For the first time since 2017, it just ended. There was no wondering whether this would be the Blue Jays’ final game of the season, because it was. There was no promise of playoff baseball this year, only the end of the regular season.
It was a bit of a bizarre feeling. After a whirlwind end to the 2015 season and an incredibly stressful yet exciting final stretch in 2016, 2017 ended with a thud for the Toronto Blue Jays; a feeling which was all too familiar from 1994 to 2014.
Earlier this season, Jason Grilli said it best: “losing only makes you appreciate winning”. After a sub-par season in 2017, it only makes me appreciate just how incredible 2015 and 2016 was for the Blue Jays, even if they did come up short of a World Series title.
Wasn’t it fitting that on the final day of the regular season, the Blue Jays finally climbed out of the AL East basement for good? After spending all season long in last place – 6 months, 118 days, 162 games – the Jays won their final game and finished in fourth place.
No, the Blue Jays never slayed their .500 dragon, but they vanquished the last place demon on the final day of the season.
For the first time in 162 games, 181 days, the Blue Jays are no longer in last place. Cheers. pic.twitter.com/HJJjpK89ve
— Ian Hunter (@BlueJayHunter) October 1, 2017
Not that mediocrity is something to celebrate, but after a tortuous year by the Blue Jays, sometimes it’s important to celebrate life’s little victories. If that just so happens to be a fourth place finish in the division, so be it.
Ultimately, I’ll look back on 2017 as a year of missed opportunity for the Blue Jays. All five teams that finished with a .500 or better record in the American League punched their ticket to the playoffs. A few more wins here and there and the Blue Jays should’ve been in contention. A few less catastrophic meltdowns and they should’ve been close.
After all, this was mostly the same cast of characters that made it all the way to the ALCS last year. The building blocks were there to contend for a playoff spot for the third straight year. In reality, the Blue Jays weren’t really all that close.
Despite Justin Smoak emerging from the fog left behind by Edwin Encarnacion, despite Marcus Stroman taking the next step forward to leading this pitching staff, despite Josh Donaldson posting MVP-calibre numbers during his injury-shortened season, it still wasn’t enough.
The weaknesses on this Blue Jays team were more glaring than ever. In a word, this team was “old”, but that may just be a lazy adjective to use. The Blue Jays didn’t run the bases very well, they didn’t field the ball to the best of their ability and they were a one-dimensional offense.
When the dust settles on this 2017 season, I don’t think anybody’s left standing and shrugging their shoulders saying “beats me”. The Blue Jays’ weaknesses were there from the start, but they became very apparent when a number of key players landed on the disabled list for an extended period.
However, injuries can’t and shouldn’t be the scapegoat for the 2017 Toronto Blue Jays. Every team has injuries. Yes, the Blue Jays had 25 players land on the disabled list this year. The Los Angeles Dodgers sent 28 players to the DL in 2017 and they still somehow won a division title.
What became very apparent this year was the organization’s lack of depth. I never put too much stock into the Blue Jays farm system before, but after witnessing what happened to the big league roster this year, I’ll view “depth” as one of the five core aspects of a team’s roster – to go along with starting lineup, starting rotation, bullpen and bench.
When the Blue Jays had everyday players go down with significant injuries, they didn’t have the talent or depth to bridge the gap. There wasn’t anybody in the minor leagues who could take over and provide better-than or close-to production of the departed player.
There wasn’t as much to celebrate in 2017 as there was in 2016 or 2015, but there were a few highlights. As mentioned, Stroman emerging as the new number one in this pitching staff. It was a treat to watch him work every five days.
Smoak’s emergence might be up there with Jose Bautista’s ascension in 2010 as one of the most unforeseeable breakouts in Blue Jays history. Smoak silenced all his critics this year and one can only imagine how much worse the Blue Jays would’ve been this year if not for his contributions.
If there’s one aspect I feel comfortable about with the Blue Jays heading into 2018, it’s the bullpen. For the most part, it was a homegrown bullpen full of minor leaguers or international signings. This bullpen core of Roberto Osuna, Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes and Dominic Leone are poised to do damage next year as well.
He may have only played 114 games this year, but Josh Donaldson proved why he has an MVP trophy in his trophy case. If there was any doubt whether he could put up those numbers again, Donaldson came back and was better than ever in the second half of 2017.
And then there’s Jose Bautista. I expected 2017 would be another monster year for him. That wasn’t the case, but his swan song in his final game at the Rogers Centre was the perfect send-off for a Blue Jays legend. If this is it for Bautista as a Blue Jay, it was one heck of a run.
Now, here we are; the regular season is over and for the first time in three years, there is no more baseball left on the schedule for the Toronto Blue Jays.
After what happened in 2015 and 2016, I don’t like this feeling. I don’t want this to be the new normal for the Blue Jays, because that was the new normal for 22 years. Nobody wants to go back to that ever again.
2018 is the next opportunity for the Blue Jays to make this disappointing season a distant memory.