Baseball fans have a thing about asterisks.
It seems as though any achievement can have its legitimacy questioned because of whatever circumstances could be deemed exceptional. And 2020 is clearly a year where all the circumstances are extraordinarily exceptional.
There are many reasons to quibble in assessing the relative success of the 2020 season for the Toronto Blue Jays, if one is so inclined. It was a short season. They had a larger roster and a seemingly infinite bullpen. The playoffs were expanded just enough for them to squeak in. And they had plenty of help from other teams who underperformed this year.
If you wanted to be a stickler, you could say that this was not a true measure of the team. But the larger question is: Why would you want to be a stickler?
Entering the season, in the times before we realized how different the circumstances would be, a season where this young and emerging team had played above .500, and were in the mix for the playoffs in the final weeks and days of the season would certainly be considered a success.
If you begin to layer on the aforementioned qualifications to minimize the impact of this year’s positive outcomes, it’s only fair to include the negatives that the team needed to overcome. This year’s Blue Jays effectively spending the entire season away from home, and beginning their schedule with a two-week road trip where they didn’t know where home might be until the end. They played in a makeshift home ballpark, but they made it work.
They lost their closer in the first week of the season. They lost their best hitter for more than half the season. Given the circumstances, this team could have made excuses and given up early.
With all that considered, no Blue Jays fan should find themselves apologizing or doubting the achievement of making the playoffs in this strange year.
They may end up as an eighth seed, but they’ll play through into the last weekend of the season pressing the behemoth New York Yankees for second place in the AL East. Yes, the Yankees put an embarrassing beating on the Jays down the stretch, but they were also supposed to be a dominant team given their depth and all their high profile acquisitions. In the end, the Jays split their season series with Bronx Bombers, a minor achievement in itself given where each team was supposed to be in their respective competitive windows.
This year’s team was not by any stretch a perfect collection of players playing baseball at its highest level. It had its flaws, and those flaws were manifested at times in spectacular fashion.
But in the end, the Blue Jays will play post-season games this year. Coming into this season, the front office made some distinction between being competitive and being in contention, with the notion that they were striving for the former in the short term.
Whatever happy accidents of fate and format led them to skip ahead in the process, this experience matters, regardless of context. Playing meaningful games in a season which was still focused on development can only help this group as they evolve into the team they hope to become.
The players can feel a sense of achievement having reached this goal, and they will play games where the tension will be ratcheted up so that every pitch matters. They will need to perform to the best of their abilities in a short series, where their mistakes will be magnified, but their successes will be canonized.
For fans, there’s no need to minimize or apologize for the excitement of this moment. Nor is there a need to compare it against the achievements of the past. It is a unique moment and one to be savoured. In a year which has been filled with darkness and anxiety, with deep concern about the months to come, we should wholeheartedly embrace this little bit of joy that snuck in through the cracks.
There’s nothing quite like playoff baseball, and that feeling has been something to which we have aspired over the past four seasons. If you were there through the teams that lost 86, 89 and 95 games in successive seasons, you deserve to feel excited, and to lose yourself in the week to come.
That playoff rush is sure to come once the Wild Card Round begins. Regardless of how the opposition lines up, the Blue Jays are a team that no one should take lightly. While others will go home after the weekend, the Blue Jays will continue to have hope.
And in the year 2020, maybe more than any time we can remember, hope is a good thing.