Blue Jays bullpen emerges as a rare force

TORONTO – The biggest compliment you can pay a major league bullpen in July is, “We haven’t talked about them much.”

Around this time two years ago, the Blue Jays bullpen was handing out free wins to anyone who wanted them, becoming enough of a weakness to keep MLB’s most dominant roster out of the playoffs. It took over as the story of the season for a while, and when relievers are the big story, it’s never good news.

This group of 2023, however, is radically different. More than “solid,” which best describes the 22-point bullpen, the Toronto bullpen stubbornly held the door open on offense, a task that took patience in a season where every game seems tight. They did it again in Saturday afternoon’s 5-2 win over the D-backs at Rogers Center – long enough for the Bats to catch their breath and secure the club’s seventh win in eight games.

“They feed off each other,” manager John Schneider said. “They’re really aware of what they’re doing and they’re proud of what they’re doing. When you have a good team and a good bullpen, it’s a luxury to put those guys out there. We love our starters too, but we love how they pick up on each other.

TIME: 3.58 (5th)
K/9: 10.09 (3rd)
BB/9: 2.87 (1st)

What went well?
All the foregoing.

The Blue Jays’ bullpen ERA shows just how good this group has been overall, but the walk and strikeout numbers are the most impressive. For years, this group lagged the rest of MLB in speed and swing-and-miss, but they finally closed that gap.

Jordan Romano put himself in a position to run to Duane Ward’s franchise-record 45 saves (1993), even with the recent fear of a sore left lower back that the Blue Jays now call “day-to-day after he was unavailable in Saturday’s win. The Swanson Trade has also worked as expected, not only adding a premium bullpen arm, but stretching that main band even further to cover days like this.

Then you have a fantastic season from Trevor Richards, a recent turnaround from García and the emergence of Pearson, who apart from a few stumbles has been dominant. Pearson, in many ways, represents what the Blue Jays were looking for.

But let’s not forget the most underrated contributor to this list: Tim Mayza.

Mister Automatic
Mayza has thrown a 1.17 ERA with 32 strikeouts and just five walks in 30 2/3 innings this season, operating as the only southpaw in the bullpen. Most of those innings also come in close games seven and eight, when every out counts.

“I feel like left-handed relievers, unless you’re a closer they often get overlooked,” Schneider said. “There are a good handful in the league who are really good at this job. Timmy is having an elite year. I know saves are recognized as relievers or strikeouts, things like that. He quietly goes about his business and leaves. You can’t overstate how important he was to us.

Next… the trading deadline
No bullpen is ever “good enough,” especially when the playoffs roll around. Good teams have one closer. World Series teams have a handful.

The Blue Jays are expected to get Chad Green back within the month, as he will enter live play shortly after Tommy John’s surgery a year ago. But there is room for more. Toronto could chase upside down with a back arm or pick the balance looking for another southpaw. Swanson, with his splitter, and Richards, with his change, can neutralize left-handed hitters, but Mayza has been the only left-hander all season.

“A lot of teams are built differently with multiple lefties,” Schneider said. “If that turns out to be the case, it would be a great luxury to have. You could get a guy in in the sixth inning before Tim Mayza in the eighth. We’ll see how it goes, but for now we feel comfortable. Obviously the workload catches up at some point, as it does with Swanson, but if there is an addition we will be ready for it.

Any addition would be a luxury addition for a rare Blue Jays bullpen that is being talked about for the right reasons.

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