On Thursday, Sept. 29, at my parents’ home in Saltcoats, Saskatchewan, the three of us sat down and did something I don’t think we’ve ever done before. We sat down and watched the Toronto Blue Jays game. It was a big game after all, as a win against the Yankees would almost assuredly punch their ticket to the postseason for what would be just the fourth time in the last 27 years.
And even though they made the playoffs briefly last season, this season just felt different. Even in 2015 when the Jays had the whole country on notice, this team was different. And I mean, how can it not when you look at the individual accolades their players have?
This year’s iteration of the Jays had seven players with more than 20 home runs, four players with more than 100 RBIs and six players with more than 120 hits. Marcus Semien just set the MLB record for a second basemen with 45 home runs and sits fourth in the entire league, Bo Bichette is second in the league with 191 hits, Teoscar Hernandez is third in the league with 116 RBIs, and their players sit first, second and fifth in the MLB in runs scored. This was truly the best offense in baseball. When you mix in Robbie Ray, who put up a Cy Young-calibre season with a 2.84 ERA (best in the American League) and topped the league with 248 strikeouts, this team was dangerous.
And then how could you forget Vladimir Guerrero Jr.? The son of the Montreal Expos legend and soon to be Jays legend of his own put together what should very well be an MVP season as he sits first in the league in runs scored (123), first in home runs with 48, third in hits with 188 and fourth in the league with a .311 batting average.
This team is bananas, and they are worth all the hype that they’ve received. But they also warrant all the frustrations of the fans—because how could a team this good offensively, with a very good starting pitcher rotation, still be fighting for a wildcard spot on the last day of the regular season?
For one: the division they play in is insanely competitive with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays all deserving a playoff spot and only potentially three spots to go around. But the real answer is the bullpen. The Jays bullpen was exactly middle of the pack this year in the MLB, but you’d think it was a lot worse based on how many multi-run leads they blew over the course of the season.
So as my parents and I sat watching the 1-1 game in the fifth inning against the Yankees, we cheered as Vladdy hit a frozen rope to straight away centre field that was an inch away from being a two-run home run but instead was an RBI double to take the lead. And with their ace on the mound still going strong, what could go wrong?
Back-to-back home runs by Anthony Rizzo and Aaron Judge followed by a walk and a two-run shot by Gleyber Torres is what could go wrong, apparently.
That four-batter stretch ended Ray’s night and essentially ended the Jays’ season as they fell to the Yankees 6-2 and then needed to sweep their last three games of the season and hope that the Red Sox and Yankees both lose one or two of their games.
To think, one of the most exciting Jays teams in recent memory, missing the playoffs by a single game all because of the lack of courage to take Robbie Ray out of the game when they should have.
But I get it. How could they take out a potential Cy Young winner when the bullpen has been so abysmal? I still can’t help but feel like what could have been a magical season was lost in that moment.
Of course, the season wasn’t technically lost there. It was lost at the trade deadline when management failed to upgrade the team’s only weak spot, now leaving the Jays and all their fans once again wondering what could have been.
The good news is George Springer, Bichette, Guerrero and Hernandez will be there for a while, even though Vladdy and Bichette are due big paydays. The bad news? Their potential Cy Young winner and their star second basemen might not be back. There may be some mutual interest, but you never know how these things will play out once offers start hitting the table.
Who knows if this team will ever hit the heights that they could have this year with just a couple mid-season tweaks to the bullpen?
For the sake of fans across the country, I hope they throw the bag at Ray, Semien and all the relief pitchers they can get their hands on and try to run it back next year. The young guys who put it all on the line deserve that, the fans deserve it and, hell, all of Canada deserves to see the magic of the Jays going on a deep run again. It’s been far too long.