On Sunday, the vaccinated Detroit Tigers cross the border to play the Toronto Blue Jays in a game streaming on Peacock and starting at 12:05 pm. The matchup brings back all sorts of memories for me that lead me to believe the Toronto Blue Jays have a very real shot at winning the 2022 World Series.
Stay with me here.
My first year working for NBC Sports’ Game of the Week was 1987. Late in that 1987 season, the American League East came down to the two best teams in baseball — the Tigers and Blue Jays — meeting on the final weekend of the season to determine the division and entry to the American League Championship Series.
Detroit was one-game behind Toronto entering the final series. After Detroit’s Doyle Alexander beat the Jays on Friday, the two teams were tied. In Saturday’s national telecast, Jack Morris and the late Mike Flanagan battled in a classic game that went 12 innings (Flanagan went 11 innings, Morris 9). In the bottom of the 12th, Alan Trammell’s walk-off base hit gave Detroit a one-game lead. On Sunday, the Tigers clinched the division 1-0 as Frank Tanana beat Jimmy Key. I learned that weekend that Detroit and Toronto—just over a four-hour drive between the two—had a nice little rivalry.
Here’s my takeaway: The Tigers (98 wins) didn’t win the 1987 World Series. And neither did the 96-win Blue Jays. Neither did the 91-win Brewers or 89-win Yankees team. Neither did the four 90+ win teams in the National League (the Cardinals, Mets, Expos, and Giants).
In 1987, the team with the ninth best record in MLB (the Twins) won the World Series.
In 2021, the two best teams in baseball also came from the same division (the Giants and Dodgers). Neither won the World Series, despite 107 and 106 wins. Last year, there were 11 teams that won at least 90 games. None of them won the World Series. The 88-73 Atlanta Braves are the defending World Series champions.
My point is this: The best teams do not win the championship every year, the best regular season teams in all sports don’t even win titles in half of all seasons. It has always been like that. The 82-79 Mets eliminated the 99-win Reds in the 1973 NLCS. In the 2019 World Series, the 93-win Nationals defeated the 107-win Astros. In 1954, Cleveland went 111-43, but lost the World Series. In 2001, Seattle went 116-46 and lost the ALCS.
Why do we expect the best teams to win the championship every year? The recently crowned NBA champion Golden State Warriors were the third seed in the Western Conference, winning only 53 games compared to Phoenix (64) and Memphis (56).
The Super Bowl champion Rams were the fourth seed in the NFC, behind Green Bay, Tampa Bay, and Dallas.
There has been a lot of topics on a lot of talk shows concerning the best five teams in MLB this season: the Yankees, Astros, Dodgers, Mets, and Braves. And with good reason: three of those teams are on pace for 100+ victories, and the other two on pace for the high 90s. All will attempt to bolster their roster and make a championship run.
For those of you — like me — that want to take a chance on another team, let me make a case for the Blue Jays.
Appropriate enough, they are the sixth best team in baseball.
Toronto is called the Six thanks to Forest Hill rapper Drake, who refers to his hometown as the 6 when he named his album. Now, it’s a permanent part of the city’s identity. Which is why I think it would be marvelous if Toronto won the World Series this year, despite five teams being better than them over the regular season.
Here are Six things to consider as to why I feel the Blue Jays could win the World Series.
John Schneider takes over as manager
We have seen this before. A team gets off to a sluggish start, replaces its manager, and the team is sparked to a championship run. In 2003, the Marlins were 10-games under .500 early on — replaced manager Jeff Torborg with Jack McKeon. Somehow, the team went on to win the World Series.
Schneider managed many members of the young Jays core in the minors. He’s not necessarily a better manager than Charlie Montoya, but a different voice in the clubhouse is sometimes all that is needed. If the young budding superstar Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. is behind Schneider, then we should all pay attention.
New playoff format
MLB has a new playoff format this year. And if the Blue Jays hold on to the first wild card, they will host a wild card team in a best-of-five series all played at the Rogers Centre. That means their opponent may be compromised by having some of its best players on the Restricted List for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID. And even if their opponent is at full strength, the Jays are 31-20 at home this year.
And if the Blue Jays advance to the Division Series, there is a very real chance they’ll have to beat both titans — the Astros and Yankees — if they wish to advance to the Fall Classic.
Toronto is 4-2 against Houston. And while the Yankees have won 8 of the first 12 meetings, the Blue Jays have shown they can compete with the Astros and Yanks. And who knows how injured any of these clubs will be in mid-October?
Jose Berrios — it’s time to step up
It’s been a year. On July 30, 2021, Jose Berrios was traded by the Twins to the Blue Jays for a couple of minor league prospects. Since then, Berrios has made 32 starts for Toronto. He is 12-8, 4.56 ERA. His ERA+ is 92. That’s not good.
But he’s only 28 years old. And recently, Berrios has been good. The Jays have won each of his last five starts. Berrios is 2-0, 3.41 ERA in those appearances. It leads me to believe there is hope that he turns into the frontline pitcher Toronto must have to compete in the postseason.
The Blue Jays have won each of his last 12 home starts, dating back to last season, tying Roy Halladay for the longest streak in franchise history.
In a long postseason run, a team doesn’t need four or five or six good starters. They need three. This team can’t win without superlative performances from Berrios and Kevin Gausman. By the way, wouldn’t it be something if Gausman won a World Series with the Jays, after not winning with the 107-win San Francisco team a year ago?
At the beginning of the season, we all knew about Vlad. And George Springer. And Matt Chapman. We didn’t know about third-year catcher Alejandro Kirk, who is among the American League leaders in batting average and OPS. Kirk doesn’t strike out much (he walks more than he strikes out). Not only is he a good offensive catcher (able to be a more than capable designated hitter on days he doesn’t catch), he is a very good defensive catcher (7 Defensive Runs Saved).
This is the last thing Ross Atkins has to worry about in the Fall. The offense is just fine, thank you. The Blue Jays are mashing the ball in July. Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. beginning May 27 is slashing .383/.426/.519. The Blue Jays are just starting to hit like they did in 2021, when they led the majors with 262 home runs
This year, the Blue Jays are fifth in home runs (127) through Wednesday’s games. In October, it’s hard to string enough hits together for big innings. The Braves showed up last year you need power. The Blue Jays have power. They have players like Guerrero, Jr. that can carry an offense for a week or two.
Jordan Romano is good. But like a lot of his teammates, he’s not quite as good as he was last year. His strikeouts are down, his WHIP is up. But he has the ability.
There is no doubt about it. This bullpen has to improve. The team needs some more swing-and-miss stuff from the pen. This is where the trade deadline comes in. Go get yourselves a reliever or two, Toronto. The bullpen is the easiest thing for a general manager to fix.
It has surprised me the Jays haven’t played better this season.
But this team is hardly in a free-fall. They had a winning record in April (14-8), May (14-12), June (15-13), and July (11-11 through Wednesday).
This team has talent. This team has a home-field advantage. Yes, there are five better teams in baseball. In October, that doesn’t always matter.
Toronto is 6ix.