New Generation Blue Jays Ready for Playoff Baseball at Rogers Center

BALTIMORE – Bo Bichette grew up to be a big fan of Troy Tulowitzki and an even bigger fan of home runs, so he naturally had an interest in the Toronto Blue Jays even before they selected him in the second round of the 2016 draft. He closely followed their back-to-back runs to the American League Championship Series and has since revisited Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion’s iconic drives, awed by how the cameras shook and players poured out of the dugout to feast. to celebrate.

Six years later, when the Blue Jays host Game 1 of a wildcard series against the Seattle Mariners or Tampa Rays on Friday, the chance to make its own memories is “a dream come true,” said the star shortstop.

“I remember watching those games,” he continued Tuesday afternoon, shortly before Game No. 161 was rained out for the Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles, “and it just gave me chills at the thought of being in such a environment. So (hosting the wildcard) is a dream come true.”

Bichette is far from the only one anticipating the first game after the season at Rogers Center since Game 5 of the 2016 ALCS, a 3-0 loss that sent Cleveland to the World Series. While the Blue Jays did make an appearance in the 2020 playoffs — swept in two games by the host Tampa Bay Rays — that was more of an asterisk than an actual playoff experience.

In the midst of the pandemic, conditions were weird, the stands were empty, and when asked how he would describe the atmosphere of those games, Bichette replied bluntly, “There was none.”

“I wouldn’t say I’ve been part of the postseason yet,” he added.

The real deal comes Friday, after an absurdly traditional Wednesday doubleheader scheduled to make up for Tuesday’s rain, which is ramping up as Major League Baseball always makes an effort to play 162 games when conditions are safe and there is a weather window. that this allows.

Planning for everything from workouts by Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Santiago Espinal to pitch, were all smooth, like the grass at Camden Yards, according to interim manager John Schneider.

Expect Mitch White and Yusei Kikuchi to lean heavily, Casey Lawrence is one of the cab crew players here and can provide some length, and with several relievers wanting at least a little work to be sharp for Friday, the Blues will Jays look to work their way through 18 innings.

Everything will be done with a view to optimizing for Friday.

A 5-1 rain-shortened win over the Orioles on Monday, combined with Seattle’s 4-3 loss to Detroit, closed home ground for the Blue Jays, who greeted the moment with a flood of messages in their group chat, with Alek Manoah indent first, of course.

While qualifying for the play-offs was the priority, securing home advantage quickly became the secondary goal.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment since 2017,” said rightfielder Teoscar Hernandez. “I saw that in ’15 and ’16 and I want to experience that and this is the opportunity. … It feels great to see that in the past and now you will be able to see it in person. Knowing that all those people are cheering for you and your teammates is a special feeling.”

While the postseason will be very familiar to players like George Springer, Matt Chapman, Jackie Bradley Jr., Kevin Gausman, Ross Stripling and Jose Berrios, it will be much newer for the majority of the club. Experience cannot be sped up and while it can be overstated, it can sometimes normalize the abnormal, which is part of the value Schneider sees in hosting.

“I just feel like you’re comfortable with your environment and your clubhouse and your apartment, the apartment, whatever it is, family, all that sort of thing,” Schneider said. “You’re just familiar with the routine. When everything is magnified and there are extra things going on, you do it in your stadium with your fans and your clubhouse and people you know. Those kinds of extra things go a bit unnoticed I think , but then you put the fans on top of it and it’s huge.”

Also huge is the impact of the new setup after the season in the first season.

Even though the Blue Jays would have qualified for the post-season under last year’s system, they would have guaranteed themselves only one game rather than a best-of-three to advance to the division series. The new system also ensured that teams that ultimately had something to play for continued to earn the top two division winners straight byes to the division series, even after the fact.

Mark Shapiro, the Blue Jays president and CEO who is also a member of the baseball league committee, was a strong supporter of the push for a 12-team playoff during the collective bargaining talks in the spring and “I actually wanted it a little further,” he said.

“I like the idea that was suggested earlier by the best (play-off) team picking who they played against. I thought that was a cool idea,” Shapiro added. “But it’s another reflection that we continue to think differently about the game and be open minded about how we grow the game and how we can engage fans with more fans in August and September, and in April, with tangible reason to believe there is a chance that they can play, I think it worked. It was also important not to diminish what it means to win the division, not to diminish what it means to win more games. This has done that. This combined with a more balanced schedule next year is a better place to achieve.”

The balanced schedule goes into effect next season and should level the playing field in the competition for wild card berths.

Stripling, who was part of the CBA negotiations as a Blue Jays union representative at the time, said players understood that bigger playoffs would always be part of the deal, but “we wanted it to be a system that made sense to us.”

So far, so good.

“It’s exactly what we wanted,” Stripling said. “We didn’t really like the 14 team structures we put together. Some had ghost wins, remember, we had teams that started with 1-0 leads in the series in one of the proposals we sent. Twelve always felt better.

“We’ve encouraged teams to keep winning even after you’ve secured a spot. You get three games in this wildcard on your home field if you have the better record – that’s a huge deal. The byes are a little weird, but they its not so long that a starter is totally rusty or out of step or out of routine so it feels like it hits all the things we needed which is expanding the playoffs getting a different team and not coming to one game after 162 – everyone hated that.”

Well, maybe not the Blue Jays of 2016, who advanced to the divisional series on Encarnacion’s epic walk-off homer against the Orioles, a moment etched in Bichette’s memory as well as franchise lore. On Friday, a new generation of Blue Jays will come in October.

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