2019 Toronto Blue Jays
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2019 Toronto Blue Jays / Franchise: Toronto Blue Jays / BR Team Page
Managed by Charlie Montoyo
History, Comments, Contributions
The 2019 Toronto Blue Jays headed into the season with the enthusiasm that had built around the team's two successive appearances in the ALCS, in 2015 and 2016, pretty much dead. 2017 had been a disappointment, and then all the air seemingly came out of the balloon in 2018, among a slew of departures by familiar faces: gone were Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada and Roberto Osuna. The local media was portraying this as a complete tear-down, with nothing for fans to look forward to except a slew of losses to stronger teams in the AL East. But there was another story behind this, which was that the Jays were more loaded with prospects than just about any other team in the majors - and most of them were on the brink of contributing to the major league team. There was also a new manager and coaching staff, led by Charlie Montoyo, who may not have had much name recognition, but was widely praised for his role in making the underdog Tampa Bay Rays competitive against all odds in recent seasons. John Gibbons, who had retired at the end of the previous season, may have been beloved of the media and respected by the fans, but working with youngsters was not his strength. Whereas this was Montoyo's clear mandate.
The biggest story coming into spring training was Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the reigning Minor League Player of the Year, who would normally have made his debut the previous September had the Blue Jays not been concerned about starting his arbitration clock early. This was still a concern this year, and as a result, he was not penciled in to come to Toronto until the end of April, but before a major controversy could erupt over this, he suffered an injury in early March that meant he would not have been ready on opening day anyway. With less of the attention focused on Guerrero, other young players who had led the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats to the Eastern League title or had played well in AAA were able to strut their stuff in the Grapefruit League. This included SS Bo Bichette, IF Cavan Biggio, 1B Rowdy Tellez, OFs Billy McKinney and Anthony Alford, and a slew of young pitchers with good stuff. None of them, except for Jansen and McKinney, were expected to break camp with the team, but it was clear their time was near. That was on top of a couple of youngsters who had established themselves as solid major leaguers the previous year, namely C Danny Jansen and IF Lourdes Gurriel. So the unfamiliar names may not have excited the fan-base, but observers were intrigued at how all of this talent would eventually jell together. Recognizing how much the future depended on the kids, management made an interesting move that March, announcing that they had unilaterally decided to give their minor leaguers a 50% raise, an acknowledgement that these young men were severely exploited, as many had claimed in a series of prominent lawsuits directed at Major League Baseball.
The Jays opened their season with three consecutive shutouts, although they were on the losing end on Opening Day on March 28th before turning the tables the next two days. They received a great start from Marcus Stroman in the opener, but his opponent on the mound for the Detroit Tigers, Jordan Zimmermann, was even better, taking a perfect game into the 7th. The game was decided in extra innings when Christin Stewart hit a two-run homer in the top of the 10th, accounting for all of the game's runs. The next day, it was new acquisition Matt Shoemaker who had a great start, with seven scoreless innings in a 6-0 win, earning Montoyo his first win as a major league manager, and in the third game of the series, they pitched another shutout in a 3-0 win. This time it was Aaron Sanchez who got things started with 5 scoreless innings before the bullpen took over. The 19 consecutive scoreless innings by their starters to begin the season was a new team record. Incredibly, the streak continued in the next game on March 31st, when rookie Trent Thornton made his major league debut and gave up just 2 hits, no walks and struck out 8 over 5 innings to make it 24 straight scoreless innings by the starting rotation. In that same game, 19-year-old Rule V draftee Elvis Luciano made his debut in relief and became the first player born in the 21st century to play in the majors. He did well, not allowing a run in 1 1/3 innings. However, the Jays lost that game in extra innings as well, 4-3 in 11 innings. Next up to start a game for the Jays should have been off-season acquisition Clayton Richard, but he was placed on the injured list a day before his scheduled April 1st start, giving way to young Sean Reid-Foley instead. The streak ended in the 1st inning of the next game, as Reid-Foley gave up a two-run homer to Jonathan Villar of the Baltimore Orioles as part of a four-run inning. The Jays were again shut down through the first innings that day, not getting a hit until starter David Hess had left the game with a no-hitter still in order with one out in the 7th. They lost the game, 6-5.
On April 2nd, the Jays traded CF Kevin Pillar to the San Francisco Giants in return for three players: IF Alen Hanson and Ps Derek Law and Juan De Paula. The trade came less than a week after that of another veteran, DH Kendrys Morales, who had been sent to the Oakland Athletics on March 27th in return for minor league infielder Jesus Lopez. The moves served as more indication that the youth trend was for real. That same day, they signed OF Randal Grichuk to a five-year extension, identifying one player around which they were planning to build. Grichuk celebrated the deal with a two-homer game the next day. On April 4th, the Jays were held hitless into the 7th inning for already the third time in less than ten games. This time it was Trevor Bauer of the Cleveland Indians who mesmerized them, with seven innings without allowing a hit before departing due to a high pitch count. SS Freddy Galvis eventually broke up the bid with a single off Brad Hand to lead off the 9th, but the Jays lost, 4-1, as their hitting problems since the beginning of the season were getting impossible to ignore. They lost all four games in Cleveland, and the hitters accumulated a huge number of strikeouts: 57 over the four games.
On April 24th, the Blue Jays finally made the announcement everyone was waiting for, stating that they were calling up Vladimir Jr. and that he would be making his debut against the Oakland Athletics on April 26th. His debut coincided with the Jays' second three-game sweep of the Athletics in the span of ten days. While Guerrero had a couple of important hits in the series, the key players were more unheralded figures, Brandon Drury and Eric Sogard, in addition to some very solid starting pitching. In the final game of the series, Luciano earned his first major league win, becoming the youngest player in team history to do so. That victory put the Jays back at .500 with a record of 14-14, their first time there since starting off 2-2.
However, the optimism was short-lived: the Jays had a dreadful month of May, going 7-21 to fall well behind the leaders of the AL East. The only question was whether they would be able to finish ahead of the Orioles, who were consensus picks to occupy the cellar before the season started. It was a combination of things that sunk the Blue Jays: injuries took a bite out of their starting rotation as both Matt Shoemaker and Clay Buchholz went down for the count during the period, and with a depleted farm system, the Jays were forced to turn to retreads Edwin Jackson and Ryan Feierabend, and neither was able to help. This led to overuse of the bullpen, which had been solid during the first month, with performance going down and injuries striking there as well. Only closer Ken Giles was pitching well, but opportunities to use him in meaningful situations were few and far between. Meanwhile, the hitters weren't contributing much either, as one and only one hitter would seemingly get hot for a week while the rest of his teammates were busy watching from the sidelines but too shy to join in the dance. Thus Galvis, Sogard, Drury, Guerrero, Smoak and Gourriel all in turn had short bursts of productivity, but were unable to carry the team on their shoulders by themselves and then fell back into slumps. OFs Teoscar Hernandez and Billy McKinney, regulars in April, were both sent down to the minors during the month, being replaced on the roster with two more rookies, Jonathan Davis and Cavan Biggio. Davis showed a lot of promise with the glove but not the bat, while Biggio, like Guerrero, clearly would need an adaptation period before being a solid contributor, even if it was obvious the underlying talent was there. Gourriel, back from the minors, seemed to adapt well to being used in left field (he had been an infielder until fielding woes had prompted his being sent down to AAA in mid-April), but it was hard for manager Montoyo to settle on a line-up when so many players were struggling at the dish. The Jays finished May by going winless on a six-game road trip from May 27-June 2 - and had lost 10 of 11 games at that point.
There were a couple of rays of hope amidst all the gloom in June, as the Jays managed to take two of three games in their first series of the year against the New York Yankees at the Rogers Centre, and then they managed to get their bats going in a visit to their rivals in mediocrity, the Baltimore Orioles. In that series, Edwin Jackson, whose pitching had been wretched up to that point, gained his first win of the year on June 12th, and the next day the Jays matched their season highs with 17 hits and 12 runs in a 12-3 rout. But at the same time, this coincided with closer Giles, their best pitcher by a country mile all season, going on the injured list, so no one expected the improvement to be nothing more than short-lived. Meanwhile, the city of Toronto had basically forgotten the Jays in its enthusiasm for its new-found heroes, the Toronto Raptors, who won their first NBA championship on June 13th.
As the trading deadline approached, it was clear that the Blue Jays would be big-time sellers, with the only question being how many of its few veterans it would be able to move for a decent return. The first two trades took place on the same day, July 28th, as 2B Sogard, one of the most pleasant surprises of the first half with his .300 average, unexpected power, and leadership skills, was sent to the Tampa Bay Rays for two players to be named, and he simply had to walk across the field as the Jays were hosting the Rays that day. Then after the game, their sole All-Star, Stroman, owner of a 2.96 ERA that placed him 5th in the league, was sent to the New York Mets in return for two pitching prospects, Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods-Richardson. Sogard's trade was a means to open a spot for AAA SS Bo Bichette, who was impatient of joining up with Guerrero and Biggio on the big league squad. Bichette was the third of the Jays' heralded trio of second-generation prospects to make his debut, on July 29th, singling in his first at-bat. Stroman and Sogard were not the only veterans to leave at the deadline, however. They were quickly followed by Ps David Phelps, Daniel Hudson, Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini, sent away for prospects in three separate deals. The return was meager, though, especially for Sanchez and Biagini, who returned only aging OF prospect Derek Fisher from the Houston Astros, and only after the Blue Jays had thrown in a third player, Cal Stevenson, to sweeten the pot. Needless to say, those deals did not please the increasingly disinterested fan base, as it was hard to comprehend that GM Ross Atkins had been unable to get more in return for the team's more valuable assets. The last two months were looking to be long ones, as the starting rotation was now down to the barest bones.
The Blue Jays had to fill out their pitching staff after their blow-out sale, and picked up a number of veteran pitchers, mostly off the waiver wire, with the hope that some would prove useful. Among those getting a shot this way were Wilmer Font, Buddy Boshers, Jason Adam, Brock Stewart and Zack Godley. Against all expectations, the Jays played better in the early days of August, thanks to Bichette, who hit safely in his first 10 games, and banged out 11 extra-base hits in that span, and Guerrero, who went 19 for 41 with 4 homers and 18 RBIs in a 9-game span starting on July 27th. He hit his first two career grand slams during that stretch. On August 10th, they announced that second-year P Ryan Borucki was lost for the season after making just 2 starts, needing to have a bone spur removed from his elbow. With the last veteran starter, Clayton Richard, back on the injured list, the Blue Jays were left with an all-rookie rotation featuring Thornton, Pannone, Reid-Foley and Jacob Waguespack, with a bullpen game every five days. It was definitely less than ideal, but with the offense picking up - they led the major leagues in homers, tied with the Yankees, between mid-June and that day - they were actually playing better than when they had a bunch of veterans around earlier in the year.
On September 10th, rookie T.J. Zeuch started a game against the Boston Red Sox, thus becoming the 20th different pitcher to do so for the Jays that season. That tied the 1967 New York Mets, for most ever in a season, trailing only the 1915 Philadelphia Athletics, who had used 24.
Awards and Honors
- Robert MacLeod: "For the 2019 Toronto Blue Jays, brighter days are ahead ... almost", The Globe and Mail, March 28, 2019, pp. B11-B12. 
- Julian McKenzie: "Blue Jays bringing an ‘underdog mentality’ into the 2019 season", The Globe and Mail, March 27, 2019.