Thursday, October 20, 2016

Well-dressed but

The binary notions of failure and success don’t feel appropriate for the 2016 Blue Jays. Not with all the baggage and narrative threads that weave their way through this season and into the future.

This season was a success because a distinctive, excellent team was three wins away from the World Series. The season was a failure because the 2016 Toronto Blue Jays weren’t designed, or expected, to finish short of anything.

Well-dressed, but walking
In the wrong direction

And yet, at no point in the year did they feel like the team to beat. But there was a sense of urgency among the fans, knowing that 2015’s offensive juggernaut was right there, straining to break free.

Instead of fireworks, strikeouts fueled fan frustration as the “take and rake” offense did a lot more taking than raking. Suffocating run prevention pushed the team into the postseason, holding up much more than its end of the bargain.

If 2015 was the night out in your twenties, when anything seems possible and every minute feels like a musical montage in some beer ad, 2016 felt a little more like the night out when everyone is in their thirties.

The sparks don’t fly as easily, and there’s a lot of waiting around, expecting the same magic to just...happen. Still fun, still memorable, but the spectre of what came before looms large.

The unforgettable end to the Blue Jays’ 2015 season filled in the blanks before 2016 could make its own statement, making for a summer-long odyssey that was an odd mix of swan song and audition - with a title pursuit trying not to become an afterthought.

Well, some of us are, that is
The ones who know how, that is

Baseball fans in 2016 don’t need (or want) to think about seasons in discrete chunks, as the season never needs to end. Teams move more in eras and epochs, and this all but marks the end of a Blue Jays era. From dark to light, from listless to insistent, everything changed overnight - and it won’t switch back.

I don’t want to get used to playoff games. I don’t want to look down my nose at a series win or a afternoon playoff games that completely derail work days. I don’t want to scroll through an Instagram feed full (full!) of ballpark shots as the stadium fills and feel blasé because it’s only the division series.

I don’t want to get used to it and I don’t want it to stop.

Well-dressed, but walking
I don't wanna go back

Hopefully I won’t have to. Josh Donaldson will be standing at third base in April, 2017, which is almost enough on its own. Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman and Roberto Osuna and Marco Estrada and JA Happ and Troy Tulowitzki will stand on the third base line while a planetary Canadian flag is unfurled in centre field.

One day, the team standing on that third base line will look up, towards the left field seats, and see the names of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista staring down at them.

The last two years - 15 months, really - are worth pausing over. Worth considering for what they were, what they weren’t, and what they ultimately delivered. These are signature moments that even World Series winners aren’t lucky enough to claim.

There are more indelible moments to come, I’m sure. But before rumour and innuendo rush to replace live-and-die playoff urgency in my baseball brain, I’ll think a lot about those moments and their authors. I’ll think of champagne showers untaken and parades unrouted but, mostly, I’ll be thankful for moments that will outlive us all. Not a bad trade, in the end.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Reasons not rules

Aaron Sanchez will continue taking turns in the Blue Jays rotation. This is an exciting and not insignificant piece of news for Blue Jays fans. It’s exciting for any number of reasons, not the least of which relates to the 2016 club, its playoff chances, and Sanchez’s ability to contribute to those chances.

But if you’re a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, take the team’s willingness to proceed down uncharted waters with Sanchez’s innings as the best sign yet that things are not as they once were, they changed for the better.

It would seem that the Blue Jays did not cower before the looming monolith that is Conventional Thinking. The front office - and the player himself - opened themselves up to considerable risk by allowing Sanchez to push past previously established innings limits. But by all reports they do so with their eyes and their minds open to the possibilities.

From the sounds of it, the Jays opted to treat Sanchez as an individual, combining their own data models with his on-field performance to sniff out signs of fatigue. They haven’t found any yet (we assume) so Sanchez stays in the rotation.

That’s good for 2016 and it’s good to know the tall foreheads from Ohio, who brought a reputation for risk aversion with them across the border, are not willing to let a chance to win the World Series slip away because of staid, untested thinking.

Friday, February 19, 2016

I find satisfaction in what they lack

“Wait ‘til next year!” is the refrain made famous by fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers, unable (until 1955) to take home the World Series crown. The Blue Jays didn’t suffer through four World Series losses in seven years like Dem Bums did, but the 2015 season saw a team built (and then rebuilt on the fly) to win finally broke through and permitted October baseball back across the border.

No rationally-thinking human could fault most Blue Jays fans for lingering in 2015 a little bit. The rush of winning every game for two months, the “scrap this junk and come back with something plausible” ALDS, the incredibly disappointing series American League championship series - it was sensory overload for a fanbase locked in solitary confinement for a generation. No baseball fan should feel an iota of guilt over a refusal to accept that the Kansas City Royals - the fucking Royals! - won the World Series and the Blue Jays did not.

A quiet offseason, compared to the explosive trade deadline, doesn’t have too many of us champing at the bit for the year to start. The way the Red Sox and Yankees tooled up for a run back to the post-season has us dragging our feet on getting 2016 underway. If many Jays fans shouted “wait til next year!” this winter, I certainly missed it.

I’ve been fighting a feeling, a niggling feeling that won’t go away. What if there is no “next year”, not for a while? What if last year was next year?

Monday, January 18, 2016

Tossed around like sea glass

There are plenty of “Josh Donaldson vs. The Blue Jays” takes floating around today, because it’s January and there isn’t much else to talk about. The sides are resolute in their tribalism as that is life in these streets.

The Jays look bad and the fans tilting at windmills look bad. Mark Shapiro looks predictably bad and Ken Rosenthal helps some in the Jays front office look foolish. Everybody looks bad for everyone except for Josh Donaldson, since “Josh Donaldson looks bad” is dividing by zero.

This started out as a take, it was going to be about the “cost of Josh Donaldson” and how this kind of arbitration strife is exactly what the Blue Jays signed up for when they acquired a Super Two with MVP credentials from a poor team.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Every beast has its poison

There was no good way for the 2015 Blue Jays season to end. There was only one acceptable outcome, given the improbable run up and come back and full weight of expectation. 29 teams fail to win the World Series every year, which doesn’t meant that they’re all failures.

In some ways it is reassuring that the Blue Jays went down as they did, flipping the script with stolen bases and leadoff singles from hitters otherwise left for dead. The inability to push across the tying run against baseball’s best reliever won’t sit well, not now and certainly not during the long, dark winter.

The Toronto Blue Jays 2015 season ended ten days too early. It easily could’ve ended ten days ago, or, absent a whirlwind trade deadline, ten days before that. But it ended on a warm October evening in Missouri, after a rain delay and an unforgettable baseball game.

The Blue Jays season is over for among the most basebally of baseball reasons. They were beaten by a team that won more regular season games but probably represented less on-field talent. The Royals, the team that beat the Blue Jays, made a boatload of their own luck while also identifying and highlighting skills that made for a tough, maddening opponent to watch.

There are few hoary cliches less insightful than “baseball is a game of inches.” Among corny baseball truisms, it is might be the corniest. But it is the kernel of truth in this axiom that sent the Blue Jays home and propelled the Royals to a date with the Mets. In Game Six of the ALCS, the inches grew and grew.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The trees die so they can grow again

One of my least favorite sports tropes is the “long-suffering fan.” Leaving aside the credulity-bending notion that the hours spent watching sports on TV constituted “the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship,” nobody that watched any of the 300-odd starts Roy Halladay made in these colours or the 330 home runs Carlos Delgado clouted in this town can truly say they suffered at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays.

It’s more an extension of the dreaded marketing buzzword “FOMO” - the fear of missing out. In Toronto, we’ve missed out. For more than 20 years, we missed out on Dave Roberts’ steals and Adam Wainwright freezing Carlos Beltran in place and Madison Bumgarner transcending the astral plane. Those unforgettable moments all happened, just not to us. It’s always better having a little skin in the game.

Friday, September 11, 2015

In miles or kilometres

For the better part of the last five years, one of the great concerns among some corners of Blue Jays fandom was squandering Jose Bautista’s peak. Improbable as it seemed when the team excised Alex Rios from the roster and gave Bautista his big break, surrounding him with a good supporting cast was job one for management as of about May 1st, 2011.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying in past years but, finally, the Blue Jays have a more than capable lineup surrounding Jose Bautista. He still sits in the middle of this potent offense, hitting third and playing right field every day despite a wonky shoulder (injured, of course, under inauspicious yet delightful circumstances.) And his team is now very good, in first place with mere weeks remaining on the schedule. They wouldn’t be there without him and they won’t stay there without his contributions.

He’s still a very good player but on this very good team, he doesn’t need to be The Man. Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki and David Price aren’t Bautista’s supporting cast, they are equally integral to the Blue Jays rise to contention and drive to stay there. And that’s okay.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


There is nothing like a tidy seven game winning streak to brush off two months without even a “win one, lose one” baseline of performance. All of May’s despairing moans are gone, replaced with “told ya so’s” directed towards a venerable institution in the radio booth and longing looks up the standings.

And yet, you’d have to twist yourself into a knots to convince yourself that the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays are a great baseball team. By watching them, you see the highest scoring team in baseball (by a not insignificant margin) with a pitching staff that either pitches better than it looks or looks worse than it pitches. The defense is a comforting non-factor, the highest praise one could ever heap upon the nine (or so) men pushing more than five runs per game across the plate.

They aren’t a bad baseball team by any stretch of the imagination. But there is something about them that doesn’t feel good enough.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rough Seas In A Rickety Boat

Lonely. This was the word R.A. Dickey used last year when asked about the process of re-making himself as a knuckleballer. Lots of learning the hard way - trial and error with endless reps, pitches pitches thrown against a brick wall in pursuit of something elusive. His career as a conventional pitcher was all but over, so he forged a new path.

When asked about the pieces coming together in 2010, as a member of the then-New York Mets affiliated Buffalo Bisons, Dickey explains there wasn’t one precise moment when it all clicked:
It was the culmination of a lot of days where I thought “Okay, I can repeat this. This is good.” And then another day would come along and I would say “Oh, so my stride needs to be a little short!” or “Oh, my glove takeaway needs to be a little up.” It was just a bunch of things, all of them coming together.
Five years later and it all feels like it’s happening in reverse. The self-talk and tinkering are attempts to hold something together, papering over the cracks of age and deterioration of skill. Dickey is in the middle of his worst season since the light switched on in 2010, sitting decidedly below replacement after ten starts of bad luck, bad location, and few glimmers of hope.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Hello, Mr. Thompson

There exists a particularly tortured analogy between the current Blue Jays outfield situation and a famous Biblical tale (read obtusely and gleaned from Wikipedia.) A failure to heed the warnings of angels resulted in a woman turning into a pillar of salt, a suboptimal outcome for a once-living creature.

Sending an oft-injured player to do drills at a trash facility isn’t exactly disobeying the warnings of angels but it is certainly a dangerous game, one that leaves the Toronto Blue Jays facing the proposition of Kevin Pillar spending half the season starting in their outfield. Is the prospect of handing a starting job to a non-prospect as bleak as it feels?