Beginning tomorrow, eight teams will play in October baseball and 22 others including the Toronto Blue Jays will be watching from the sidelines.
The overall tone following this season is much more positive than last. Coming out of 2009 the Blue Jays had just fired their General Manager, the clubhouse was in disarray, and their best player was on the trading block.
My how things can change in just over a year. Here’s a look at some of the highlights:
At this point, what is there left to say about Jose Bautista’s season that hasn’t already been said?
The fact that Bautista was on absolutely nobody’s radar made this campaign especially a joy to watch because nobody in their wildest dreams could have expected this from a 29 year old career journeyman.
He captured Blue Jays fans in a way that hasn’t been achieved since the days of Carlos Delgado, and Jose Bautista put up an MVP calibre season even though he played for a fourth place team.
Fans Dig the Long Ball
Part of what made the Blue Jays so exciting to watch was the pure power that was divvied up and down the lineup. Even if they were down and out, the Jays were never truly out of a game until the 27th out was recorded because the long ball could strike at any time.
On that same tone though, the power was impressive but the consistency at the plate was there. While it was great to watch all those home runs, I’d easily trade maybe 50-60 of them for a much better team batting average or on base percentage.
There is no question that the 2010 Blue Jays lived and died by the long ball. If they weren’t hitting home runs, odds are they had a tough time winning the game. Of their 85 wins, the Blue Jays hit a home run in all but 11 of those games.
The Core Four Starting Rotation
As fun as it was to watch the Blue Jays home runs, those who are fans of great pitching also were privy to some fine performances. As Mike Wilner pointed out, Blue Jays starters held no hitters going into the seventh inning on five separate occasions.
None as more heart-breaking than Brandon Morrow’s near no-hitter. As great as it would’ve been to see him toss the second no-hitter in franchise history, how great was it to see Morrow makes leaps and strides since his days between the bullpen and the starting rotation in Seattle? Brandon Morrow hasn’t even hit his ceiling yet and the sky is truly the limit for him.
Earlier this season, the New York Yankees boasted a “core four” starting rotation was comprised of C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes and Javier Vazquez. Very quickly into the season, Burnett and Vazquez dropped off considerably and no longer did the Yankees hold a solid starting rotation.
I would argue that the Toronto Blue Jays have one of the best if not the best core four starting pitchers for the 2011 season. Shaun Marcum and Ricky Romero did not disappoint, Brett Cecil started to fill in very well as a young lefty, and Brandon Morrow continues to grow.
Drabek is Delivered Early
We were teased at the prospect of having Kyle Drabek start in the majors this year. Alex Anthopoulos was adamant on keeping him in the minors all season long, but then he suddenly made a complete 180 and Drabek was pitching the next week.
For the most part, Drabek came as advertised. It wasn’t as epic as a first start as Stephen Strasburg, but it was adequate enough for a trade chip who is just under a year removed being shipped off from the Philadelphia Phillies.
Lind and Hill
With the players that exceeded expectations, there were others who failed to live up to the lofty predictions set for them. Aaron Hill and Adam Lind were the poster boys for regression in 2010. I think most people expected them to drop off a little bit, but not nearly to the extent of what they did.
I think between 2009 and 2010, we can get a pretty good sense of what to expect from two of the Blue Jays young guns … somewhere in between awesome and gruesome.
I Love Yu(nel)
Even though the Blue Jays were poised to deal many of their relievers at the trade deadline, Alex Anthopoulos stood his ground and the only real trade of note was trading Alex Gonzalez for Yunel Escobar.
It was as our friend Navin from Sports and the City would call a “fleecing” on the part of the Blue Jays: they turned Alex Gonzalez who was merely a temporary solution at shortstop, into Yunel Escobar.
He will now bridge the gap between himself and hopefully the next coming of shortstop greats, Adeiny Hechavarria. There’s no question Yunel Escobar plays with a kind of flair we haven’t seen in Toronto in many years.
This team has a renewed sense of accomplishment, and moving forward they are a much better team going into 2011 than they were going into 2010.
Position wise, there are still some big questions to answer to first base, third base and behind the plate, and the search for a new manager will likely dominate any offseason headlines.
As others have alluded to before, this was one entertaining team to watch from Opening Day until the final day of the season, and even though the Blue Jays were for the most part out of the running for a playoff spot, at times it truly felt like a pennant race.
Thanks again to everyone who reads and comments on the site, and to those who reply and retweet on Twitter. It’s been great interacting with you all and I am very grateful and thankful for all the interesting conversations, ideas and feedback you have provided.
Rest assured there will be lots of activity here as the gears will start turning on some obscure blog posts, and I look forward to the day when Spring Training will relieve us from the cold, desolate winter.