2020 Toronto Blue Jays
2020 Toronto Blue Jays / Franchise: Toronto Blue Jays / BR Team Page
Managed by Charlie Montoyo
History, Comments, Contributions
Like every other major league team, the 2020 Toronto Blue Jays had their spring training interrupted by the Coronavirus Pandemic in March. Ontario was one of the regions in North America that was hit early and hard, particularly in seniors residences, and the provincial government decreed stringent measures to tame the contagion, with considerable success, as numbers were going down significantly by June while they were spiking south of the border. However, these measures also created uncertainties about whether the Blue Jays would be allowed to play games at the Rogers Centre, even without spectators. On July 2nd, they were granted an exemption that allowed them to conduct their "summer camp" in their home ballpark, just as they were making contingency plans to move everyone to their spring training site in Dunedin, FL. There was still some question on whether they would be allowed to go ahead with actual games, given still standing regulations limiting border crossings. Team President Mark Shapiro said he was confident that approval would be secured for that as well.
However, on July 18th, the Canadian Federal Minister of Immigration, Marco Mendicino, announced that the government would not grant the Blue Jays permission to play home games in Toronto, as this would imply repeated border crossings by large groups of persons traveling to and from areas where the risk of transmission of the virus remained high. All participants would have needed special dispensation to cross the border, given it was still closed to regular traffic, and this confirmed that such dispensation would not be forthcoming. Provincial authorities in Ontario stated that they agreed with the decision. Shapiro stated that "the club completely respects the federal government's decision" and that the Blue Jays were looking at playing their home games at an alternative site, either Dunedin or Buffalo, NY, the site of their AAA affiliate. While it was the Canadian government that ultimately pulled the plug, writers made it clear that it was the politicization of the epidemic in the U.S. and as a result the inability by authorities to bring it under control, that had caused a decision which no one could objectively oppose. As for the situation in Canada, new cases were down to almost nothing in Toronto by that point. It was a dark horse candidate that came out ahead in the race to find a new home: the players were opposed to Buffalo because the facilities were not up to major league standards; Dunedin was out for reasons of public health; and the option of making the Jays a "travel team" was rejected. Instead, they settled on sharing PNC Park with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but that solution lasted less than 24 hours as the state of Pennsylvania objected, as this would have meant too much additional travel by outsiders into the region. On July 24th, a few hours before playing their opening game, the Jays announced that they had settled on Buffalo's Sahlen Field. They added that they would make some quick renovations to the ballpark, particularly to its locker rooms and to its lighting, to bring it closer to major league standards. They also announced that they would delay their first home game in order to have time to complete this work, although it was not clear if this would be until July 31st, or August 11th.
The Jays played their first game on the road against the Tampa Bay Rays on July 24th. On that day, they started their "all-second generation" infield consisting of 1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 2B Cavan Biggio, SS Bo Bichette and 3B Travis Shaw. Biggio was the hero, as his 4th-inning bunt single that caught Rays starting pitcher Charlie Morton completely by surprise, started a three-run outburst, and he followed that the next inning with a three-run homer off Morton as the Jays went on to win, 6-4. On the mound was their prize off-season free agent signing, left-hander Hyun-jin Ryu, a far cry from the end of 2019 when their starting rotation consisted entirely of rookies with the odd opener mixed in. The next two games did not go so well, as on July 25th, after a solid start from Matt Shoemaker, who had missed over a year after suffering a knee injury the previous April, reliever Sam Gaviglio imploded in the 8th inning, giving Tampa a 4-1 win. In the final game on the 26th, they took a 4-2 lead into the 9th after a good combined start by youngsters Tom Hatch and Anthony Kay, only to see closer Ken Giles fall apart after two quick outs, giving up a double and a pair of walks to load the bases while clearly being out of sorts. Brian Moran was unable to register the final out before the Rays had tied it, and even scoring a run in the top of the 10th was not enough as Shun Yamaguchi, an off-season signing from Nippon Pro Baseball, had a rough first outing in the majors, giving up 2 runs without retiring anyone for a 6-5 loss. Giles' injury was a significant one as he would only make two more meaningless appearances all season before announcing he needed Tommy John surgery, so the Jays had to play the entire season without their closer, forcing manager Charlie Montoyo to adopt a very creative approach to bullpen management.
The Blue Jays moved to Washington, DC for two scheduled road games against the Washington Nationals, which they both won. The two teams were originally scheduled to then move to Toronto for two more games, but that proving impossible and with the ballpark in Buffalo not yet ready, they just stayed put and the Blue Jays played their "home opener" on July 29th, by simply batting last in their opponents' ballpark. There were some small touches, such as having the recorded crowd noise favor the Jays, and playing the team's fight song "O.K, Blue Jays" during the 7th-inning stretch, but it was just one more surreal happening in a year full of them. The Jays lost both of these games, and then both teams were forced to stay idle for the following week-end, as their next scheduled opponents - the Philadelphia Phillies in the Jays' case and the Miami Marlins for the Nats - had both been forced into inactivity by positive tests for the COVID-19 virus. The Jays therefore finished July with a record of 3-4. They returned to the field on August 4th at Truist Park, facing the Atlanta Braves and completed their very long road trip by losing 4 of their next 6 games. They were getting decent pitching, but their hitting was terrible, as they never scored more than 3 runs in any of the 6 games. Manager Montoyo tried to juggle the line-up to provoke things, but to no avail as key offensive pieces like Biggio, DH Rowdy Tellez and C Danny Jansen were all hitting below .200, while Guerrero and OF Randal Grichuk had only hit one homer between them. Of the 15 homers they had hit so far in the season, 14 were solo shots, an indication that drawing walks and OBP in general were significant concerns.
On August 11th, the Blue Jays were finally ready to play a real home game, albeit in Buffalo, where they hosted the Marlins. They were cruising to an easy win, thank to a strong start by Ryu coupled with a three-run homer by Bichette, when with two outs in the 9th, fill-in closer Anthony Bass who had been beyond reproach since taking over for the injured Giles, coughed up a three-run homer to Francisco Cervelli to blow a 4-1 lead. But A.J. Cole prevented the Marlins from scoring in the 10th, and the Jays then played perfect fundamental baseball in the bottom half to score designated runner Anthony Alford on a line drive to right field by Shaw. It was the first major league game played in Buffalo since the days of the Federal League. The offence did show some life on August 12th, when the Jays had 18 hits and 7 homers - but they still lost to the Marlins, 14-11, in 10 innings. In their next game, against the Rays two days later, they hit another 6 home runs, to give them a team record 13 in two games, but this time were winners, 12-4. Two days later, they hit a low point with a 7-5 loss to the Rays that gave them a record of 7-11, while they also needed to place their hottest hitter, Bichette, on the injured list with a sprained knee. Things looked really bleak, especially as the Jays had dropped plenty of winnable games due to silly mistakes, such as RF Teoscar Hernandez letting a routine fly ball get past him at a key moment and a number of baserunners getting caught in egregious situations. These were the mistakes typical of a young team, and they were also suffering from their starting pitchers' inability to go deep into games. Their patched-together bullpen had been good, but by being asked to pitch four or five innings game after game, any run they gave up seemed to lead to a heart-breaking loss.
Through that tough stretch, manager Charlie Montoyo did not overreact. He never exploded at players when he would have had every right to and kept looking to put them in situations where they could succeed, and it began to pay dividends. On August 17th, a 7-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles started a winning streak. Three days later, they swept a make-up doubleheader from the Phillies, including coming back from a 7-0 deficit in the second game. By now, Grichuk was one of the hottest hitters in the majors, slugging six homers in one week, and they traveled to Tampa Bay with a five-game winning streak to face another hot team, the Rays, also nursing a five-game winning streak and who had just vaulted past the New York Yankees and into first place. The Blue Jays won the opener of the four-game series on August 21st, 6-5 in 10 innings, and were now at 13-11, a record which would have put them in the postseason had the season ended at that point. They ended up splitting the four-game series with the Rays to move their record to 14-13; however, the injury bug bit them hard at that time, as they had to place three starting pitchers on the injured list in the span of a couple of days - Shoemaker, Nate Pearson and Trent Thornton. They made a transaction, but it was a bit of a head scratcher, as they acquired 1B/DH Daniel Vogelbach from the Seattle Mariners, a player whose profile was very similar to that of Guerrero and Tellez, and one who did not not fill any obvious need. They made another deal with Seattle a couple of days later, on August 27th, when they acquired P Taijuan Walker for a player to be named later; this time the acquisition clearly filled an important need. The transaction came on a day when the Jays opted to sit out their game against the Boston Red Sox as part of protests across the sporting world against police brutality and racism. Walker had an excellent first start with the team, pitching 6 scoreless innings on August 29th. The Jays then made three more deals on August 31st, acquiring two more starting pitchers in Robbie Ray and Ross Stripling and an infielder in Jonathan Villar. The ubiquitous "player to be named later" was what they had to give up, except in Ray's case, where they sent P Travis Bergen, who had made one appearance during the season, to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
On September 6th, the Blue Jays achieved something not even the wildest optimist would have predicted before the season: they moved ahead of the Yankees after beating the Red Sox, 10-8 while the Yanks lost. Strangely enough the two division rivals had yet to face one another due to the unusual schedule, although the Bronx Bombers were set to visit Sahlen Field to start a three-game series the next day. The Jays were now without their hottest hitter all season, RF Teoscar Hernandez, placed on the injured list with an oblique strain. In the first game, the Blue Jays had a ten-run inning in the 6th, their biggest in a decade, capped by a grand slam by C Jansen, battering relievers Chad Green and Adam Ottavino to win the game, 12-7. The next day, it was OF Jonathan Davis, playing his first competitive game of the season in place of Hernandez, who was the hero with a two-run homer off former Jay J.A. Happ in a 2-1 win over the Yankees. On September 11th, it was the Jays' pitchers who gave up a ten-run inning, in an 18-1 loss to the New York Mets. The Jays' pitchers were starting to allow a lot of walks - at least 6 in each of their last five games - and relievers who had pitched well in the early going were now showing signs of fatigue, given that starters were almost never allowed to go through a line-up more than twice even if pitching well, making for very short outings. They were still a half game ahead of the Yankees when they headed to New Yankee Stadium for the first time to start a three-game series on September 15th, but the Yankees made it clear who was the boss at this point, as they won the first two games by scores of 20-6 and 13-2. The Yanks hit six homers the first game and seven in the second, as both teams set team records, the Yankees for most homers in a two-game span, and the Jays for most allowed. Things went no better in the final game as Chase Anderson allowed a record-tying 5 homers in the 4th inning, pacing the Yankees to a 10-7 win. By hitting another 6 homers, they became the first team to do so in three consecutive games, and the 19 homers allowed by Jays pitchers set another unenviable record for a three-game series. They followed that beating by being swept by the Phillies in a doubleheader on September 18th and it was now no longer a certainty that they would make the postseason unless they were able to right the ship quickly.
The Jays managed to stop the bleeding by winning the final game of their series against the Phillies, 6-3, on September 20th, behind another strong start by Walker, whose acquisition was proving to be a stroke of genius. They headed back to Buffalo to host the Yankees for a four-game series. Whatever trauma they may felt in the Bronx the previous week was quickly left behind as they won three of the four games, two of them in blow-out fashion, to clinch a postseason slot on September 24th. Some unexpected heroes emerged in that series, with catchers Jansen and Alejandro Kirk, the latter a raw rookie of 21 with no experience above A-ball, both having four-hit games, and Stripling and T.J. Zeuch each contributing a great performance in long relief to nail two of the wins. The clinching win went to Hyun-Jin Ryu, who pitched like a true ace, becoming the first Jays starter to pitch into the 7th inning all year when he threw seven scoreless frames in a 4-1 win in the clinching game. Also on display was a suddenly hot Vladimir Guerrero Jr. who went 9-for-15 with 5 extra-base hits and 9 RBIs over the four games.
Awards and Honors
- Eric Brady: "Buffalo Blue Jays? Team's home away from home has a long baseball history", USA Today Sports, August 10, 2020. 
- Canadian Press: "Blue Jays can't play home games in Toronto after federal government rejects plan", Yahoo! Sports, July 18, 2020. 
- Rosie DiManno: "The search is over. The Blue Jays will call Pittsburgh home", The Toronto Star, July 22, 2020. 
- Gabe Lacques: "Canada said no to MLB and the Blue Jays - and we only have ourselves to blame", USA Today, July 18, 2020. 
- Keegan Matheson: "Blue Jays set for Summer Camp at Rogers", mlb.com, July 2, 2020. 
- Keegan Matheson: "Blue Jays to play home games in Buffalo", mlb.com, July 24, 2020. 
- Keegan Matheson: "Toronto is in! Ryu, youth lead playoff clincher: Steadfast Blue Jays back in postseason for first time since 2016", mlb.com, September 25, 2020. 
- Bob Nightengale: "Blue Jays denied permission to play 'home' games at PNC Park in Pittsburgh", USA Today, July 22, 2020. 
- Mike Petriello: "How the young Blue Jays could make history", mlb.com, March 10, 2020.