baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays on September 20, 2020 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA.   (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The bullpen isn’t the only place experiencing the injury bug. The whole team has been affected by injuries. As of last week, the Toronto Blue Jays had 743 games missed by players due to injury. Only the San Diego Padres have had more games missed due to injury, with 965. That places the Blue Jays second in the league in the 2021 season in this dubious stat.

George Springer, the team’s prized offseason acquisition, just returned from a right quad strain last week. Up until that point, he’d only played in four games this season.

Other key players who have spent time on the IL this season include Cavan Biggio, Danny Jansen, and Rowdy Tellez.

Springer should definitely give them a boost at the top of the lineup. With their new center fielder in the picture, their top of the order now becomes Springer, Semien, Bichette, Guerrero Jr, and Hernandez. A very solid top five in the batting order.

AL East is one of the toughest divisions in baseball

Another problem for the bluebirds is the division they play in. The American League East is one of the toughest divisions in all of baseball. For example, Toronto currently sits third in their respective division. If they were in the NL East, though, they would be tied for first.

With the Yankees, Red Sox, and the always tough Tampa Bay Rays, it’s tough to squeeze into the playoffs in this division. Not to mention, Toronto has hard the hardest schedule to date in the entire MLB so far.

Pitching has been terrific as of late

BUFFALO, NEW YORK - JULY 04: Robbie Ray #38 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a pitch during the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Sahlen Field on July 04, 2021 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Joshua Bessex/Getty Images)
Joshua Bessex/Getty Images

Despite the poor performance of the teams’ bullpen, their rotation has been terrific as of late. Steven Matz and Robbie Ray have both been great this season.

After a rough start to the season, Ross Stripling has really turned it around, and he is 2-1 in his last three starts. Newly called up, Alek Manoah has had a good start to his major league career as well.

Strangely enough, the one arm in their rotation that has been subpar as of late is their ace, Hyun-Jin Ryu.

As shown in the Instagram post above, Ryu’s earned run average is a measly 5.35 after June 1st. Toronto’s regular catcher, Danny Jansen, spent some time on the IL with a right hamstring strain. Not having his regular catcher behind the plate could definitely be what’s fueling Ryu’s rough stretch.

They have the potential MVP in their lineup

Arguably, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has been the best player in all of Major League Baseball this season. Guerrero Jr leads the league in hits and runs batted in. He sits second in batting average, runs scored, and home runs.

The only person with more runs scored this year? Guerrero’s teammate, Bo Bichette. With such an elite player like this in their lineup, the Blue Jays are never really out of the game. Guerrero can change the outcome of the game at any point with one swing of the bat.

MIAMI, FLORIDA - JUNE 22: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts after defeating the Miami Marlins 2-1 at loanDepot park on June 22, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

After expanding the postseason to 16 teams in last year’s playoffs, the MLB has gone back to only ten teams in the postseason. Five from the American League and five from the National League.

The top team from each division makes the playoffs, plus two wildcard teams from each league. As of this writing, Toronto is three teams back of the final Wild Card spot. With key players returning and their schedule getting drastically less difficult, the Blue Jays could definitely squeak into the playoffs.

If they do manage to make the playoffs, their success will rely on a few things. They will need Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero, and Teoscar Hernandez to shake off any potential playoff jitters and continue to dominate. Their veteran superstar, George Springer, must step up and mentor the team’s young players. They will also need their rotation to stay sharp, and their bullpen must improve.

The team is expected to make some moves to bolster their bullpen ahead of this month’s trade deadline. The Toronto Blue Jays could be a dark horse team in the American League if they manage to make the postseason.

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