The Toronto Blue Jays may have fallen shy of advancing to the 2023 World Series, but there won’t be a shortage of familiar faces when the Arizona Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers kick off Game 1 on Friday.
As both clubs square off in this year’s championship series, fans north of the border will likely have a rooting interest in both sides, with four former players — three on Arizona and the other on Texas — and a previous coach battling for the Commissioner's Trophy.
For a trip down memory lane, let’s revisit their respective Blue Jays tenures and recap how each has helped their new clubs in the playoffs this fall.
2023 postseason: 12 games, .192/.276/.231, 2 RBI, 6 BB, 6 SO
Semien only spent one season with the Blue Jays in 2021. However, the veteran infielder left a massive impression on the organization before signing with the Rangers as a free agent during the ensuing offseason.
After spending his first six seasons in Oakland, the 33-year-old accepted a move to second base and won his first career Gold Glove Award while forming a sensational tandem with shortstop Bo Bichette. He also captured his first Silver Slugger after blasting 45 home runs, which set a new franchise record among second basemen.
With Corey Seager now to his right, Semien has remained at second over his first two seasons with the Rangers and put together his finest defensive performance in 2023, posting career-highs in DRS (+16) and OAA (+11). Thus, he could secure his second career AL Gold Glove after being announced as one of the three finalists.
The two-time All-Star also enjoyed waves of success offensively during the regular season, hitting .276/.348/.478 with 29 dingers, 100 RBI and a 124 wRC+ across 162 games. That made him worth 6.3 fWAR, the second-highest at his position, behind only Mookie Betts (8.3).
But those stellar results haven’t carried over into the playoffs thus far, as Semien has been held hitless in five of his 12 contests, including three in the ALCS versus Houston. Still, his presence remains vital as the table settler atop Texas’s lineup.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
2023 postseason: 12 games, .250/.265/.438, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 1 BB, 10 SO
Upon arriving to the majors in 2018, Gurriel went on to play five seasons with the Blue Jays and was an integral member of the organization’s culture, or at least he was until last winter’s blockbuster trade sent him — and top prospect Gabriel Moreno — to the desert.
The 30-year-old did, however, experience an unusual final campaign in Toronto, which saw his contact results increase dramatically while his slugging went the other way. But after clubbing just five home runs in 2022, he exploded for career-highs in doubles (35) and round-trippers (24) in his first season as a D-back.
Not only did Gurriel’s power stroke return, but he also enjoyed the top defensive performance of his career, leading to plus-14 DRS and plus-one OAA over 95 games in left field. As a result, the right-hander earned the highest fWAR (2.1) of his six-year MLB career.
Gurriel, who earned his first All-Star nomination this season, has remained one of Arizona’s key offensive contributors in the postseason, delivering in critical situations throughout the club’s magical run to the World Series.
One of his brightest moments came in Game 6 of the NLCS, where the former Blue Jay hit the second of back-to-back home runs off Phillies starter Aaron Nola, contributing to a three-run inning that proved essential in the Diamondbacks’ 5-1 victory.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. makes it back-to-back home runs for the Dbacks!!! pic.twitter.com/1WOp7fAqhV
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) October 23, 2023
In the final year of his contract, Gurriel’s remarkable showing over these last seven-plus months has helped rebuild his value and positioned him to compete for a World Series ring, undoubtedly setting him up for a lucrative winter.
2023 postseason: 12 games, .279/.340/.512, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 4 BB, 12 SO
At the time, Moreno was considered the centrepiece of Arizona’s return in the Daulton Varsho trade — a move that has only become even more frightening for Blue Jays fans in the months since.
The 23-year-old catcher, who was heralded as a future generational star in the minors, hasn’t disappointed in his inaugural campaign with the Diamondbacks as he’s seamlessly emerged into a franchise pillar behind the plate. And this is likely just the beginning.
Arizona went 61-50 during the regular season with Moreno in the lineup and 23-28 without him. While he produced respectable offensive results, slashing .284/.339/.408 with a 103 wRC+ in 111 games, it was his spectacular defence that made the biggest impact.
In the running game, specifically, the young backstop utilized his elite athleticism to become one of the sport’s most effective controllers of the running game, if not the best, as he led the majors in Caught Stealing Above Average (CSAA) with plus-nine.
— MLB Now (@MLBNow) October 26, 2023
Moreno’s bat has also come alive this postseason, which was heavily featured in the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers as he crushed a pair of bombs on the road en route to the series sweep. With this surge, he finds himself serving as a potent middle-of-the-order threat.
It has been the coming-out party that almost every Blue Jays fan feared following his widely-contested departure nearly 12 months ago.
2023 postseason: 5 games, 5.40 ERA, 4 BB, 4 SO
Once a mid-tier prospect in Toronto’s farm system, Castro is now preparing to make his World Series debut alongside another pair of former Blue Jays players.
The 28-year-old debuted in the majors at the back end of the bullpen during the 2015 season, but his stint ended midway through the summer as he was part of the package sent to the Colorado Rockies in the Troy Tulowitzki blockbuster. Since then, he’s bounced around between several organizations.
Castro landed with Arizona last winter, signing a one-year deal worth $3.5 million and factored into the club’s closer-by-committee role prior to Paul Sewald’s arrival at the trade deadline, converting seven saves in 11 opportunities. He also punched out 60 hitters across 64.2 innings.
With Sewald serving as the Diamondbacks’ closer, plus the recent emergences of Kevin Ginkel, Andrew Saalfrank and Ryan Thompson, Castro has been pushed down the bullpen’s depth chart in the playoffs. But he has recorded a pair of fourth-inning holds thus far.
Even so, the hard-throwing righty has largely been a non-factor over the first three rounds of this postseason.
2023 postseason Record: 9-3 (two series sweeps)
Prior to leaving for the desert ahead of the 2017 season, Lovullo — who has previous ties to the Buffalo Bisons, both as a player and manager — worked under skipper John Farrell as Toronto’s first-base coach for two seasons from 2011-12.
In that role, the 2017 NL Manager of the Year shared his wisdom with many talented Blue Jays hitters, including franchise icons José Bautista and Edwin Encarnación. But he departed for Boston with Farrell not long after, becoming the Red Sox’s bench coach for the 2013 campaign.
Lovullo, now in his seventh season with Arizona, is chasing his second World Series ring after capturing his first almost 10 years ago. Virtually no one expected his team to be in this position, though.
Despite being just two seasons removed from losing 110 games in 2021, the Diamondbacks swept the NL Central-winning Milwaukee Brewers in the wild-card round. They did the same in the NLDS against a 100-win Los Angeles Dodgers club that won its 10th division title in 11 seasons before knocking off the Phillies in the NLCS.
The Diamondbacks weren’t supposed to represent the National League in the World Series this season, but Lovullo has his players believing they’re exactly where they should be.