The team that never arrived said goodbye—in a whisper.
The Blue Jays may have been a fashionable pick among pundits for a few years, but they are a third-place team that has won nothing and is run by a manager who badly revealed his lack of experience.
For a third straight trip to the postseason—and having qualified only as a third-, second- and third-place team—Toronto went out without winning a game. A 2–0 loss to the Twins completed a two-game ouster in the wild-card round in which it scored one run. The Jays have lost six straight postseason games, scoring two runs or less in five of them and the other the result of blowing an 8–1 lead.
The wild-card round is a cruel consolation. It is cruel because it forces a playoff team to put Its season on the line in just two games—in this case, two road games. That’s what you get as a third-place team. All small-sample-size disclaimers aside, Toronto played again in October as if it were not ready for prime time.
Vlad Guerrero Jr. made the inexcusable mistake of getting picked off second base as the trail runner to extinguish another empty threat. That’s bad enough. (The use of the Pitchcom device makes timing such pickoff plays more possible.)
But the Jays also left nine runners on. They struck out 12 times. They did not have an extra-base hit. Only eight other teams pulled off that trifecta of inept offense in a nine-inning postseason game. The Jays joined the 2001 Mariners and 2019 A’s as the only teams to bow out so ingloriously.
But if you want to define why this team came up short again in a big spot, you must start with Schneider and his decision to start and pull pitcher Jose Berrios.
Schneider, or shall we say the Toronto front office, decided to start Berrios over Chris Bassitt in Game 2, even though Bassitt was the better pitcher down the stretch, going 4–1 with a 2.11 ERA in his last six starts. The Blue Jays over-thought it and went with Berrios because he was tougher against lefthanded hitters, of which Minnesota has many.
The front office wizards devised a script: start Berrios and then drop lefthander Yusei Kikuchi into the game, forcing Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli to flip his lineup midgame. They apparently loved the script so much they forgot to pay attention to how the game played out.
Berrios was dealing, which was no surprise considering the hitters on the Twins roster were batting a combined .163 against him in his career. Schneider showed his scripted hand when he ordered lefty Genesis Cabrera to warm in the bullpen in the third just as Berrios reached 30 pitches! There was nothing Schneider could have seen to indicate his starter was in trouble. He managed the game with his hand on the fire alarm.
To start the fourth, with the game tied, Schneider had Kikuchi throwing in the bullpen. Berrios smartly pitched carefully to a red-hot Royce Lewis. He wound up walking Lewis on a slider in what was a well-pitched at-bat. Berrios had lost nothing.
But Schneider bounded from the dugout with as stupefying a hook we’ve seen since Rays manager Kevin Cash did the Dodgers a favor by removing Blake Snell in the 2020 World Series clincheranother scripted move as the lineup turned over a third time. The batter who “forced” Schneider’s move to a lefty? Max Kepler.
Kepler wound up getting on base with an infield single, but the point is that Kikuchi would then face four straight righthanded hitters. Schneider had to know Baldelli would use his bench and that he would wind up having a lefty facing Carlos Correa with his season on the line. How did that turn out? Two-run single. Ballgame. End of season.
Did I mention that Kikuchi had not come out of the bullpen all year? Did I mention that Berrios was dominating? The Twins had swung 25 times at his pitches. They missed eight times. They did not hit a ball 95 mph. The velocity on all four of his pitches was up from 1.0 to 2.4 mph. He was pitching with a purpose that you could see in his body language. None of that mattered to Schneider.
Rule No. 1 for a manager is do nothing that makes the other team happy. It is not “follow the script.” Schneider made the Twins happy, especially as the game wound up being decided by Correa against a lefty (.782 OPS) rather than a righty (.690).
There simply has never been a hook in postseason history quite like the one Schneider made, at least as far back as detailed pitching records are available. It was only the fourth time in a postseason game that a manager removed his starter with as few as 47 pitches and as many as five strikeouts.
The other three quick hooks are dissimilar. One occurred in the 2020 NLCS because the starter was A.J. Minter, who was a Braves relief pitcher being used as an opener. The others happened because the starter was ineffective: Sean Manaea in the 2019 AL wild-card (four runs) and Rudy May in the 1981 ALCS (three runs). Berrios had not allowed a run when he was pulled.
This one stands alone. The Jays will have all winter to think about this move and these two games. They also must re-examine why this team, despite its bevy of talent, keeps coming up short in the division and in the postseason.