While the Toronto Blue Jays are one of the worst offense teams with runners in scoring position in MLB (third from last), their pitching deserves to tip one’s hat. They not only have one of the most solid starting rotations, but also an elite bullpen. A remarkable performance that explains why the Blue Jays have been able to win some close games, and they still have a chance to make the postseason as one of the wild card holders.
By August 17, the Blue Jay’s arms were leading the majors in Earned Runs Average (ERA) with 3.70, ranked second in ERA+ (113) and had the ninth-lowest walks plus hits ratio to innings pitched (WHIP) with 1.24. The uncertainty days before the All-Star Game break, when the starting rotation was a concern and only had four reliable names because Alek Manoah was trying, unsuccessfully, to find himself on the mound, appear to be a distant memory.
The Blue Jays pitchers are carrying the team on their shoulders… and arms
Fortunately, many positive and unexpected stories have come together in Toronto: Yusei Kikuchi is having a breakthrough year, Jose Berrios looks as dominant as he was with the Twins, and Hyun Jin Ryu has had a successful comeback after 14 months of inactivity. The fact that Manoah was not the lighthouse of the rotation and that the Jays supporting staff claim the limelight for themselves was unimagined by MLB writers when the season started. Excluding Manoah’s numbers, the starting rotation had a 3.51 ERA after their series against the Philadelphia Phillies in Rogers Centre. Even considering the shaky performance of the demoted 2022 American League Cy Young finalist, the starters make the MLB top five (3.82).
Kikuchi, who was with Berrios one of the big question marks in the starting pitching after putting up modest numbers in 2022, has been the organization’s most pleasant surprise from the mound. After the All-Star break, he has a better ERA (1.29) than Gerrit Cole (2.52) and Shohei Ohtani (2.67) and has issued only eight walks in six outings and 35 innings pitched. His renovated confidence on the mound has translated into his best global numbers in several categories as wins (nine), ERA (3.58), walks per nine innings pitched (2.45), and the best strikeouts/walks issued ratio (3.77), as well as a .301 on-base percentage against.
The flamethrower lefty has become the most consistent pitcher in manager John Schneider‘s rotation even though he is theoretically the fourth in the order: since July 21, he has pitched five or more episodes and allowed one or fewer runs.
The last eight of nine outings have shown that Berrios is committed to proving he deserves to be part of the Birds until 2028: he has pitched five or more acts and allowed four or fewer runs, giving his team a chance to win. The 2021 Cy Young candidate’s ERA ranks 12th in the American League (3.53).
It is a small sample (only three outings since he was activated from the injured list), but Ryu has provided more depth than one usually expects from a fifth starter. He has a win/lose record of 1-1 and a 2.57 ERA in 14 innings pitched. His curveball has proven to be still deceiving.
One bullpen of a kind
The bullpen is worth a deep look as well and deserves a lot of credit. Jordan Romano is back from the injured list and has resumed his closing duties. In his first outing (against Philadelphia), he looked sharp and efficient: got his 29th save, punched out two, and only threw 11 pitches.
Jordan Hicks preceded Romano and showed his electric repertoire. He got the hold and demonstrated why he is one of the best at avoiding hard contact: his percentage (1.9%) of barrels per plate appearance (Brls/PA%) ranks 13th, according to Statcast.
Tim Mayza with a Brls/PA% of 3.0 has been another strong asset and Jays’ most reliable lefty reliever all year long.
Jay Jackson and his overall .156 batting average against and 0.82 WHIP as well as Yimi Garcia with his 1.02 WHIP in 15 appearances after the All-Star game have also shown their stamina on the mound. Erik Swanson has looked better recently (he only allowed one hit in 4.1 acts between August 7 and 16) and has converted all his three saving opportunities since July.
Bullpen is getting stronger thanks to Chad Green and the versatile Trevor Richards return. Another piece of good news for Toronto in a year that has seen a depleted offense, one that has scored only 4.5 runs per game. If the starters are able to keep the momentum and the relievers continue to hold their nerve in close games, the Jays could be looking to go further this season, despite their often-cold bats.