108: Young guns are firing for Blue Jays in ALDS

RP ROBERTO OSUNA (RIGHT) SHAKES HANDS WITH C RUSSELL MARTIN (MONTREAL, QUE.) AFTER A SAVE. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES.

RP ROBERTO OSUNA (RIGHT) SHAKES HANDS WITH C RUSSELL MARTIN (MONTREAL, QUE.) AFTER A SAVE. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES.

Oct. 13, 2015

By Tyler King

Canadian Baseball Network

Let’s play a game called “Where Were You at Age 20?”.

I’m guessing your answer falls in one of four categories:

1. Working a job you hated while simultaneously wondering if life has meaning
2. University (while simultaneously wondering if life has meaning)
3. A barstool
4. University / A barstool

You’ll notice I didn’t leave room for “closing out postseason baseball games for the Toronto Blue Jays.”

Because HA! That would just be insane ... 

The year I turned 20 I was busy switching my major (for the second time) at Toronto’s Ryerson University. Maybe if I spent less time at Mick E Fynn’s Irish Pub on College Street and more time in a classroom I would have figured it out. 

Let’s just say if I was dressed before noon it was a good day. A very good day.

Oh well. Too late for me.

I guess it’s a good thing my name isn’t Roberto Osuna, and that the weight of the whole Blue Jays fan base, stretching across the entire country, was never put on my young shoulders.

But that’s precisely what this kid has to think about when he goes to bed at night. Judging from his poise on the mound, he sleeps just fine.

That’s why it has been with great admiration (and a bit of shameless jealousy) that I’ve watched the 20-year-old Osuna - the youngest player in major league baseball - make three stellar postseason appearances for the Jays.

And, at age 23, the hard-chucking setup man Aaron Sanchez doesn’t make me feel much better about myself ... 

Although lately both he and Osuna have made me feel much better about the Jays’ chances of winning.

***

Immediately after the Blue Jays clinched their fist playoff berth since ’93, the predictions and scrutiny of the team’s odds at a World Series championship began.

The consensus among experts was that they had the best offense going in to October. Names like Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Troy Tulowitzki made it hard for anybody to disagree.

(And with David Price and Marcus Stroman leading the rotation, the starting pitching didn’t look to shabby either.)

By now almost everybody knows that the Jays scored more times and hit more home runs than anybody in baseball during the regular season - 

Which is why it wasn’t a shock when they hit three homers and scored eight times in Game 4 of the American League Division Series on Monday. In fact, that was what they were supposed to do.

As the FOX Sports announcers (#WeWantBuck!) so aptly put it, the team was back to playing “Blue Jays baseball” - which is just another way of saying “bludgeoning opponents to death”.

But despite all the experts gushing over the Toronto bats and one David Price, the team was not a unanimous pick to win a championship.

Their weakness? 

Ah ... the all-important bullpen. 

As the games become tighter and every situation more intense in the postseason, relief pitching - in the late innings especially - becomes even more vital.

The Blue Jays were said to be too young and too inexperienced to handle the pressures of October. In the archaic, one-dimensional world of baseball experts, that means “trouble”.

In his yearly playoff predictions article, ESPN’s Jason Stark wrote, “... I should mention there's lots of concern out there about the Blue Jays' bullpen, especially the age and inexperience of the closer, Roberto Osuna (age 20), and one of his primary setup men, Aaron Sanches (23).”

Fans can forgive Mr. Stark, however, as he still predicted the Jays to win it all. With a pivotal Game 5 against the Texas Rangers set for Wednesday, the outcome of that prediction remains in jeopardy. 

However, his foresight about the two Jays youngsters? Well - after four games at least - it’s been about as wrong as the governor of Texas prematurely congratulating the Astros on making it to the ALCS.

In a postseason full of early inconsistencies, the Osuna-Sanchez tandem has been one of Toronto’s steadiest (and deadliest) weapons.

Again, it’s early, but they’ve already been exposed to a multitude of different situations.

They’ve pitched at the wild but supportive confines of the Dome. They’ve pitched in hostile territory in Arlington. They’ve been in critical, game breaking situations with both of them pitching in the ninth inning or beyond with the game tied during Game 2. They’ve both also been given the ball with four-run leads.

Not only did they escape every one of those situations unscathed, they did it while turning some heads.

During a 1-2-3 eighth inning for Sanchez in game three, FOX Sports’ Harold Reynolds was even taken aback, saying, “I wish you [people at home] could see what I’m seeing in person.” On multiple occasions he has referred to the righty’s arm as “electric,” even adding that he throws “a true 97.”

In four postseason appearances, Sanchez hasn’t allowed an earned run. He’s given up just one hit, struck out five, and hasn’t walked a batter.

After struggling early in September - to the point where bullpen coach Pete Walker admitted that Sanchez may no longer be the go-to eighth-inning guy - the 23-year-old has allowed just the one hit since September 21st. That’s a span of 9.2 innings of one-hit ball.

If that’s not enough to make you wonder, “What have I done with my life?” then surely Osuna’s numbers will force you to take a good, hard look in the mirror.

Three-years-younger than Sanchez, the closer has yet to allow a hit in the postseason. 

He hasn’t even allowed a baserunner. He has a clean sheet in three appearances totaling four-innings of work. 

And with Kevin Pillar emerging as the Jays’ best hitter in the series - he’s hitting .412 with two doubles, a home run, and four RBI - clearly Toronto’s young guns have passed the early test.

If the Jays are to win Game 5 (and beyond) they’ll likely need it to stay that way ... 

But, for the first time in a long time, the present AND future are looking mighty bright.

***

Follow Tyler and #Section108 on twitter: @tylerjoseph108