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After back-to-back ALCS trips in 2015-16, the Blue Jays went backward in 2017 and then did a bit of an on-the-fly rebuild. They only won 67 games in 2019, but that already turned around to 91 in 2021. They missed the playoffs by one game last season, but there's every reason to believe the arrow is pretty emphatically pointing upward north of the border. 

In fact, as the 2022 season approaches, this should be the most optimistic anyone has been about the Blue Jays in decades. What's not to like? They have star power (superstar power, actually), roster depth, veterans with playoff experience, youngsters just "dumb" enough to not worry about pressure and seemingly everything in between. 

Let's check them out. 

Win total projection, odds

  • 2021 record: 91-71
  • 2022 SportsLine projection: 96-66
  • World Series odds (via Caesars Sportsbook): 11-1

Projected lineup

  1. George Springer, CF
  2. Bo Bichette, SS
  3. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., 1B
  4. Teoscar Hernández, DH
  5. Matt Chapman, 3B
  6. Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., LF
  7. Cavan Biggio, 2B
  8. Danny Jansen, C
  9. Raimel Tapia, RF

Bench: C Alejandro Kirk, 1B Greg Bird, IF Santiago Espinal, OF Josh Palacios

Espinal could platoon with Biggio at second or just win the job outright. Kirk and Bird could see some time at DH with Hernández playing right field as well. 

Projected rotation

  1. RHP José Berríos
  2. RHP Kevin Gausman
  3. LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu
  4. RHP Alek Manoah
  5. LHP Yusei Kikuchi

Righty Ross Stripling will start the season in bullpen, but he's definitely an option for spot starts, should the need arise. Of course, there's also Nate Pearson. We'll get to him. 

Projected bullpen

Closer: RHP Jordan Romano
Setup: RHP Adam Cimber, LHP Tim Mayza
Middle: RHP Yimi García, RHP Trevor Richards, RHP Julian Merryweather, LHP Ryan Borucki, LHP Andrew Vasquez
Long/spot starter: Stripling, RHP Trent Thornton

Right-hander David Phelps figures to get a look at some point as well. 

Welcome Home

While 2020 was a tough adjustment for everyone, the Blue Jays were forced to play their home games in Buffalo in their Triple-A park. In 2021, they started off with 21 games in Dunedin, their spring training facility, before heading back to Buffalo's Sahlen Field for 23 games. They were finally able to return to Toronto, for the first time since the 2019 season, for their final 36 scheduled home games of the year.

The Blue Jays went 25-11 in Rogers Centre, outscoring their opponents 188-132, a pace that saw them playing like a 110-plus win team. In their other "home" games, they were 22-22. 

Heading into 2022, there's no unknown, finally. The Blue Jays are going to get 81 games in Rogers Centre. In looking ahead, it appears the only team in Canada will bring with it much stricter COVID protocols for opposing teams than anywhere else in the league. Perhaps that even further gives the Jays an advantage at home. 

They shouldn't really need an extra push, though. They are loaded.

Huge offensive firepower

Despite their quasi-nomadic adventure the past two seasons, the Blue Jays have really come into their own as a fearsome offensive team. Last season, they ranked third in the AL in runs scored, fourth in doubles, second in average, third in on-base percentage, first in slugging, first in OPS and first in home runs. 

The Jays had seven players with at least 20 homers and though Marcus Semien had a career year and is now with the Rangers, there's plenty reason to believe the offense will once again be one of the best in baseball. 

Guerrero flirted with winning a triple crown and he was only 22 years old. Bichette is only a year older and just led the AL in hits. In 234 career games, he has hit .301 with a .506 slugging and already looks like a perennial All-Star. There's nothing fluky about either. Hernández is an unheralded but proven mid-prime cleanup hitter. Gurriel is plenty capable of a big season as well, especially for someone hitting sixth. 

Springer only managed 78 games last season, but when he played he was a monster (143 OPS+, 19 2B, 22 HR, 50 RBI, 59 R). 

And then there's new addition Matt Chapman. He finished seventh in AL MVP voting in 2018 and followed that up with a sixth-place finish in 2019. Last year, he bottomed out to a .210/.314/.403 slash. He did manage 27 homers, still, but struck out 202 times in 529 at-bats. The good news is the hitting environment -- not only the difference in home ballparks, but also the ballparks in the AL East vs. the AL West -- is much better now. 

Also, Chapman saw his 2020 season end prematurely due to hip tendonitis and had labrum surgery shortly thereafter. He's now a full season removed from that. As he heads to his age-29 season in a better situation for hitters and likely in much better physical shape than 2020-21, bet on a huge bounce-back. 

In all, this is a stellar lineup, even if there's a drop off in the back end. 

Strong rotation, too

The AL Cy Young winner was on the Blue Jays last year, in Robbie Ray, and he now plays for the Mariners. Yet the Jays have enough talent assembled in the rotation it's possible they don't even miss a proverbial beat. 

The bad news is Ryu heads to his age-35 season and might have just hit his decline phase last season. Then again, what if it was just an off year? He had a 2.30 ERA (179 ERA+) in his previous three seasons combined. It isn't out of the realm of possibility that he bounces back. 

Even if he doesn't, he's capable to eat innings in the middle of a deep and talented group. 

What might the Blue Jays' pitching infrastructure that drew out Cy Young Robbie Ray do for Gausman, Kikuchi or a full season of Berríos, who the Jays acquired last July? 

Gausman was a late bloomer, but there's no doubt he's long had the talent to become a Cy Young contender. Berríos has long had ace upside -- and is a two-time All-Star -- but consistency has been an issue (it was for Ray, too, previously). Speaking of which, Kikuchi had a star-like stretch last season (2.33 ERA in 11 starts from April 29-July 1), but inconsistency got him. 

Manoah, a 6-foot-6 beast of a right-hander, suffered the occasional meltdown last season, but also had eight starts out of 20 with at least six innings and no more than one run allowed. The Blue Jays won 16 of his 20 starts. Not bad for a rookie, huh? 

If the Jays need to go past these five, Stripling is a very capable spot starter, and there's also the potential with Pearson. 

Pearson, 25, was a top-10 prospect in all of baseball just two years ago. A series of injuries and sports hernia surgery have slowed the hype train on him, but there's a reason he was once a first-round pick and then so heavily hyped. We've seen him miss bats at the big-league level, albeit in small samples. We know he has the top-shelf stuff, most notably his high-90s heater. We've seen plenty of players wait a year or two after the hype fades before their breakout. Perhaps it's Pearson's time in 2022? 

Whatever the mix, the chances are good the Blue Jays have a well-above-average rotation throughout the season. 

Time for the next step?

The Blue Jays won the World Series in 1992 and 1993. They then didn't make the playoffs again until 2015. They got to the ALCS that season and then again in 2016, but afterward it was back to missing the playoffs. They did make it in 2020 as an eight seed, but were out after two losses in two games. The 91 wins last season show they are clearly on the right track, but it's time for more. They were already on the right trajectory, but the front office has continued to make "win-now" moves in a serious push to get back to the Fall Classic. 

For now, making the playoffs probably suffices, but at some point, the Blue Jays need to break through and there's always the worry that pressure mounts if there happen to be a few unsuccessful playoff runs. Maybe just bust through now? 

It's been a long time since taking the AL pennant. These Blue Jays are good enough to get the job done in 2022 and then, once again, become World Series champions.