After a tumultuous conclusion to the first half of season, Blue Jays fans hopefully benefitted from the opportunity to pause and ponder over the all-star break.
The Blue Jays sit at 50-43, holding on to a playoff spot in a season where the competition for those spots became increasingly ferocious in the lead up to the break. As far as potential outcomes go, this is not the most dire one that could have been imagined.
But, it is certainly not what many hoped.
The Blue Jays have not lived up to expectations in 2022. But then, when you pause to consider that AL East pennants and 100-win seasons and World Series championships were well within the scope of many fans’ outlooks, it would have been hard not to disappoint.
Still, there’s a cynicism that rests inside the hearts of many sports fans, where they feel as though they have been sold a bill of goods, and not received nearly what they expected.
The gripe is about “hype.”
This is a complaint that has drifted into my own social-media mentions almost annually, and whenever there is the slightest air of positivity around the team coming out of spring training. The allegation being that there is some conspiracy of the team and the media and even a distant outsider fan blogger to confabulate some level of anticipation in order to deceive the fans into belief and out of their money.
Of course, that’s ridiculous. Every team that is in any way approaching the season with even a shred of optimism elicits dreamy “what if” coverage in February and March, because the real games have yet to begin, and because those pundits who would invest a lot of time and column inches on pessimism in the cold of winter are probably not much of a fun hang.
And if there is one thing that a fan needs to hold close to their soul at a moment like this, it’s that baseball is supposed to be fun.
Which isn’t to say that a baseball season isn’t filled with its share misery. A full, night-in, night-out season of baseball is a messy thing.
When we look back to the glory days of 2015-16 or 1992-93, it’s all in tightly-edited, well curated celebratory reminiscences. But every season has blowouts and bad at bats and busted strategy and hung cement mixers and lost command and prolonged slumps. Most runners are left in scoring position every day and every year in baseball. Because hey, that’s baseball.
Baseball is a game of so much failure, and when you’re in the midst of a moment, it’s hard to find the perspective to shrug off the disappointment of the moment.
Now that we’ve seen the reality of the 2022 Blue Jays — and the season in which they are competing — the optimism found in the temperate Dunedin sunshine gives way to a more hardened, 41-games-in-40-hot-stinky-days realism.
So how do fans look beyond the “hype” and find enthusiasm for the stretch run?
This year’s Blue Jays have unquestionably been a disappointment. But even with that, it seems as though there remains room for improvement. Outside of Alek Manoah, Alejandro Kirk and Jordan Romano, there’s a good argument that there’s plenty of upside to be found from the players currently on the roster. And they have had the tendency over the past couple of seasons to finish stronger than they started.
Moreover, the Jays’ first half schedule was by some measures, such as ESPN’s Relative Power Index, the most difficult of any team in MLB. Which isn’t to say that it’s easy from now on, but there’s perhaps the possibility of making up some games on their fellow Wild Card contenders.
And then there’s the potential that remains unknown. The Blue Jays’ organizational leadership has shown a willingness to be aggressive in acquiring pieces to help the team push forward in this competitive window. While they tend to be most aggressive in the off-season, there’s the potential for moves in the coming weeks that cleverly complement a roster that remains very talented. Or … there’s the potential for something that alters history. At least, baseball history.
Even with the chances at a division pennant fading into the distance, this team begins the second half solidly in the mix, well-positioned to embark on a competitive race for the top Wild Card spot.
It’ll be messy at times. There will be frustration and bad days along the way. But all of that only serves to build the tension, raise the stakes, and make the push towards the post-season that much more impassioned and memorable.
Seems like that could make for a few months of big baseball fun, doesn’t it?