How Blue Jays compare to wild-card teams that won World Series

The Toronto Blue Jays clinched a playoff spot on Thursday while enjoying their final off-day of the season.

More specifically, they secured a wild-card spot as the New York Yankees had already clinched the AL East title earlier in the week. The Blue Jays will enter the 2022 postseason as a long shot, but it would be foolish to think they have no chance to earn their first title in 29 years.

This team has one of the most potent offences in the majors with a position group that ranks fifth in WAR. Its pitching staff, while top-heavy, has been effective, ranking 11th. Toronto’s run differential (+67) isn’t elite, but it is MLB’s seventh-best number.

Since the wild card was first introduced in 1994, there have been seven World Series winners who did not win their division.

In order to better understand Toronto’s chances of making it eight, here’s a quick rundown of each squad, how they compared to the 2022 Blue Jays, and what can be learned from them:

The Blue Jays can learn a few things from the wild-card teams that went on to win the World Series. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
The Blue Jays can learn a few things from the wild-card teams that went on to win the World Series. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

1997 Florida Marlins

Position player WAR rank: 10th

Pitcher WAR rank: 9th

Run differential: +71

Similarities to the 2022 Blue Jays: Much like the 2022 Blue Jays, the Marlins had a surplus of talent behind the plate. Charles Johnson combined power, patience and Gold Glove defence and Gregg Zaun was an emerging youngster who produced a 130 OPS+.

Florida also had a top-notch one-two punch at the top of the rotation in Kevin Brown and Alex Fernandez, who combined for 458 innings of 3.12 ERA ball.

The Blue Jays have gotten a 2.78 ERA out of Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman this year, but the offensive environment is depressed slightly, making the output roughly equivalent.

Lesson: Starting pitching isn’t always what wins in the playoffs.

Brown and Fernandez were great in the regular season, but scuffled in the postseason with a combined 5.40 ERA. Livan Hernandez stepped up, but the Marlins won thanks to an offence led by the unstoppable Gary Sheffield (1.061 OPS)

2002 Anaheim Angels

Position player WAR rank: 5th

Pitcher WAR rank: 13th

Run differential: +207

Similarities to the 2022 Blue Jays: Anaheim possessed a lineup with a similar statistical profile to the Blue Jays. No individual player had a groundbreaking year offensively (Brad Fullmer’s 133 OPS+ led the team), but seven of the nine regular starters were above-average with the bat.

The Blue Jays’ best hope in the 2022 postseason is a lineup that’s solid from top to bottom, and that served Anaheim well.

Lesson: It’s OK to trust young talent in the biggest spots.

While the Angels were a veteran team, they rode 20-year-old closer Francisco Rodriguez incredibly hard in that run. He pitched 18.2 innings in 11 appearances after pitching in just five MLB games prior to the 2022 postseason.

Whenever you hear someone talking about how important playoff experience is, give a thought to K-Rod, who barely had MLB experience before pitching in the highest-leverage moments for a World Series winner.

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 27:  Pitcher Francisco Rodriguez #57 of the Anaheim Angels celebrates after the third out of the eighth inning of game seven of the World Series against the San Francisco Giants on October 27, 2002 at Edison Field in Anaheim, California.  The Angels defeated the Giants 4-1 to claim their first World Series Championship.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
The Angels leaned heavily on Francisco Rodriguez during their World Series run. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

2003 Florida Marlins

Position player WAR rank: 10th

Pitcher WAR rank: 8th

Run differential: +59

Similarities to the 2022 Blue Jays: The 2003 Marlins are a team that made a mid-season managerial change that seemed to change their fortunes. They got off to a 16-22 start under Jeff Torborg before handing the keys to Jack McKeon — who led the team to a 75-49 record.

Lesson: It pays to have a true ace.

Josh Beckett threw two complete-game shutouts in the 2003 playoffs and provided almost twice as many innings (42.2) as the pitcher with the second-most on the team (Brad Penny, 22). There is no chance the Marlins would’ve won the 2003 title without that superlative effort.

2004 Boston Red Sox

Position player WAR rank: 9th

Pitcher WAR rank: 4th

Run differential: +181

Similarities to the 2022 Blue Jays: Like this Toronto team, the 2004 Red Sox struggled to get consistent production from their bullpen. Keith Foulke was a solid closer, but primary setup men Mike Timlin and Alan Embree produced identical 4.13 ERAs, and the whole unit ranked 16th in the majors in WAR.

Lesson: Unlikely heroes can emerge in the playoffs, but you’re better off when your stars are your stars

Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz carried this club’s lineup all season, and that continued through the playoffs. Not only did Ortiz hit one of the most memorable home runs in franchise history…

… he produced a 1.279 OPS through the playoffs. Ramirez didn’t generate as much power but he was constantly on base, slashing .350/.423/.500. With those two firing on all cylinders, Boston didn’t need role players to play way above their heads.

2011 St. Louis Cardinals

Position player WAR rank: 6th

Pitcher WAR rank: 19th

Run differential: +70

Similarities to the 2022 Blue Jays: Like the 2004 Red Sox team, St. Louis dealt with significant bullpen issues. The Cardinals’ relief corps ranked 27th in the majors in WAR during the season as they struggled to find a bridge to Fernando Salas.

Lesson: The trades you make when you’re rebuilding or retooling matter.

After their first losing season since 1999, in 2007 the Cardinals traded 37-year-old star outfielder Jim Edmonds for a 24-year-old former ninth-round pick who hadn’t played above High-A.

That player was David Freese, who hit .397/.465/.794 for St. Louis during the playoffs and won World Series MVP. The Blue Jays equivalent would be Teoscar Hernandez, who was acquired in the Francisco Liriano deal at the 2017 trade deadline.

2014 San Francisco Giants

Position player WAR rank: 6th

Pitcher WAR rank: 26th

Run differential: +51

Similarities to the 2022 Blue Jays: The makeup of this team — a group of battle-tested veterans looking for yet another World Series title — differs radically from the Blue Jays. It did have the same lineup length as Toronto, though, as all nine of its regular starters had an OPS+ over 100.

Lessons: Bullpens can get red-hot at a moment’s notice.

Madison Bumgarner’s incredible run in the 2014 playoffs (52.2 innings of 1.03 ERA ball) is well-documented, but we covered the ace angle with Beckett.

Another thing that stands out about the team’s postseason run is just how good the bullpen was. Giants relievers ranked 24th in WAR during the regular season. In the playoffs, the Giants got 64 relief innings at a 2.11 ERA clip.

That number understates their effectiveness as manager Bruce Bochy had a core group of Yusmeiro Petit, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo who he could count on in high-leverage spots. That quartet allowed three runs in 39.2 innings.

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 29:  The San Francisco Giants celebrate after defeating the Kansas City Royals to win Game Seven of the 2014 World Series by a score of 3-2 at Kauffman Stadium on October 29, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The San Francisco Giants celebrate after defeating the Kansas City Royals to win Game 7 of the 2014 World Series. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

2019 Washington Nationals

Position player WAR rank: 5th

Pitcher WAR rank: 5th

Run differential: +149

Similarities to the 2022 Blue Jays: Like Toronto — and a couple of the other teams on this list — the Nationals had bullpen issues as their relievers put up a heinous 5.68 ERA during the regular season.

Also like the Blue Jays, they opted not to shop at the top of the market at the trade deadline, instead picking up pieces like Daniel Hudson, Roenis Elías and Hunter Strickland.

Lessons: It’s OK to contract your circle of trust.

Washington knew its pitching staff was extremely top-heavy and adjusted accordingly. The Nationals pushed Max Schezer and Stephen Strasburg deep into games and used them both once in relief.

The team’s top-three relievers (Sean Doolittle, Hudson and Tanner Rainey) combined for 27 appearances. The rest of the bullpen made just 20.

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