Local Blue Jays fans’ hopes dashed this season
Struggling team could take years to rebuild
It was a rough year for the Toronto Blue Jays and their millions of fans spread across this country and beyond.
Yes, after entering the season with a good deal of hope they experienced one disappointment after another. The result was they won a grand total of 73 games while ending on the short end on 89 occasions for a meagre .451 average.
This came up well short of your columnist’s prediction of a .500 season, which brought some derision from a few die-hard fans looking for a miracle campaign.
Since 2000 this record matched that of the 2012 team and the only worse year was 2004 when they won just 67 games. It was back in 1969, shortly after they became an MLB entry that they won a low of 37 games in a shortened season.
So, what happened during the just-completed year that took the Jays out of contention early? And what does the future promise?
It’s obvious the old expression “wait ’til next year” is now inappropriate as the experts claim it will require a good three seasons for the team to ever become contenders in a division with the likes of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
While there may have been some lineup holes in the preseason, the Jays were believed to have the best starting rotation in the league. And it looked that way with the top five all having been proven winners – Marcus Stroman, Jay Happ, Aaron Sanchez, Mark Estrada and Jaime Garcia, with Joe Biagini filling in.
Well, at the end of the campaign Happ was with the Yankees via trade, Garcia was cut loose due to inept pitching and both Stroman and Sanchez were on the injury list.
Happ emerged as the ace but went to the Yankees and the remaining trio – Sanchez, Stro- man and Estrada – won a total of 15 games. That definitely is not championship calibre.
The disaster caused by Roberto Osuna, their great closer, resulted in his quick departure. The injuryprone Josh Donaldson, the third baseman designed to lead the attack, missed almost the entire season and ended up in Cleveland, while others being shipped out included Steve Pearce and Garcia along with a few non-producers. And then ace shortstop Troy Tulowitzki failed to play a single game due to injuries.
This placed a huge load on the shoulders of manager John Gibbons and he performed remarkably well in maintaining some sort of order in a totally fouled up situation. But that was his swan song as he has parted on good terms – so much so that he received a long-standing ovation from fans during his final game.
But not all the blame could be leveled on the pitching staff.
While in most cases the newcomers had fewer appearances that the veterans, the top eight hitters at the end were all firstyear players. As a matter of fact, the top veteran was Kevin Pillar with an average of .252. The worst regular and another counted on for leadership was catcher Russell Martin who posted a .194 mark.
They no longer had any power hitters returning other than Justin Smoak, who continued to swat home runs but had a mere .245 average. However, newcomer Randal Grichuk stepped up and delivered well after a horrible start and later in the year, rookies like Rowdy Tellez, Lourdes Gurriel and Aledmys Diaz proved positive additions.
While general manager Ross Atkins is expected to do a good deal of player shuffling this off-season he first must find a younger manager capable of the long haul in rebuilding the team. With younger performers like Telez, Gurriel, Billy Mckinney and catchers Jensen and Mcgee, along with some fine looking prospects in the minors – Vlad Guererro Jr. and Bo Bichette – the team will look younger and faster but It will require seasoning. And then there is still the pitching conundrum to face.
Late additions like Thomas Pannone, Ryan Borucki, Joe Petricka, Sean Reid-foley and Sam Gaviglio may be the temporary solution but Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins must find one front liner from the free agent market if Blue Jays fans are to once again find the pride that accompanies victory. It has been 25 years since the team marched to World Series honours – it could take that much longer unless there is a change in management decisions and a loosening of the purse strings.
Let’s hope for great local fans like Mark Longpre, Lou Lambe, Katie Tower, Steve Epworth and dozens more in our town that good things will happen sooner rather than later.