“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?
Maybe a splashy offseason quiets these concerns. David Price looming over the proceedings in Dunedin might shuttle the spoiled and navel-gazey nature of this existential angst. But there are questions around the diamond that voltron their way into a big question that is difficult to answer:
How good are the Blue Jays? Are they good enough to win the World Series?
Are they good enough? Absolutely. Are they the favorites? Probably not. The incredibly tight American League makes it impossible to consider any one team the prohibitive favorite. But the thing is, they probably won’t win. The odds are against them, as they’re stacked against every team in baseball at this time of year.
This outlook is all good and pragmatic and maybe a little ghoulish, but it ignores a certain inevitability. Every year, one team overcomes those long odds and takes home the trophy at the end of October.
There is no good reason to believe it won’t be the Toronto Blue Jays at the top of the heap in October. The offense that blitzed the world is still in place, with small, sneaky moves made along the margins that add depth. The pitching staff is a “one through thirteen” effort, hopefully reimagining how a ball club gets 27 outs a night instead of relying on a workhorse.
There’s no ace, or even a proven commodity beyond R.A. Dickey, forever alone with his tireless effort away from the cameras, 200 workmanlike innings and that faraway look his cheerful & undefeated eyes. An ace is a wonderful commodity, as the Price era reminded us.
But we must remind ourselves a few things about the David Price Era. Firstly, it was 11 regular season starts long. Eleven. The same number Aaron Sanchez made last year. Fewer than Josh Johnson, Todd Redmond, and Esmil Rogers made in 2013. Fewer than Aaron Laffey made for the Blue Jays in 2012.
Obviously Price was amazing in those games, but something else amazing happened in those 11 starts.
|Run Support per game started||Run Support per 27 outs|
|Price with TOR||7.2||8|
The Blue Jays offense averaged more than seven runs per David Price start. That’s a recipe for winning games, regardless of the man on the mound. J.A. Happ could go back to wholly uninspiring J.A. Happ (rather than Ray Searaged J.A. Happ) and start those games and the Blue Jays record would look the same. They went 31-15 in games Price didn’t start after his arrival. That's good.
And that offense remains. It remains to torment lefties and NL imports accustomed to bench bats in the pitcher’s spot and/or the Brewers. That offense returns with the same personnel, save Ben Revere; a useful but not irreplaceable piece.
It returns Troy Tulowitzki from a winter of mental rest, acceptance and time to adjust to the world beyond Coors Field, where not everything is a fastball. It returns a Four Win Center Fielder and a national treasure behind the plate. It returns the face of the franchise looking for his performance to catch up to his fame.
It returns the best player in franchise history. It returns the most underrated player in franchise history. It returns the American League’s most valuable player.
The 2016 Blue Jays - imperfect, aging, too right-handed, in tough in their own division once again, full of question marks for the future - aren’t the favorites. But they are really, really good. They’re good and unsated by last fall’s tease.
There are no flawless baseball teams. There are only teams that find themselves in the right place at the right time. They 2016 Toronto Blue Jays are going to put themselves awfully close to “the right place.” By force. I look forward to seeing the rest of the American League try to stop them.