Settling for mediocrity lowers bar for Blue Jays’ present and future

From Teoscar Hernandez playing centre field, to Brandon Drury lining up at short, Ben Nicholson-Smith is scratching his head over all the Blue Jays moving pieces on defence.

Over the past month, the progression of the lines tracking the hopes and aspirations for two of Toronto’s pro sports franchises have headed on vastly diverging paths.

As the Toronto Raptors shed the past disappointments and pushed through one tough opponent after another, the Blue Jays continued to stumble and fall even below the very tepid expectations that fans may have had coming into the season.

The Raptors have obviously now reached the highest of heights, and it still seems like a dream. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays seem primed to have their worst season since their initial days as an expansion franchise, and it seems all too real.

At some point in recent weeks, the reality that the Blue Jays could be a 100-loss team began to set in.

It feels like a lifetime ago, but on the weekend of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s debut, the Blue Jays won a walk-off on the Sunday afternoon against Oakland to pull themselves back to a .500 record. For a moment, you could dream of how the rest of the season could turn out.

Since then, the Blue Jays have the worst record in baseball. They are losing three games for every one they win, and are being outscored by nearly 100 runs over those six weeks. Having experienced most of those games, none of those facts feel surprising or out of place.

There are reasons and mitigating factors that play into why the Blue Jays are playing as poorly as they are. There are inopportune injuries, and some underperformance that seems like misfortune. Add a resurgent Matt Shoemaker back on the roster, and have Ryan Borucki at full health all season, and maybe you can begin to imagine one or two games per week going back onto the Blue Jays’ side of the ledger.

But you also need to acknowledge that some of this year’s poor performance is the residue of the initial design for the season. The Blue Jays were not going to take heroic measures to pay veterans for marginal wins in a season where those wins would mainly serve to add some dim shine to their fourth place finish in the AL East.

On occasions, when I whinge and moan about the state of the season on social media, I’m met with realists imploring me to “embrace the suck.” That’s a notion I simply can’t abide.

Admittedly, my resistance to that is at times a reaction to watching the team lose, often in an ugly fashion. Watching one loss after another never gets easier, and as you move past denial and anger into bargaining, you begin to sketch out the planning scenarios that could have headed off such a dire fate. If only they’d signed this player or that one, they may be just that much less awful to watch.

That is admittedly a passionate reaction and not a reasoned response. At the same time, the notion that the atrocious performance this season will somehow be rewarded equally in the future is rote thinking on the merits of tanking. It is cynicism passing for wisdom at this point.

It could be that the Blue Jays’ management was right to not pursue players for the immediate pay-off of some wins this season, but to assume that this year’s efforts to win would necessarily impede future success is give yourself over to zero-sum dogma.

On At the Letters, Ben Nicholson-Smith and Arden Zwelling take fans inside the Blue Jays and around MLB with news, analysis and interviews.

The flip side to this is that losing this year does actually portend some concern for future success. Players like Danny Jansen or Teoscar Hernandez were expected to be contributors to a future winning team, but have thus far raised more questions than answers about their future roles with the team.

If losing now doesn’t guarantee winning tomorrow, and if losing now might predict losing in the future, how does a Blue Jays fan find comfort in this team for the remainder of the season?

It feels trite to say that we should appreciate the little things, or look to the youngsters who are succeeding and build our hope around their present skills and future contributions.

We’re fortunate to have Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio on the team now, and perhaps the presence of the doggedly dirtbagish Bo Bichette will eventually provide some light on the field and a reason for optimism.

Or do we attempt to set small goals for the team to work towards, like perhaps NOT losing 100 games? Or staying ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in the standings?

These seem like vaguely ridiculous goals, but to achieve them means actually winning games on the field, and caring about the outcomes of games or at bats.

As always in baseball, there is no substitute for winning, even in a season when wins are increasingly rare.

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