Lo­cal Blue Jays fans’ hopes dashed this sea­son

Strug­gling team could take years to re­build

Sackville Tribune - - SPORTS - BY WAL­LIE SEARS

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.

123RF PHOTO

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