There's Always Last Year: Blue Jays Put A Bullet In Trying Season
The venerable Boston Bruins coach/ GM Harry Sinden used to say that every year there are 30 team owners who think they’ll win the title. And then 29 of them end the season unhappy.
The Major League Baseball regular season wound up Sunday afternoon with 20 very pissed-off owners. The Detroit Tigers might’ve been the most annoyed team had they had to play Monday in a tiebreaker. By gagging like dogs this final weekend against the worst team in MLB, the Atlanta Braves, they were spared a Monday matchup with Cleveland to determine their postseason. Considering they’d only scared up three runs in the final two games, missing Monday was probably a humanitarian gesture.
The Tigers’ futile finish allowed the Toronto Blue Jays to fall over the finish line into one of the AL wild-card playoff positions. They’ll host the Baltimore Orioles in a one-game playoff tomorrow to determine who’ll get to play Texas in the AL Division Series.
It would be hard to over-estimate the difference between this battered Blue Jays edition and its predecessor: the cardiac club of 2015. Last season’s Blue Jays were a revelation. Stuck at a game below .500 at the All Star break, the 2015 Jays then went on a torrid offensive binge that landed them in the postseason. The club’s murderers row of José Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion rampaged over teams, pushing the Jays to double-digits in runs in many games.The Jays had two 11game win streaks during that second half.
The can-you-believe-it narrative carried over into the playoffs as the Jays made an unbelievable comeback in defeating Texas. Bautista’s dramatic home run that eliminated the Rangers after Texas led two games to none has become iconic. It was Toronto’s first series win since its World Series wins of 1992/ 1993.
The Jays were finally beaten by the eventual World Series winners, the Kansas City Royals. But the euphoria of the Jays captivated the entire country. leaving Canadians hungry for a reprise— maybe a Series win this time?
As a national story, the offseason decision not to re-sign pitcher David Price was treated on a par with Justin Trudeau’s winning the federal election a few weeks before. Whether to bring back John Gibbons as manager split some baseball families. Alex Anthopoulos’ demise as GM was similarly either a national tragedy or no great loss, according to the feelings of the fans.
One thing was certain. No one could wait till the team reunited in Dunedin in February. Oh, what fun it would be to see the Jays batters wreak havoc again. But this season’s follow-up edition has been as halting and painful to the teams followers as last year’s team was a revelation. While many of the names have been familiar the results have often been very different.
Bautista and Encarnacion did not receive contract extensions to their satisfaction, and so have played under a low-hanging cloud all season (although Encarnacion did hit 42 homers with 127 RBIs.). Injuries to Joey Bats, Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki hobbled the offence. Unsung 2015 hero Chris Colabello was suspended for drug use and never made a contribution. Ditto Ryan Goins and Justin Smoak, who also added little after good 2015 performances. After a fine first half, Michael Saunders became a non-issue with the second half.
The biggest change year-to-year was the battered bullpen. While stopper Roberto Osuna mostly kept up his pace from 2015, the rest of the sorry crew was a car crash looking for a place to happen. Leads disappeared on a regular basis. As a result the Jays dropped from 93 wins in 2015 to 89 wins, slipping past Detroit only on the final day. Were it not for young pitchers Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, the Tigers, not the Jays, would be in the postseason.
However long the playoffs go with this erratic lineup, the Blue Jays of 2015 are now history. Unless the Jays make another run in this playoffs, the new management team of president Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins is likely to insert their own manager in place of Gibbons. The 36-year-old Bautista, who has noisily demanded a five-year contract in the spring, will have a new home in 2017.
Unless something remarkable happens, Encarnacion is likely gone as well. Pitcher R.A. Dickey (obtained at the cost of Noah Syndergaard) will be gone too, making the loss of young pitchers Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd to Detroit in the Price deal more keen.
This will be a team led by Donaldson, Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki rather than the passionate Bautista. A lefthanded power bat (Torontonian Joey Votto?) will also be needed. A return to form by some bullpen members is essential. Less reliance on home runs would be nice, too.
So take a good look at this team, Blue Jays fans. Enjoy whatever playoffs the club puts together. After the Jays sold so many parts to get a competing club, you will not see the like of the 2015 team for a while.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy
Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).