Blue Jays clinch playoff spot in unspectacular fashion, but special opportunity awaits

The Toronto Blue Jays will have a chance to change the narrative of their 2023 season if they can find success in October.

Despite an extra-innings loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday, the Toronto Blue Jays are headed to the postseason for the 10th time in franchise history after the Texas Ranger crushed the Seattle Mariners hours later.

For some teams making the playoffs would be a "mission accomplished" moment. For these Blue Jays it's more of a mixed bag.

Not reaching the postseason would've been disastrous for this club. Getting there is not an epic feat considering the talent level on the Blue Jays' roster, the relative good health the team has experienced, and the preseason expectations laid out for this squad.

In the last three seasons the Blue Jays have either earned a wild-card spot but failed to win a postseason game, or fallen a win short of the playoffs. The 2023 Blue Jays were billed as a group capable of taking a step forward and challenging for a division title — and making a run in the postseason.

Despite beefing up the rotation with the addition of Chris Bassitt, remaking the outfield with a defensive focus thanks to the presence of the Kevin Kiermaier-Daulton Varsho duo, and grabbing the middle-of-the-order lefty bat the team has lacked recently in Brandon Belt, the squad has fallen short.

The most wins the Blue Jays can earn now is 90 — a step down from last year's 92. Toronto didn't have sole position of the AL East lead for a single day all season, and never seriously challenge for the crown.

This team had to fight tooth-and-nail to maintain its competitive position instead of improving upon it. Along the way it performed worse than recent iterations of the Blue Jays both quantitatively and qualitatively.

From down years for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and George Springer to a train-wreck of a campaign from Alek Manoah, fingers could be pointed in plenty of directions — but the fact of the matter is that even at this moment of celebration for the Blue Jays, the team feels disappointing.

And yet, none of that really matters right now.

This franchise has not won a playoff game since 2016 and it has an opportunity to have its most successful season in the post-Jose Bautista era. Is this team better than the 2021 or 2022 edition of the club? No, but ask a Blue Jays fan if the 2015 Kansas City Royals were better than Toronto.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and the Blue Jays will have a chance at greatness this October.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and the Blue Jays will have a chance at greatness this October. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

The way this sport is structured — if the goal is winning a World Series — being the best team is helpful rather than essential. The 2021 Braves won it all coming of an 88-win season and if you want to go back a little further, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals were just 83-78 with a +19 run differential.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers won 104 or more games four times in the five full seasons between 2017 and 2022. They only made the World Series once in that span, losing to the Houston Astros. That franchise has just one title during its recent dominant run, and that came during the unpredictable 60-game 2020 season.

Raw talent simply doesn't win in the MLB playoffs the way it does in other leagues, like the NBA. A new season begins on Tuesday and the Blue Jays might fare better within it than they did in a 162-game format.

They are not favourites, and it might even be an exaggeration to say they have a 1-in-12 shot. But they don't have no shot. This team can pitch, and its lineup has more talent than its run-scoring numbers suggest.

Nothing the Blue Jays have done since the 2023 season justifies unbridled optimism about what this club can do in the playoffs. At the same time the MLB postseason is a high-variance tournament. No club is destined to fail. Every team is good enough to go on an improbable run.

The Blue Jays could fail to win a single game yet again in these playoffs. Toronto might somehow find a way to embarrass itself even more than it did when it coughed up an 8-1 lead in its home ballpark to exit the 2022 postseason.

Plenty of extreme and mundane negative outcomes are on the table for this club.

Based on fans' disillusionment with the 2023 Blue Jays, that's all many will see ahead for this team. They may well be right, but there's an opportunity ahead for this group, too. Toronto has a real chance to leave every disappointment from April to September behind in the days ahead.

When you see clips of players spraying each other with various adult beverages in the clubhouse — or wherever they watched the Rangers end the Mariners' season — on Saturday, that's a big part of what they'll be celebrating. Achieving something difficult, though expected, is satisfying. Having a chance to do something special, unexpected, is exhilarating.

If the Blue Jays flame out in the wild-card series, which is arguably the most likely scenario, there will be plenty of time for criticism and soul-searching. For now, the team has earned a moment to enjoy what could be in October.