We’re well past the halfway mark in the baseball season, and the Toronto Blue Jays remain in the basement of the American League East, with a -72 run differential. Nine games out of the division lead and 5.5 games out of the second wild card with six teams between them and that spot.
This isn’t to wave a white flag or declare the season over. There are any number of other hosers who have been making those declarations, almost since Opening Week it would seem. Baseball is unpredictable, and even the most well-balanced among us can wonder how a two-week stretch of good baseball could completely change the perception of the team.
There’s something admirable about a fan hanging in for the entirety of the season, with a willingness to keep hope alive. There’s also no fault in finding yourself somewhere between this perspective and active, cynical disdain for the franchise.
The question is, for those fans in between the two extremes, what could success look like in the final months of this season? If a championship looks like an extreme longshot and a playoff spot just slightly less so, what are the outcomes that could make the 2017 season seem like a success, if only in some marginal sense of the term?
Playoffs or Bust
Maybe it’s heartfelt devotion to the team, or maybe it’s a stubborn reluctance to accept anything less than meaningful baseball now that we’ve had two years of postseason action. Either way, there are some who either won’t give up, or won’t allow for any other outcome lest the season be considered a failure.
This seems like a lousy spot to pitch your tent, if only to protect your heart from breaking, or your nerves from being frayed.
Still, when the Pittsburgh Pirates suddenly find themselves back in contention after being written off for much of the season, it brings home the lesson that a week is a long time in baseball.
Remember when the Blue Jays spent several weeks playing footsie with the .500 mark? Little did we know that we’d look back on that as the high point of the season.
Still, symbolic victories can matter. The difference between 77 and 81 wins in the grand scheme of things is probably not that significant, but that in-season record tends to hang over fans’ heads all offseason. Beyond the moral victory, getting to at least 81 wins would mean that the team would have played well down the stretch.
Playing the Spoiler
If the Jays can’t have a successful run of their own, would fans take any satisfaction from blocking other teams’ aspirations? With a schedule packed with games against AL East rivals, a strong finish by the Blue Jays could create havoc for the Yankees or the Rays, who are both in a crowded field for the wild card spots.
Even if the Red Sox seem well-ensconced in a playoff spot, the Jays could knock them down a peg and perhaps cost them home field in a crucial series. And a late September series against the surprising Minnesota Twins might even offer an opportunity to quash some earnest dreams from an up-and-coming team.
Of all the indignities of this season, looking upwards in the standings at a ramshackle, underperforming Orioles team has to rank amongst the most foul. That the Orioles have generally been terrible all year, with a disappointing season from their star Manny Machado and some grievous regression from their starting pitchers and STILL they haven’t been as bad as the Blue Jays gives one a sense of just how bad this season has been.
Still, the Jays sit two games back of the O’s, with seven games remaining against them. Knocking Buck Showalter’s smug keester into the AL East basement would provide at least some level of satisfaction.
Bring on the Future
If this truly turns out to be a lost season, could we be happy to see a transition begin in advance of the September roster expansion?
That could mean getting another extended look at Anthony Alford, who should be considered a part of the 2018 roster, and whose development could be managed just as well as an everyday player in Toronto as it could by leaving him to languish in Buffalo for the next six weeks.
An earlier than expected showcase of catcher Danny Jansen (.885 OPS between Dunedin and New Hampshire), might also raise spirits, and getting a look at Tim Mayza or Conner Greene in bullpen roles might give fans some optimism for the coming seasons.
Or could the Blue Jays find another piece on the trade market that points towards the future? It was 20 years ago that a deadline deal brought Jose Cruz Jr. to Toronto from Seattle in exchange for Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric. Cruz’s contributions over his six seasons with the Jays are perhaps under-appreciated because the expectations were so high, but his arrival in 1997 was a signal towards optimism for a team that would improve by 12 wins the following year.
The moods and temperaments of baseball fans can bounce around as unpredictably as a liner off the Green Monster, so it is entirely possible that fans will find themselves in all of the above categories before the season’s end. If you can’t have meaningful baseball, at least you can find meaning in the baseball you have.