Scott Stinson: Blue Jays can find reasons to keep Charlie Montoyo, and reasons to move on

, Scott Stinson: Blue Jays can find reasons to keep Charlie Montoyo, and reasons to move on, Nzuchi Times National News

Jays fans could be forgiven for surveying the MLB playoff field and wondering how in the world their team did not manage to be a part of it

Article content

The Toronto Blue Jays accomplished an unusual feat in 2021: They managed to both overachieve and underachieve.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

That they won 91 games is no small feat. They had won that many in a season only once since the World Series years, in the bonkers thrill ride of 2015. It’s a lot of wins, in any season. In this particular season, with home games first at a single-A park in Florida, and then at a AAA-park in Buffalo, before finally coming back to Toronto, it’s a win total that borders on the absurd.

As the Jays were chasing that playoff spot that wasn’t to be, the Toronto Raptors were opening their training camp, and they had dropped all pretence about how difficult their nomadic 2020 season had been. Living out of temporary homes, playing and training in makeshift facilities, never getting any kind of a home-crowd boost and often playing in front of hostile “home” audiences, all of it was lousy, the Raptors said. It wasn’t the only reason their season fell apart, but it was a big factor.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

The Jays had to deal with all of that and still came within one win of forcing a Game 163, with their second-highest win total of the past 28 seasons. It’s probably why, when manager Charlie Montoyo was asked on Sunday night if there were any moments he wanted back on the season, he didn’t offer any. He said he had held a team meeting before the final series against Baltimore, with the Jays’ playoff fate no longer in their hands, and told his players that he was proud of the season they had delivered, especially with all the obstacles that had been put in their way.

And yet, despite all that, Jays fans could be forgiven for surveying the Major League Baseball playoff field and wondering how in the world their team did not manage to be a part of it. Both Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. and Marcus Semien had MVP-type seasons. George Springer missed half the year and still hit 22 home runs and had an OPS second only to young Vlad on the team, which is something considering Teoscar Hernandez and Bo Bichette also had tremendous offensive campaigns.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

That kind of firepower was expected of that lineup, although not necessarily to that degree, but coming into the season the starting pitching looked to be a problem. There was Hyun-Jin Ryu and a pile of question marks. Instead, Robbie Ray was a Cy Young candidate and Steven Matz was an above-average starter. Collectively, the two reclamation projects performed far better than the Toronto front office would have dared hope. Nate Pearson was, again, unable to step into the starting role that was expected of him, but Alek Manoah did a fine job once called up. Throw in the late addition of Jose Berrios and the Jays had both a terrifying offence and a deep starting rotation.

, Scott Stinson: Blue Jays can find reasons to keep Charlie Montoyo, and reasons to move on, Nzuchi Times National News

That was only good enough for fourth in the division. It is no great mystery how that happened. The bullpen was a mess for much of the first half of the season, and there were too many games in which Montoyo relied on guys like Rafael Dolis and Tyler Chatwood, who ultimately pitched themselves off the team. The Jays were just 15-15 in one-run games, and 3-9 in extra innings, and it’s in those fine margins that the season died. Would a different manager have been able to eke out a couple more victories in those close-fought games? Tactically, most fans could point to one or six games where Montoyo’s late-game bullpen calls didn’t work. The question for his bosses is whether the affable 55-year-old from Puerto Rico exerted enough of a positive influence on his team in other ways. He came to Toronto as the new-school manager to work with a young roster of prospects, and some of those players have turned into All-Stars. Do his people-management skills, in other words, offset some tactical deficiencies?

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

The suspicion is that Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins will consider that question and decide: no. The front office spent big on Ryu and spent bigger on Springer in consecutive seasons. The young core is especially valuable right now, while it still remains underpaid. A playoff spot was there for the taking this season and the Blue Jays did not take it. They finished strong, with a 22-9 record over September and October that suggests that, finally done with minor-league stadiums dotted with Yankees caps, this team was much better than their eventual win total. But it is also the case that the Jays needed that fantastic final month just to give themselves something to play for on the season’s final day. They had seemingly played their way out of contention, only to make a furious late charge down the stretch. If nothing else, it will give the president and general manager something to have a serious think about.

It might be very much true that Montoyo would have easily guided this team into the post-season had it not had to deal with three different homes and what was essentially a five-month road trip. But does the front office really want to wait another year to find out?

Postmedia News

[email protected]

Advertisement

Story continues below

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.