Even with the benefit of a few days to let the end settle in, the Toronto Blue Jays’ 2016 season still feels frustrating.
Not exactly a disappointment, mind you. That sounds utterly churlish, and smears negativity over a season with many high points. A return trip to the American League Championship Series would certainly have sounded like a fair deal back in February of this year, and getting another shot at putting down the Texas Rangers and ending the Baltimore Orioles’ season sounds like something for which most fans would have signed up.
It’s not the ultimate goal, mind you, and there was some additional pressure to make this year count given that more than a third of the active roster – including two fellas in particular – was in a walk year.
While their 89 wins might have fallen a win or two shy of some predictions, over a full 162-game schedule, to be that close to expectations should be considered a success. But expectations are much more granular than a final win-loss tally.
If the destination of this long journey is mostly what we’d expected, the trip this year was one of the most exasperating ones for a playoff team in the franchise’s history.
It started off poorly, with the Jays’ offence inexplicably and profoundly slumping and the bullpen scuffling to a 19-24 record through May 18. And it ended poorly, with the team dragging its carcass over the finish line with a 11-16 record in September with an AL-low 100 runs for that month.
But even in the good times, there were few moments where you would unquestionably have listed the Blue Jays among the elite in the league. Seemingly, the good stretches through May and June served mostly to compensate for the bad start. It became something of a parlour game to watch Russell Martin’s batting average or Troy Tulowitzki’s OPS and speculate at which point they might emerge from their respective holes and find the sunlight of respectability again.
Jose Bautista’s season was as enigmatic as the man himself, and given the shadow that his impending free agency cast over the season from the outset, his multiple trips to the DL and uneven results were a drag on the enthusiasm. (Though it might bear mentioning that the team was 28-18 in his absences, and 61-55 when he played.)
The team’s hottest stretch of the season was from July 2 to August 5, during which they went 29-8 and finally caught up to the division lead. But even that stretch was muted somewhat by the All-Star break, and the six-game win streak from July 2 to 8 seemed like more of a tease than a rallying point.
Their biggest lead in the division never exceeded 2.0 games and the packed houses in Toronto and the many Blue Jays fans who invaded other ballparks throughout the season would spend most of the year on tenterhooks. It never quite felt as though the team was ever in the clear, and though there were individual high points through the summer, the first feeling of elated relief didn’t come until Encarnacion walked off – with his trusty mythic parrot on his shoulder – the Wild Card game.
That swing helped to kick off one of the most joyfully surreal weeks in the history of the franchise, and provided one of two moments – the other being Donaldson’s head-first slide to finish off the Rangers – that are certain to rest among the most transcendent plays in the history of the franchise.
And still, somehow, it’s not entirely satisfying.
Maybe that’s the nature of professional sports, that anything short of a championship leaves the fan base wanting. The positive vibes of finally getting over the hump and into the playoffs last season – in spectacular fashion, it should be said – was always going to be a tough act to follow. And that modicum of success moved the yardsticks by which we would consider this year’s team.
As fans shift our gaze from the season just ended, and towards an offseason that can’t help but change the course of the franchise, you couldn’t blame us for wanting something more.