73 – 89 (.451) 35 games behind, 4th place
After a surprisingly decent start to the year (15-10 in April for example), the wheels fell off early on. The arrest of closer Roberto Osuna in early-May, whether coincidentally or not, seemed to signal the start of a steady descent for the Jays through May and they never climbed back to .500 or out of 4th place for the remainder of the year. The 73 wins is the lowest since 2012’s which it tied; no surprise then the great league-leading attendance dropped to 2.3 million (also lowest since 2012) and no longer led anything.
For Toronto, a familiar refrain – if only the city was a little further west! The Jays had the misfortune to be in the best division in the league and although they handled the orioles easily (who didn’t?), they went 10-28 against the powerhouse Yanks and Red Sox. Throw in the bugaboo Tampa Bay Rays, with whom they fared no better (6-13) and you have a lot season. Were that they only were in the Central, with whom they battled to an 18-15 record, for instance. Despite the fact that they were clearly outmatched against the elite teams, especially NY and Boston, they did show some signs of an admirable feistiness. They had 9 walk-off wins but only let opponents do that 3 times; they matched the Yankees 23-17 record in tight 1-run games, indicative of the quite good bullpen that was one of the highlights for them.
Player of the Year : Justin Smoak
the bar was set so low that Peter Dinklage couldn’t limbo under it. That said, even though he didn’t match last year’s numbers, Smoak was a solid, steady presence at the plate and with overlooked solid “D” at first base. When all was said and done, his unremarkable 67 runs and 83 RBI led the roster and the 25 homers tied him with Randal Grichuk. Thanks to his good eye at the plate, he also led the team in walks and on base percentage (.350.) With a team option for an affordable $7M or so next year, he should be back to add some maturity to the lineup.
Pitcher of the Year: Tyler Clippard
An argument could be made that the pitcher of the year could be JA Happ…of the New York Yankees. After all, Happ’s 10 wins led the team and he was the sole All Star. But we’ll give a nod to the lanky veteran reliever who was a constant in the beleaguered bullpen, leading the team with 73 appearances 68+ innings (tops among the relievers) and 7 saves. He gave up too many homers but had the go-to pitches to notch 85 strikeouts. Not a superstar campaign, but indicatve of an overused bullpen that actually blew fewer saves than Houston or the Dodgers’ – quite an achievement on a team with a 4.85 ERA. That bested only Texas, KC and Baltimore, three teams with far worse records.
Rookie of the Year: Ryan Borucki
it was a toss-up between him and infielder Lourdes Gurriel, but we’ll got with MLB’s own assessment and pick the starting pitcher. After all, the big knock on Ryan would be that he only played in the bigs in the second half. True enough, but due to injuries and a demotion early on to the minors, Gurriel himself only played in 65 games. Although his won-loss was only 4-6, the slow-tossing, finesse lefty was great more times than bad in his 17 starts and had a respectable 3.87 ERA… best among the team’s regular starters. Part of his success lay in keeping the ball down… while hitters weren’t always fooled by him, they notched only 7 home runs in about 100 innings against him. The guy who fashions himself after Mark Buehrle could end up being close to that man if he continues to study the art and stays healthy.
Story of the Year : Out with the old, in with the new
By August it was very clear the 2015-16, post-season making, exciting Jays were a thing of the past. The standouts from that era were either gone (Bautista, Encarnacion, late in the month, Donaldson) or more or primarily irrelevant (Tulowitzki, Martin) when it comes to position players or deadweight when it comes to pitchers (the trio of Marco Estrada, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez that was supposed to anchor a star-qulaity rotation combined to go 15 – 29 through only 67 starts. Their combined 144 walks allowed contributed to their combined ERA of 5.10. Not pretty for one supposed established star and two supposed superstars on the way up.) That considered, it is no surprise that the old manager, John Gibbons isn’t going to be back for another kick at the can, even though the team ended his tenure with much more class than the Rangers did their manager (basically emptying his locker out with a week left in the season.)
However, the old saying “You can’t tell the players without a program” soon came to be near to the truth. A large contingent of young, up-and-coming players were wearing the blue-and-white in September, giving a glimpse of what could be a very good team in the not too distant future. Besides the aforementioned Gurriel and Borucki, a pair of rookie catchers (Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire), young outfielder Billy McKinney, career minor-league infielder Jon Berti and pitchers like Thomas Pannone, Justin Shafer and David Paulino all made themselves at home at Rogers’ Centre while “oldies” like Russell Martin and Yangervis Solarte largely made sure the bench didn’t float off should gravity cease to work. Noteworthy though was the absence of the real stars-to-be from the Jays minors’ – Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette. which gives us another reason to be excited about 2019!
…and the playoffs….
Last column I gave you some predictions for this year’s post-season. So far, I’m looking smarter than I am, since most things seem to be working like I thought they would even if New York did do what they should and had to, namely beat the A’s in a one-game showdown. I’ll stand by those predictions (apologies to Dodgers’ fan friends) and say the world series will go to…
they should take out the cheeseheads in no more than 6 games. I’d like to see Milwaukee win but the Red Sox are a powerhouse, looked like they are motivated based on the first game against the Yankees, and will have home field advantage. They went an impressive 57-24 at Fenway. They also won 16 of 20 interleague games. The Brewers on the other hand, were a respectable but far from overwhelming 45-37 on the road and 13-7 interleague. And, yes, even if LA should make it to the series, I still see the Sox prevailing. Kershaw when he’s on is as good as any pitcher in the game but the Sox collection of Sale/Price/Porcello is tough to top.