2024 Toronto Blue Jays

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2024 Toronto Blue Jays / Franchise: Toronto Blue Jays / BR Team Page[edit]

Record: , Finished in AL Eastern Division (2024 AL)

Managed by John Schneider

Coaches: Mark Budzinski, Carlos Febles, Matt Hague, DeMarlo Hale, David Howell, Guillermo Martinez, Don Mattingly, Hunter Mense, Pete Walker and Jeff Ware

Ballpark: Rogers Centre

History, Comments, Contributions[edit]

The 2024 Toronto Blue Jays were coming off a postseason appearance, but also off a very disappointing season in 2023. The team that was expected to rise to dominance in the American League struggled to barely qualify for the postseason, and once there was quickly dispatched by the Minnesota Twins in two games in the Wild Card Series, the third time they had been swept at that stage in four years (in the other year, 2021, they had missed qualifying for the postseason by just one game).

The key to the new season for the Jays was to maintain what had worked well the year before - a great team defense and an outstanding performance by their starting pitchers, the two factors being related - while improving the one area that had not - their hitting. On paper, they were not a bad hitting team, putting their share of runners on base and hitting a decent number of homers, but those long balls all seem to come with the bases empty, and their inability to hit with runners in scoring position was a constant source of frustration. They also seemed to make more than their share of baserunning mistakes, costing them runs, and all of these factors were on full display during the postseason sweep, with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. making a particularly egregious baserunning blunder in the second game, which they lost, 2-0.

Contrary to previous years, the Blue Jays did not sign any big name free agents over the winter, even though they were aggressively in the running to sign superstar Shohei Ohtani, instead shedding some of the worst performers of the previous year and bringing in second-tier free agents. So gone were 3B Matt Chapman, DH/1B Brandon Belt, 2B/OF Whit Merrifield and P Hyun-Jin Ryu, and joining the team was DH Justin Turner to take Belt's place with the hope that, in contrast with Belt, he would get the occasional hit with men on base, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa to kind of replace Chapman at third base, although the plan was to have a number of players cycle through the position. The Jays also decided to promote two players internally, Davis Schneider, a utility player who had become a folk hero in Toronto for his nerdish looks and unexpected power surge after being called up the previous August, and IF Ernie Clement who had belied his reputation as a "good field, no hit" backup infielder by hitting well over .300 in both AAA and the majors. Cavan Biggio, who had found his batting stroke during the second half after it had gone missing for over two seasons, was slated for a bigger role as a 2B/OF, CF Kevin Kiermaier was re-signed after a good if not spectacular season, and another intriguing addition was P Yariel Rodríguez, who hadn't been on a mound since the 2023 World Baseball Classic but who had flashed considerable talent in Nippon Pro Baseball before that. But the biggest factors for success in 2024 would be whether Guerrero, OF Daulton Varsho and C Alejandro Kirk could bounce back after disappointing seasons with the bat, whether SS Bo Bichette would continue to be the team's best offensive player, and, as a wild card, whether former ace P Alek Manoah could bounce back from whatever had made him lose his ability to pitch the previous year.

Early returns on the season were mixed, to the point that no one could detect a pattern. Forced to start the season with a long road trip to allow the completion of improvements to the Rogers Centre that had begun a year earlier, the Blue Jays split a four-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays. What was strange was that they won Games 1 and 4 handily, with starting pitchers José Berríos and Kevin Gausman both pitching well, and were defeated soundly in Games 2 and 3, with the Jays scoring 17 runs in the two wins, and allowing 13 in the two losses as none of the games were close. Guerrero hit a monster homer over 450 feet in the opener on March 28th and Kirk contributed a key hit with the bases loaded to break open the game, and Turner and Schneider both homered in Game 4, but the bats were asleep in the other two games. Then, on April 1st, the Jays moved on to play the Houston Astros and put on a wretched performance, being no-hit 10-0 by relative unknown Ronel Blanco and coughing up five gopher balls in doing so, to the point that Kiner-Falefa had to pitch the final inning. So the question was still open: were the Blue Jays any good? They ran their scoreless streak to 17 innings the next day, when they were muzzled by Framber Valdez, until Davis Schneider played the hero, hitting a homer to deep center off Astros closer Josh Hader with two outs in the 9th to give the Jays a 2-1 win. That blast obscured the fact that the Jays had done little offensively in the first eight innings of the game, something that couldn't be hidden when they were limited to just one hit in the final game of the series, an 8-0 loss. It was now clear that not only were the previous season's hitting problems still a thing - they were worse than ever! For the record the Jays were just the fourth team to be both no-hit and one-hit in the same series since 1920. They completed the trip by going 1-2 at New Yankee Stadium, while their pitchers allowed a grand slam in each of the two losses, to Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton respectively. As a result, the Jays were 4-6 when they finally made it back to Toronto.

The Rogers Centre was jam-packed on April 8th to show off the $400 million in renovations that had included a complete re-build of the lower bowl. The Jays then did honor to the new setting with a 5-2 win over the Seattle Mariners, with Berríos making his third straight excellent start and a number of players contributing big hits. The homestand was fairly good, as the Jays won two of three in each of the three series, and also saw the return of four players who had missed the start of the season: catcher Danny Jansen and Ps Jordan Romano, Erik Swanson and Yariel Rodríguez, the latter making his major league debut after missing all of last season. However, they missed the chance of putting down an early marker, as Toronto was on the verge of sweeping the Yankees to finish the homestand on April 17th, with a 4-2 lead in the 9th, but a homer by Stanton sparked a rally against Swanson, and New York won the game, 6-4, negating a two-homer performance by Varsho. They finished the month at 15-16, largely because they went 2-6 over their last 8 games in April; that in turn was largely a result of a lack of offense as they did not score more than three runs in any of the six losses in spite of some generally solid pitching.

May was a rough month for the Jays, as they went 12-13, and basically saved their record by winning their last four games against two of the worst teams in baseball - the Chicago White Sox and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Before that mini winning streak, they had fallen back as many as 12 1/2 games from first place. The starting pitching was good: from May 8th to 31st, they allowed three runs or less in a game 13 times in 19 games, but pitchers like Berroa and Yusei Kikuchi found it almost impossible to record a win because the offense was sputtering badly - during that same stretch, they had 9 games in which they scored 3 runs or less - and incomprehensively another five when they scored 7 or more. It was feast or famine, with no distinguishable pattern, making it even more frustrating. Their best hitters during the month were Guerrero, who hit .357 and drove in 14 runs, and Jansen, who hit .293 and slugged. 507. On the other hand, Springer, Bichette, Turner and Biggio were all mired in deep slumps, with Springer being demoted from the lead-off slot as a result. The month ended on both a good note and a bad note: Davis Schneider hit a walk-off home run in the 14th inning on May 31st to end what was the longest game played by the Jays since the introduction of the tiebreaker in 2020, but that same day Manoah, who had given signs of finding his old form during the month, had to go on the injured list for what was expected to be a long stay after leaving a start two days earlier after just 2 1/3 innings. Bizarrely, in spite of playing a lot of close games, this was the Jays' first win of the year achieved in walk-off fashion (they had lost twice, both times in May, and both times with Romano giving up a game-ending homer). Romano, who had struggled all season, went on the injured list on June 1st.

Another strange stat in this Blue Jays season was that not a single time after May 4th did they score a run in the 1st inning (for anyone not up on their Sabermetrics, the 1st inning is typically the one in which teams score the most runs, as it's the only one in which they can determine in advance which batters will hit and in what order). In fact, this drought was now reaching historic proportions: with a loss on June 1st, it had now reached 23 games, easily erasing the past franchise record of 20 dating back to their inaugural season in 1977 and in the top 10 of worst performances by any team in the last decade. Given the team's disappointing season, a lot of discussion began to be raised about what should be done in the long term with Guerrero and Bichette, both of whom had one year left before free agency after this season, with many observers suggesting that the Jays should trade one in order to address some of the obvious weaknesses on the team. GM Ross Atkins dismissed this talk as "not making any sense". One change they did make was to have Biggio designated for assignment on June 7th, in order to bring up Spencer Horwitz, who had been burning up AAA. The move paid dividends the next day when Horwitz scored a run in the 1st inning against the Oakland Athletics, finally putting an end to that embarrassing streak after 30 games. In that same game, Gausman pitched the first complete game shutout of his career in a 7-0 win.

Awards and Honors[edit]

Further Reading[edit]

  • Keegan Matheson: "Blue Jays break out revamped park with bright outing from core players", mlb.com, April 8, 2024. [1]
  • Keegan Matheson: "Blue Jays' first-inning run drought reaches historic proportions", mlb.com, June 1, 2024. [2]
  • Keegan Matheson: "Atkins on Vlad, Bo trade talks: 'It just doesn't make any sense for us': Blue Jays' GM throws his support behind team's core, manager John Schneider", mlb.com, June 2, 2024. [3]