2015 is now mere hours away from completion and while the year has had its ups and downs, for us Blue Jays fans it has to be considered a success. A long, patiently waited for success. All we can hope for is that Rogers and Mark Shapiro will make a resolution to make 2016 even better and jump through that window of contention while it’s still open.
Granted it was disappointing that Toronto ended up bowing out in the championship series, but all-in-all, the first 90+ win year and first playoff entry since magical 1993; the league MVP and highest attendance in decades more than compensates. The 2015 season showed us several important things. Jose Bautista can compete and deliver in the big games just as well as meaningless ones. Alex Anthopoulos did have, or at least had developed, a good sense of talent. Marco Estrada and Chris Colabello are ample proof of that, not that AA’s prowess benefits the team anymore, sadly. It also showed that John Gibbons can certainly punch his weight as managers go. Perhaps no Connie Mack or Billy Martin, Gibbons kept the good ship Jay upright through difficult early months and then showed he had the know-how to take a good team and run with it. He is another illustration of a shrewd Anthopoulos move which looked a bit dubious at the time.
the year also showed that Toronto , and Canada in fact, love baseball. The 3 million fans in the stands, the high TV ratings coast-to-coast, the fact the team was more searched for domestically on Google than Trudeau, Jenner or ISIS all speak to the excitement the Jays generated when the fans were finally given a team to be excited about. This bodes well for the future if only the owners pay attention and try to build on that excitement rather than did up the skeletons of JP Ricciardi’s playbooks and “five-year plans.” What’s more, the season showed that baseball loves Toronto as well. No longer can we Canucks think about complaining that baseball and its people don’t pay attention to the blue-and-white because of their location. Having a player voted MVP- ahead of Golden Boy Mike Trout- and recipient of the Hank Aaron Award , not to mention the fact that the league-sponsored ESPN special on the best plays of the season (which ranked 3 Toronto plays among the ten best of the year in all of baseball) put that myth to rest. In the eyes of MLB, Toronto is every bit as valid a city, and organization, as New York, Chicago or St. Louis.
So now we look ahead to February and Dunedin, and that opening Sunday in Tampa a few weeks later. It goes without saying that now with David Price gone and a weaker bullpen, the Jays hopes don’t look quite so bright. The Red Sox and Yankees have gotten better- as much as I dislike Chapman from everything we hear about him, he will certainly give NY a bullpen to rival Kansas City’s- while Toronto has at best trod water. All is not lost however; remember Toronto was the best in the division; Boston particularly have a lot of catching up to do to compete. Merely standing pat is disappointing to fans but may still yield a team that can win. If Marcus Stroman develops into the pitcher they think he can be, or JA Happ continues to pitch like he did in late summer in Pittsburgh, with the bats of Bautista, Donaldson, Encarnacion and crew this team could still better their 93 wins and take their playoff experience and grow from it – as the Royals did in 2015.
As a reminder and encouragement to those who feel all is lost before the season begins, I offer a little look at early 2015 and how things were expected to play out. I picked Boston to win our division and Toronto to finish right at .500. I also thought the White Sox and Mariners could win their divisions. I might be loopy therefore, but so too are the more experienced pundits. Athlon Sports springtime annual picked Boston, Detroit and LA Angels as division champs and predicted a Washington World series as did so many others. USA Today got ten out of 30 clubs in the right position at year’s end, although they did manage to pick our team to win the AL East. Furthermore, of their panel of 7 expert writers , not one predicted KC or the Mets to win their division let alone meet in the World Series. Likewise, none of the 7 predicted Josh D for MVP or got either of the Cy Young winners. It all goes to show, predicting and speculating is fun, but there’s a reason they actually take to the diamond for 162 games.
2016 should be a good one! Enjoy the ride, and while I’m at it, let me wish you a happy new year away from the ballpark as well as when at it!