Is Alek Manoah the Savior the Blue Jays Need?

By Akiva Wienerkur   June 13, 2021 

Is Alek Manoah the Savior the Blue Jays Need?

In the first inning of his first Major League start, Toronto Blue Jays rookie Alek Manoah caused New York Yankees star Aaron Judge to swing so hard at a pitch he lost his balance and had to go down to one knee. He moved his mom to tears in that start. He also became the first pitcher from the 2019 draft class to make it to the Majors.

Those things alone were obviously a cool way to start his career, but the entire body of work in that start was impressive. Manoah pitched six innings, gave up no runs on just two hits and two walks and struck out seven betters in a 2-0 win over Toronto’s AL East rival. Manoah’s second start was less impressive, as he gave up four runs in 3.1 innings and didn’t factor into the decision. But the Blue Jays won that game as well. And with their offense, Manoah doesn’t even have to be as lights out as he was in his first start to help them, he just has to settle in and be solid.

Manoah throws about 95 mph on his fastball, but the fact that he’s one of the taller pitchers in the game at 6-foot-6 makes that speed feel even faster to batters. He also throws three other pitches – a sinker, a slider, and a changeup – effectively.

Manoah had a 0.50 ERA with 27 strikeouts in Triple-A Buffalo before his call-up, and his ERA, strikeout rate, and WHIP led all Triple-A pitchers at the time of his call-up.

Mar 14, 2021; Dunedin, Florida, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting Alek Manoah (75) throws a pitch against the New York Yankees during the first inning at TD Ballpark. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jays have had a surprisingly solid pitching staff this season. Their offense is clearly the team’s strength, but they’re 12th in all of baseball in ERA. Three starters — Hyun Jin Ryu, Steven Matz, and Robbie Ray – all have four or more quality starts. Ray leads the team in strikeouts and Ryu leads them in ERA. That’s a pretty good top three, although Matz has struggled on occasion.

The problem is that they’re in a division with two elite pitching staffs. The AL East-leading Tampa Rays have the seventh best ERA in baseball. The Yankees, who trail Tampa by a game in the standings, have the fifth-best staff ERA. 

Matz and Ryu have been solid this season, but both had sub-par starts early in June. Last season, pitching was the definite weak spot for Toronto, and it was expected to be again this season. Ross Stripling has been inconsistent in the rotation, and another top prospect, Nate Pearson, has dealt with an injury and control problems that have limited him this season. If Manoah can stabilize the rotation, the Blue Jays have a good enough offense to make a run at the AL East title or at least a Wild Card spot.

Toronto has played the toughest schedule of any team in the AL East so far, and while that will continue for a bit before letting up some, the Jays have been competitive, which is something they can build on going forward. As Sports Illustrated points out, the Blue Jays have played no games against division rival Baltimore, the worst team in baseball, while the Yankees, the Rays, and Red Sox have played Baltimore a combined 23 times so far.

After losing two of three to Houston, Toronto has tough matchups with the Yankees, Red Sox, and White Sox on the horizon, but things let up later in the month when they play seven games against Baltimore.

Their offense has also been good. Four players have hit 11 or more home runs this season, led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr, who has 18, which leads all of baseball. Guerrero is also third in baseball in batting average and RBIs.

As a team, the Jays are second in MLB in home runs and batting average, third in hits, and seventh in runs scored. 

The AL East has historically been an insanely difficult division, and if things don’t break their way, this wouldn’t even be the first time that a talented Toronto team had a great season but did not make the playoffs as a result of the depth of their own division. 

Manoah’s ceiling represents a chance for them to avoid that fate, though. If he can become a reliable third or fourth starter for them for the rest of the season with occasional outstanding performances, look for the Jays to make a move up in the division standings.

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