The Toronto Blue Jays came so close to a World Series appearance in 2015. Game 6. ALCS. Bottom of the 9th. Runner on 3rd with no outs. Only one run needed to cross to tie things up. Then, strikeout, strikeout, and a Josh Donaldson ground out ended the season. So much hope lost. So many extreme ups and downs. The offseason that followed would be largely scrutinized by fans and media alike.
Toronto Blue Jays 2016 Season Review
David Price signed with the Boston Red Sox. Mark Lowe signed with the Detroit Tigers. Dioner Navarro briefly left for the Chicago Cubs. Mark Buehrle and LaTroy Hawkins retired. Despite the sizeable losses, especially to the pitching staff, conservative aquisitions followed. Marco Estrada returned on a polarizing short-term deal. They acquired J.A. Happ and a sizable groan released from the masses. Lastly, the Blue Jays acquired Drew Storen to become the second piece to a dynamic 1-2 punch in the back of the bullpen with phenom Roberto Osuna.
Happ went on to win 20 games, and was consistent from April until October. Estrada continued to be largely unhittable. Storen was horrendous and a trade for Joaquin Benoit took place midseason. That deal ended up being a coup for the Blue Jays, as Benoit turned into a very successful bullpen piece. The much-maligned Blue Jays starting rotation ended the 2016 season as the best in the American League, led by former set-up man Aaron Sanchez, and the bullpen, near seasons end, was finally stable. Oddly, the Achilles heel for the 2016 version of the Blue Jays was the offense, which sadly was never able to find any sort of balance or momentum.
Donaldson, despite battling injuries most of the season, continued on a near-MVP pace. Free-agents-to-be Michael Saunders and Jose Bautista had up and down seasons. Saunders was arguably, along with Sanchez and Donaldson, the first half MVP. Despite that, he went on to have a second half slash line of .178/.282/.357. His year finished as maybe his best, but, with almost 160 strikeouts and a complete inability to field his position, questions remain.
Bautista was awful all year. He showed glimpses of his former self with a few home runs in big moments, but, for the most part, the rapid decline was noticeable. While he had not been a “fine” defender for quite some time, he was a liability to the point of becoming almost positionless by seasons end. In hindsight, Jose should have taken the Blue Jays reported offers in the offseason. He is unlikely to return to the team next season.
Edwin Encarnacion, on the other hand, improved his market value all season. Hitting in big moments, flashing the same level of huge power he has always shown but also showing large improvements as a defender. He will never be a Gold Glove winner, but he showed he was far more than just a designated hitter. The Blue Jays hope they are able to keep Encarnacion in the fold for some time to come, but the sheer cost could end up being prohibitive.
After leading the AL East almost all season the Jays collapsed down the stretch. Going 11-16 in september almost took them out of the playoffs entirely. Instead of cruising into an AL East title, they had to win a play-in game to reach the “real” postseason. A Baltimore Orioles matchup awaited.
It took 11 innings, but the Blue Jays defeated the Orioles on an Encarnacion walk-off blast that was fitting in the moment. A great game finished in a poetic fashion, almost as if the Baseball Gods knew what would happen next. The hated Texas Rangers and Rougned Odor came next.
This rivalry began with the bat flip and hit a fever pitch with a punch heard round the world. As the baseball world looked on, hoping for fireworks, the Blue Jays remained calm and focused. In Game 1, they handed Cole Hamels the worst loss of his playoff career, winning 10-1. Game 2 was all about power, as the Jays hit four solo home runs off of Yu Darvish and won 5-3. Game 3 was finally competitive, but the Jays would yet again win, this time in 10 innings when Donaldson scored from second on a botched double play ball by Odor. The ALCS was upon them again, this time against Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro‘s former team, the Cleveland Indians.
A Season Cut Short
Five games and a total of 20 runs later, and the Blue Jays season would be over. Neither offense was able to do much, the difference came down to a hit or two on either side each game. Truthfully, the difference was Andrew Miller and the Indians bullpen, which gave Cleveland 22 innings pitched and 29 strikeouts, while allowing 17 hits and five runs over the five games. Almost all damage against them came in the Game 4 defeat. Miller himself had a line of 7.2 innings, three hits, no runs, no walks, and 14 strikeouts. He was MVP of the series with little doubt.
The Jays had a successful season by any measure, yet still a disappointment in the eyes of many. The team will likely look very different in 2017, but hope remains that this Blue Jays team has time left for another World Series run. Look for the Blue Jays 2016/2017 offseason to divide the fanbase more than 2015/2016 did.