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Gregor Chisholm: Blue Jays mailbag: Who’s on first, who’s on the rubber, and who will be left behind the plate?

Gregor Chisholm: Blue Jays mailbag: Who’s on first, who’s on the rubber, and who will be left behind the plate?
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Ken Giles and Bo Bichette returned, Teoscar Hernandez and Nate Pearson might be back by the end of the week, and things are looking up for a Blue Jays roster that is less than two weeks from its first appearance in the post-season since 2016.

Major League Baseball officially announced its playoff schedule on Tuesday, unveiling plans to host games at neutral-site locations once the first round is over. Today’s column touched on how the league’s decision to eliminate off-days could have a negative impact on Toronto’s bullpen, but there a lot of post-season topics to discuss that go well beyond that.

The following questions have been edited for length and grammar:

With the playoff roster limit set at 26 (13 pitchers max) and Nate Pearson and Matt Shoemaker slated to return soon, what do you see the makeup of the staff to be for the post-season? If Jays go with three starters, are Tanner Roark & Chase Anderson in danger of not making the cut? — Jim, Ottawa

One quick point of clarification. Post-season rosters initially were going to be 26 players, but Major League Baseball announced in August they would remain at 28 because of the pandemic. The only difference is that teams will have expanded taxi squads in the post-season.

Toronto currently has 15 pitchers on the roster with Pearson, Shoemaker and possibly Jordan Romano slated to return at some point before the end of the year. In the opening best-of-three round, swapping out back end starters like Roark and Anderson makes the most sense. So, yes, both should be worried about making the cut. It might be a different story later in the post-season, though, because with off days eliminated teams are going to require more starters than previous years.

Personally, I would make Hyun-Jin Ryu, Taijuan Walker and Robbie Ray the starters for Round 1. I would add Ross Stripling as the fourth starter for Round 2 and take my chances with a bullpen day mixed in somewhere. That would keep both Roark and Anderson off the roster for all of October while making room for Pearson and Shoemaker, if they are healthy and ready to go.

Who’s starting at first base when the playoffs start? Is Vladdy going to be a full-time DH or are they going to give him a go? — Devin, Ashburn

A couple of weeks ago, the answer would have been Rowdy Tellez but, after he went down with an injury, the Jays will likely stick with Guerrero at first. There is a scenario where Guerrero could DH, Travis Shaw moves to first, with second/third base being filled by a combination of Cavan Biggio, Jonathan Villar and Joe Panik. That would require a lot of moving around for not much gain, so would expect Guerrero and Shaw to stay where they are with Panik and Villar in the mix for at-bats at DH vs. righties. When there’s a lefty on the mound, Shaw would sit while Biggio plays third, Panik or Villar plays second and Guerrero remains at first.

Do we have the starting pitching to go far this post-season? — Girish, Montreal

No, but the bullpen might be deep enough to make up for it. Toronto currently has just two reliable starters in Ryu and Walker. Ray has been auditioning to become the third after a pair of strong performances following an August trade with Arizona. None of the three will be asked to pitch more than five or six innings before handing things over to the bullpen.

The issue is that in series that last five or more games the Jays may be forced to turn to Roark, Anderson or Stripling. A strong bullpen means those guys likely won’t have to go through a lineup more than twice but at least one will have to pitch in a long series for Toronto and that’s where weak starting depth could prove costly.

With Alejandro Kirk being called up and shining, how do you see the catcher situation shaking out in the coming years? What’s the role for guys like Riley Adams and Gabby Moreno? Is Reese McGuire a trade candidate? — Nathan, Burlington

The Jays currently have three catchers on the 40-man roster — Kirk, McGuire and Danny Jansen — with Adams and Moreno set to be added this winter to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. Five isn’t sustainable so at least one of them will have to go this winter. It’s easy to say that should be McGuire, but Toronto still needs a backup catcher on the active roster next year and that’s not an ideal long-term spot for a prospect. If McGuire is replaced by a veteran, space on the 40-man roster would still be an issue.

Expect the Blue Jays to explore the trade market for Moreno and Adams this winter. McGuire will be shopped as well but he has limited value after a disappointing season. At this point he’s little more than a minor transaction or a secondary piece in a bigger deal. Kirk would be the toughest catcher for Toronto to move, but the others should be available for the right price.

After those lopsided games with the humiliating scores, I think it is time for MLB to bring in a mercy rule. There is no need to continue games where a team with the low score has no chance of coming back into the game. An example of a rule could be, if a team is leading by 10 runs or more after seven innings, stop the game. — Judd H., Kemptville, Ont.

This is something I’ve been thinking about for awhile and I feel the same way as you. However, my proposal would have one major difference. Instead of an automatic mercy rule, I would leave the decision up to the manager of the losing team. If he wants to pull the plug on the final two or three innings to save his pitching staff, he can. If he wants his team to keep battling, he can do that too. I think this would add another layer of strategy while putting the manager on the hot seat to determine when it’s appropriate to throw in the towel.

Ross Atkins seems to be getting a lot of credit for the Jays’ success this year. I’m not a fan. I think of the failed negotiations with Edwin Encarnacion, the Brandon Drury and Derek Fisher pickups, the 2019 pitching staff fiasco, the sale of all-star Gio Urshela for pocket change, etc. Where would this year’s pitching staff be without the kids this year if there had been a triple-A season? — Brian, Regina

The Jays’ staff would not have been nearly as good this year if the minor leagues were still operating but that shouldn’t count as a knock against Atkins. Kay and Hatch would have been starting in Buffalo and it’s possible Merryweather and Borucki would have been there too. Toronto’s bullpen still would have been backed by Ken Giles, Jordan Romano, Anthony Bass and Rafael Dolis but the middle innings would have looked much different.

There’s nothing negative about that, though. The abbreviated schedule provided the Jays with an opportunity to show off their depth earlier than expected. It’s possible to be a critic while at the same time acknowledging the front office has done a nice job amassing depth. One quick addition from someone who hasn’t been afraid to assign blame, criticizing the current regime for not hanging onto Urshela is misguided. The front office liked him a lot, former manager John Gibbons refused to play him and forced his bosses into making a move. Don’t forget, people mocked Urshela the same way they mocked Fisher and Socrates Brito. Not too many people saw this turnaround coming.

Recently, baseball marked the 25th anniversary of Cal Ripken’s record of playing in 2,131 consecutive games. Today, it is not unusual for the Jays and other teams to have a half-dozen or more players on the injured list. Does any player play through an injury any more or have they become so fragile that they are frequently out of action with a minor injury?— Mark, St. Catharines, Ontario

Guys still play through injuries a lot more than you might think. During a normal year when the media has access to the clubhouse, it’s easy to see what players are going through. There were times Kevin Pillar looked like a mummy after the game, his body almost fully wrapped in ice. The amount of work these guys put in just to play every day often goes underappreciated.

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That said, we’re never going to see another Ripken. That has less to do with players’ desires and more with how organizations approach the daily grind. Toronto’s high-performance department has built in off-days for almost every player on the roster, and even the guys who can play more — think Bichette when healthy — will never be permitted to suit up for all 162. Teams know too much about negative effects fatigue has on performance and health to let there be another Ripken.

I don’t understand baseball to the same extent as Charlie Montoyo, but I question his use of relief pitchers. Buck Martinez and Dan Shulman often mention that the relief pitchers are “running on fumes” since they are used so often. I question why certain pitchers such as Hatch, Kay, Merryweather and Borucki are used for only one inning at a time. My understanding is that they are stretched out as starters. Surely if they are effective for one inning, they could go a second one. I don’t believe it is just because they don’t want them to face specific hitters due to the left-right issue. Your take on it? — Doris

I’m with you on Kay and Hatch. Kay hasn’t pitched more than an inning since Aug. 23 while Hatch hasn’t tossed a full two innings since Aug. 24. It’s worth noting, though, that Merryweather has gone two innings in five of his last six appearances and, to me, that’s the ideal length. I’ve said it before in this space, but Toronto can survive without too many innings from its starting rotation if it can use one of Kay/Hatch/Merryweather for two frames almost every night. It’s something I’d like to see more from the organization. Borucki is a bit different because of his previous elbow issues. The Jays have been extra cautious with his arm this season and it’s hard to blame them after he missed almost all last year.
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