By Cole Jones
Blue Jays 2021 year in review. What is their future looking like?
Wild Card Game Summaries and Analysis.
The return of the standard playoff format: ALDS and NLDS
predictions and insights. Which teams will prevail in 2021?
Everything you need to know in one article.
After an out of the ordinary COVID-filled season in 2020, Major League Baseball
returned to a state of normalcy in 2021. No more empty stadiums, a full 162 game grind-it-out
schedule, and most importantly, the return of the standard playoff format. For the fans, it was an
exhilarating experience to finally be able to shake the cobwebs off their jerseys, head to the
ballpark, and watch their favourite MLB team compete at a live sporting event. This season was
full of unexpected results, fascinating surprises, unbelievable moments, and a down to the wire
finish in the American League wild card race. So, without further ado, let’s carry on to the first
section of the article; Blue Jays, 2021 year in review.
PART 1: Blue Jays, 2021 Year In Review
To say the least, the Toronto Blue Jays were the most resilient and determined team of
the 2021 MLB season. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the team was unfortunately not able to
play in Toronto for more than two thirds of the season. For the first 38 games, the Jays were
stuck at their spring training home in Dunedin Florida, then moved to Sahlen field in Buffalo
(which was also their temporary home field during the 2020 abbreviated season). Then, after
nearly two years of no Blue Jays baseball in Canada, the organization made an announcement
that got the entire country up on its feet: The Blue Jays had been granted permission by the
federal government to return to the Rogers Centre on July 30, 2021. The following days
consisted of some pretty magical moments for the baseball team from the 6ix.
The Blue Jays first game back in Toronto took place on July 30, 2021 against the
Kansas City Royals. Before the game, the team was welcomed back to the city with a heartfelt
and emotional greeting from the limited capacity crowd of 15,000 fans. The Jays then returned
the favour quick and early as Teoscar Hernandez launched the long-awaited first Blue Jays
home in the return to Canada. This not only gave the Jays all the momentum they needed to
win the game, but enough momentum to sweep the royals and win nine out of the eleven games
during the homestand. After looking mediocre for the majority of the season, everything was
suddenly clicking for the Jays after their return to Toronto. The Blue Jays were playing at such a
high level that for some fans including myself, they were reminiscent of the Jays’ 2015 and ‘16
ALCS teams. During their time in Florida and Buffalo, the Jays were hardly over .500 with a
measly record of 51-48. Soon after reuniting with the Rogers Centre in Toronto, the Jays went
on a 40-23 tear which included a eight game win streak and a near playoff berth. In addition to
this, they finished with a 91-71 record, their best single-season winning percentage since their
division title in 2015.
Despite narrowly missing the playoffs by one game, the Toronto Blue Jays almost pulled
off an improbable run to the postseason, and there are many aspects of the season that indicate
a bright future for the ballclub. First and foremost, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. took a massive leap
forward in all areas of his game, proving that he indeed is the superstar that the fan base
believed he would be. Guerrero Jr. is a top 2 candidate for the A.L. MVP and broke the record
for the most home runs hit by a player 22 years or younger with 48 homers. He also hit for a
.311 average and drove in 111 runs, becoming a household name in the triple crown
conversation for most of the year. In limited action, George Springer also had an incredible 2021
season for the Jays. When he returned from injury later in the season, he delivered clutch hit
after clutch hit, and was the veteran voice of the young team. Through the first 119 games of the
season, the Blue Jays were a mere 34-36 without Springer, but an astounding 39-20 with him in
the lineup. If Springer was healthy for the entire season, I thoroughly believe that the Jays would
be in the playoffs at the moment. Lastly, Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray emerged as two of the
best Free Agent signings from last off-season. Semien was an important mentor for the Jay’s
young shortstop Bo Bichette, played in every single game of the season, and oh, not to mention
he hit 45 homers to set a new MLB record for most home runs hit by a second baseman.
Meanwhile, Robbie Ray developed into the Blue Jays’ undisputed ace and is the presumptive
American League Cy Young award winner. Resigning Semien and Ray will be at the top of the
organization’s priorities, and it will be essential if Jays are going to continue to compete in the
jam-packed A.L. East division. Though the Blue Jays still have a lot of work ahead of them with
regards to their bullpen, it was nicely solidified with the midseason acquisitions of Adam Cimber
and Trevor Rodgers, who carried the load during the Jays’ playoff push. Though it was a
disappointing end to the 2021 season for the Blue Jays, they have turned into a powerhouse
squad, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them in contention for the A.L. East championship in
PART 2: Wild Card Game Summaries
A.L. Wild Card Game – New York Yankees @ Boston Red Sox:
Most people, including me, believed that this game was going to be a nail biter.
However, that quickly proved to not be the case. Quite simply, the New York Yankees were
overmatched by the Boston Red Sox. Gerrit Cole, the Yankee’s ace and Cy Young award
contender, looked tentative and afraid to pitch to the Red Sox’s top hitters. He struggled mightily
with his fastball command, walked countless batters, and got punished early on a poorly located
changeup to Boston’s clean up hitter Xander Bogaerts. When he finally got confident with the
fastball, the Red Sox were ready, and Kyle Schwarber launched the Red Sox’s second homer of
the game, making it 3-0 Sox early. Cole was ultimately pulled in the third inning, which was a
really bad look for the Yankees organization who signed Cole to a $324 million dollar contract at
the end of the 2019 season. The Yanks tried to claw their way back into the ballgame, but a bad
send by the third base coach Phil Nevin led to Aaron Judge being gunned down at home plate,
and left Boston with all the momentum. Giancarlo Stanton tried to single-handedly keep the
Yankees’ season alive by hitting a homerun and narrowly missing two that hit the top of the
green monster. Nonetheless, the damage was minimized by Boston’s starting pitcher Nathan
Eovaldi who was rock solid, the offense clicked, and Boston now finds themselves cruising
onwards to a date with the Rays in the ALDS with a 6-2 wild card victory.
N.L. Wild Card Game – St. Louis Cardinals @ Los Angeles Dodgers:
This game delivered as the nail biting, high intensity Wild Card game that we were all
craving. Heading into this important game, the 106-56 Dodgers were the heavy favourites, but
the Cardinals were a very formidable underdog. To wrap up the end of the season, the
Cardinals won 21 of their last 25 games- including winning a franchise record 17 games in a
row. It was a tight and well pitched game on both sides, with veterans Max Scherzer of the
Dodgers and Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals both escaping out of tough jams with some
assistance from the bullpen. The Cardinals put some early pressure on the power-house
Dodgers, with Tommy Edman scoring on a wild pitch in the first inning, making it 1-0 Cardinals.
However, a few innings later, Justin Turner responded with a solo home run for the Dodgers,
tying the game up 1-1. Each bullpen traded clutch strikeouts, but in the end it was the Dodgers
bullpen that proved to be superior. In the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs, it appeared as
though the game was going to require extra innings. A struggling Cody Bellinger stepped to the
plate and fell behind in the count 0-2, but managed to battle back and earn a walk. This set the
table for another struggling player- the defensive substitution, Chris Taylor. After coming into the
game with only one out needed to send the game into extra innings, Cardinal’s reliever Alex
Reyes hung a slider right down the middle. Taylor made no mistake, crushing a two-run homer
into the rowdy Dodger crowd. Dodgers win 3-1 and will be travelling to San Francisco to play
the rival Giants in the NLDS.
PART 3: ALDS and NLDS Predictions and Insights
ALDS #1: Boston Red Sox @ Tampa Bay Rays:
If you told me back in May that the Tampa Bay Rays would win 100 games to clinch the
A.L. East without their previous starting pitching core of Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Tyler
Glasnow, I would’ve thought you were crazy. Long and behold, the Rays, thanks to Wander
Franco’s wanderful rookie season, the ageless wonder/ trade deadline acquisition Nelson Cruz,
as well as the power bats of Brandon Lowe and Mike Zunino are poised to dominate the ALDS.
Their starting pitching staff has managed to hold their head above water, while their bullpen
remains a shutdown force late in games, boasting an American league best 3.23 ERA during
the regular season. On top of this, Austin Meadows became the first Ray to reach the 100 RBI
mark since Evan Longoria in 2010, adding an extra layer of clutch to an already formidable
Rays lineup. Let’s also not forget about Randy Arozerena, who absolutely tore the cover off the
baseball last October- setting a new record for home runs in a single postseason with 10. If he’s
anything like last year, the Rays will be poised to win the series. On the other side of things,
though it has been a great run for the Red Sox to get to the ALDS, the end of the line is surely
here. Boston simply does not have the pitching to compete with the Rays. Chris Sale is their
only proven starter, but is still returning to form since his injury and has never been a playoff
performer. Garrett Whitlock has been a bright spot, posting a 1.96 ERA in 46 games, but has
been the Sox’s only shut down guy out of their very underwhelming bullpen. One of Boston’s
most talented hitters, J.D. Martinez is also missing the start of the series with an ankle injury. If
Boston has any chance at all, it will be essential for Rafeal Devers, Xander Bogearts, and the
entire offense to carry the load against a tough Rays pitching staff. However, without Martinez’s
bat in the lineup, I do not see this happening. The Red Sox will put up a fight like they have all
season, but the Rays should prevail.
Prediction: Rays win in 5 games.
ALDS #2: Chicago White Sox @ Houston Astros:
Losing George Springer in free agency has only added fuel to the fire of an already
lethal and league-best Houston offense. The team hit for the top average in the MLB despite
Alex Bregman, arguably their best player, being injured for the majority of the season. Not to
mention, Yuli Gurriel and Micheal Brantley were first and second respectively in terms of A.L.
batting averages, with Carlos Correa, José Altuve, and Yordan Alvarez returning to form after
down seasons in 2020. It took him some time to adjust to the MLB level, but Kyle Tucker
eventually emerged as a viable out-field replacement for George Springer- launching 30 home
runs and hitting for a .294 average. Meanwhile, without Justin Verlander, the pitching has held
its ground thanks to the young studs Lance McCullers Jr. and Framber Valdez, as well as the
seasoned veteran Zack Grienke. Though the Chicago White Sox also have exceptional hitting
led by the 117 RBI man José Abreu and a lights out bullpen, their starting pitching has taken a
big hit with the loss of Carlos Rodon to begin the postseason. However, for me, the bigger
cause for concern for the White Sox is their lack of success and experience against above .500
opponents. Out of all the American League teams to qualify for the postseason, they’ve played
the least number of games against teams that were over .500, and had a losing record (27-29). I
can’t help but make the connection that most of their success was due to them playing in the
MLB’s worst division as opposed to their pure talent. Last year, I made the mistake of sleeping
on the Astros and overhyping the White Sox. This time around, I don’t plan on making the same
Prediction: Astros win in 4 games.
NLDS #1: Los Angeles Dodgers @ San Francisco Giants:
This has the potential to be a series that baseball fans remember for a very long time.
The two power houses of the league square off in a battle to see which rival is truly the
champion of the N.L. West division. The Giants were better head to head against the Dodgers in
the regular season, winning the season series 10-9 and eventually taking the division title to
avoid the single-elimination Wild Card game. To put it simply, the Giants were the single biggest
surprise of this MLB season. After missing the expanded playoff format in 2020, the Giants
came out of seemingly nowhere to take the N.L. crown. San Francisco served as baseball’s
fountain of youth, where players who haven’t been relevant in a long time such as Brandon Belt,
Brandon Crawford, Wilmer Flores, Darin Ruf, Alex Wood, and Johnny Cueto became their
former twenty year old selves. The Giants have a balanced attack from the one all the way to
the nine spot, helping them to hit the second most homers in the majors (241). Even with all of this home run pop in their lineup, San Francisco doesn’t have a player who reached the 30 HR,
100 RBI plateau. However, this is where the trade deadline acquisition of Kris Bryant comes into
play. Despite a small sample size of playing this year due to injury, he adds that much needed
power element to San Fran’s lineup, as I’d look for him to be the offensive x-factor if the Giants
were to beat the Dodgers. In terms of pitching, the Giants have no flaws. The pitching staff, led
by breakout stars Kevin Gausman and Tyler Rodgers, had the second lowest ERA, and gave up
the fewest number of home runs in the league.
Fresh off an epic Wild Card win, the defending champion Dodgers are a force to be
reckoned with. Their hitting is dynamic with the batting champ and trade deadline centerpiece
Trea Turner at the top of the order, followed by superstars Mookie Betts and Corey Seager.
When healthy, they also have the most dominant starting rotation in the MLB, with the likes of
Cy Young award candidate Max Scherzer, 20 game winner Julio Urias, and the strikeout
machine Walker Buehler. You also can’t forget about that dynamite bullpen with Blake Treinen
and a new and improved Kenley Jansen. Nevertheless, I do have one problem with the
Dodgers… They have too many absences! As of now, their best power hitter this season and
one of the most underrated offensive players in the entire league- Max Muncy- is out of the
playoff lineup with an elbow injury. In addition to this, their starting rotation has been damaged
severely due to Trevor Bauer’s ongoing sexual assault investigation and Clayton Kershaw’s
season ending arm injury. Even former MVP Cody Bellinger was injured for most of the year,
and just hasn’t been the same upon his return. At the same time though, the Giants have had
significantly less playoff experience in the past few years. This series will undoubtedly be an
evenly matched and intense series, but at the end of the day, I think the Giants are the healthier
team with a hot hand, which will ultimately propel them to the series victory over the Dodgers.
Prediction: Giants win in 5 games.
NLDS #2: Atlanta Braves @ Milwaukee Brewers:
If you like pitching and defense, this is the series for you. The Milwaukee Brewers have a
three-headed monster on the mound that includes Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and
Freddy Peralta, all of whom had sub 3 ERA’s and sub 1 WHIP’s this season. The crew’s bullpen
is also up there for top in the entire league, despite Devin Williams’ late season injury. Josh
Hader has remained a household name for the best reliever in the MLB, Brad Boxberger has
appeared to re-enter his prime, and Hunter Strickland has been superb in limited action this
season. This pitching staff alongside exceptional defensive play helped the Brewers throw 19
shutout games, the most in all of baseball. On the offensive side of the ball, the veteran Avisail
Garcia supplied most of the offense with a 29 home run season, while infielders Willy Adames
and Luis Urias also had solid breakout seasons. However, the Brewers’ Achilles heel is their
extremely mediocre offense, which struggled mightily late in the year. Surprisingly, the N.L.
Central champion Brewers had the fourth least hits in the league, and only had three players
surpass the 15 home run mark (Adames, Urias, and Garcia). Opposite to the Brewers, the
Braves have a heavy-duty offense. When it was evident that outfield superstars Ronald Acuna
and Marcell Ozuna were going to be out of the lineup for the entire year, the front office made
two trades that were fundamental in Atlanta’s second-half postseason push. Jorge Soler was
traded from the Royals and Adam Duvall was brought over from the Marlins. These acquisitions
turned out to be more than adequate pick ups to say the least. Duvall ended up leading the
National League in RBI’s, and Soler hit 14 of his 27 homers with the Braves, in only 55 games.
Believe it or not, the Brave’s plentiful offense isn’t close to stopping there. Austin Riley, Freddie
Freeman, Dansby Swanson, and Ozzie Albies make up an infield where each player smashed
25+ homers. If you throw in Max Fried and Charlie Morton into the mix, the Braves are set up
with excellent starting pitching, though their bullpen is sub-par at best and is the noticeable
weak link in the series. With this in mind, I think the Brewers will be able to tack on enough runs
to hold serve for their pitching to finish the remainder of the job. The Braves offense will make
some noise and keep them alive in the series, but the Brewers pitching will eventually lead the
crew to three, gutsy, NLDS wins.
Prediction: Brewers win in 5 games.