Oh What Could Have Been...

Oct. 20, 2016

It was one heck of a ride. A ride that was very emotionally draining to be quite frank. It’s why baseball is such a special game, one where you're never as good as when everything is breaking right and never as bad as when it's not. Some people call the season too long, but it allows for so many highs and lows that it provides the perfect amount of theater and entertainment.

The Toronto Blue Jays had a lot of problems in their 2016 campaign, some might have even called it an emotional roller coaster. This team was a lot of things, but they certainly weren't boring. For a team that went into the regular season with one of the scariest line ups in baseball, their lineup ended up being a constant story line for all the wrong reasons. After scoring a league high 891 runs in 2015, and bringing the same core back, the Jays followed this season with 759 runs. What could possibly have contributed to a 132 run decline and who could have saw this decline coming? For starters, the Blue Jays have the second oldest roster in Major League Baseball behind the San Francisco Giants. This isn't to blame things on the Blue Jays aging core, but everyone is human right? It wasn't expected that core players like Jose Bautista and Russell Martin would have such drastic declines to begin the season. Martin recovered later in the second half of the season, but his WAR was almost cut in half from 3.3 in 2015, falling to 1.7.

Jose Bautista was abysmal for most of the season when he wasn't on the disabled list, and it's truly a shame that this is the Bautista that fans might remember when all is said and done. Stop having short sighted opinions and a “what have you done for me lately” attitude and look at the whole body of the work that Jose Bautista gave the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans. Nine seasons. 265 home runs. 701 RBI’s. A .261 batting average to go along with a .910 OPS. These are fantastic numbers and many fans are going to forget what Bautista did for the franchise because of the way things ended. This is a player that single-handedly brought fans to the ball park in a very dark period for Toronto sports. People forget that Bautista had three 40 home run seasons, including a career high 54 homer season in 2010. This is a Blue Jays player that fans should remember as one of the best in franchise history, but the way the story looks right now isn’t very promising for the Blue Jay great. Time will surely roll on and fans will remember what Bautista did for the franchise, but let’s try to keep an open mind and remember what he’s accomplished for this city before we cast our judgements. I know I’m asking a lot, but try looking at things in a positive light. I can tell you one thing, the bat flip is never going away, no matter how hard Rangers fans try to flip it out of their memories.

For a team that had such promise in their lineup, hitting a putrid .136 with runners in scoring position (RISP) in the ALCS was certainly not going to cut it. To put that into context, the Jays hit .470 with RISP in the ALDS, but the truth likely lies somewhere in between. It’s completely troubling when the Blue Jays pitching rotation kept them in all five games, including a complete game loss by Marco Estrada, to only muster eight runs of offense against a banged up Cleveland rotation. It’s something that Jays fans will have to scratch their heads over this off season, but the facts remain that this was a team that hit the long ball or it didn’t hit at all. Losing their best contact hitter in Devon Travis to injury certainly didn’t help, but the Jays weren’t able to generate any offense and it led to their ultimate demise.

I guess you could say this is why you play the games. Going into the season, most expected the Blue Jays to be a top team in baseball, with a top offense and a rotation filled with question marks. Most assumed that if the Jays got mediocre pitching, that they were far and away the team to beat in the American League. Well, ironically enough, the Jays got elite pitching and questionable hitting. The team showed spurts of the hitting we saw in the 2015 season but watching this rotation go out there time and time again and keep them in games was something that no one in their right minds would have seen coming heading into the season. Leading Major League Baseball with a 3.78 ERA over a 162 game season is something the Jays can build on. With RA Dickey’s almost certain departure, the rotation comes back in tact, headlined by Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, JA Happ, Marcus Stroman and Francisco Liriano.

With what seems like the parting ways of Jose Bautista and foreseeably Edwin Encarnacion, Jays fans can hold out hope with their rotation staying in tact. The facts remain, pitching and defense win championships and the Jays will bring back one of the leagues best rotations.

Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin will also be returning. These are not just starting nine players, these are core players and ones that will likely have a significant impact on the 2017 Blue Jays. In order to be successful in 2017, the Blue Jays will have to look to the trade market for offensive help or resign Encarnacion, as the free agent market is rather bleak this off season.

A few hits with RISP and we could be talking about a Blue Jays team headed to their first World Series since winning it in 1993, but here we are, thinking about what could have been. This Blue Jays team brought together a city for the second straight season, and that’s something that shouldn’t be forgotten when we look back on the 2016 version of the Toronto Blue Jays.