Tao of Stieb: What are Blue Jays, fans hoping for in the second half?

toronto-blue-jays-Ryan-Borucki-throws-pitch

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Ryan Borucki. (Fred Thornhill/ THE CANADIAN PRESS)

As we head into the All-Star break, and perhaps enjoy a small bit of respite from this not-entirely-delightful season, the question we’re left with is: What’s going to make us happy in the second half?

This season seems like something of an anomaly, with the playoff races seemingly decided for the most part in the American League already. With Boston, Houston, New York, Cleveland and Seattle all leaping ahead of a mostly uninspiring pack, there won’t be the logjam of teams all within a few games of the wild card as there has been in recent seasons.

While it isn’t impossible to conceive of some team having a hot month and getting into the mix, it seems unlikely that the Blue Jays would be that team.

So, to what can we look forward in the coming months? What can the fans hang their hearts on, and maybe more importantly, what can the Blue Jays themselves play towards as a goal?

There are obviously bright lights within sight on the horizon, with as exciting a class of prospects as the team has perhaps ever had getting close to graduating to the big leagues. But for 2018, it seems profoundly unlikely that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Bo Bichette will make their way to the big club before the end of the season. There are too many logical reasons why you wouldn’t, so those dreams are best left until next spring.

There are goals that might seem too modest for fans to grasp onto over the final three months. Finishing the season over .500 might be one that elicits eyerolls, as would battling the Tampa Bay Rays for third place in the AL East.

And yet, were the Blue Jays to accomplish both of those by the time September 30 rolls around, you would imagine that the team likely had a half-decent run down the stretch, and played enough good baseball to make them entertaining.

But more than the mere entertainment factor, a fan would like to believe that the core of this team could continue to improve and play winning baseball. It could be that the idea of “learning how to win” is a hoary old sports aphorism, but there is something to the idea that finding the way to success is a process that can be repeated once you’ve done it.

Having players such as Randal Grichuk, Ryan Borucki or Lourdes Gurriel Jr. take the next steps in their development to perhaps becoming important parts of winning teams in 2019 or 2020 would be significant.

It would also be helpful to see some of the walking wounded return to form, especially when it comes to Aaron Sanchez. Sanchez’s first half has been mostly forgettable, which is a disappointment after last year’s lost season. Having him stay healthy and pitch closer to his 2016 form would be a compelling sight to see.

Getting the opportunity to see Josh Donaldson return to the lineup would also be appealing, and hopefully it might offer fans one more chance to appreciate what an otherworldly talent he can be when healthy. While it is frustrating that his ongoing injuries have mostly wiped out the trade value that we might have hoped Donaldson could return in a lost season, seeing him play out the year in a Blue Jays uniform could be a small consolation.

There will also be trades to be made, and perhaps there will be new and interesting players who make their way back to Toronto. While the Jays would seemingly be more likely to look for future value when they move one of their many pending free agents, there is always the possibility of an MLB caliber player like Teoscar Hernandez making their way back.

Or who knows: Maybe the next José Bautista.

Mostly, it would be good to see the Blue Jays continue to play better baseball. Where last season looked bad in the standings, it felt even worse watching the Blue Jays play a slow, ugly and sloppy brand of baseball that ground the fanbase’s collective nerves to dust. While the results haven’t always been there, this season’s team looks and feels like a much more entertaining team on a nightly basis.

It would always be far preferable to be looking ahead towards meaningful games down the stretch, and no one should attempt to argue that these smaller goals are any sort of substitute. But whatever happens in the final three months of the season will inevitably lead into what happens in the coming year.

It may be hard to appreciate the here and now when you’re always looking ahead, but there are still games to be played, stories to be told, and the inevitable glorious weirdness that baseball always seems to provide. If you were to check out of the season now, you’d probably miss something amazing.

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