2019 Toronto Blue Jays
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 appearance 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 had 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 the trade 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, te 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 Oakland 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.
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.