A Season of Success

epic bau

It all started last November, and eleven months later – almost to the day – it ended in a sudden, crashing, painful instant.

Though pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in February and Opening Day was on April 6th, the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays season officially started on November 28, 2014.  It was on that date that Alex Anthopoulos shocked the baseball world by acquiring potential-MVP candidate Josh Donaldson from the Oakland A’s for a package of players led by Brett Lawrie.

329 days later that same player (though now the probable MVP) grounded to third base to end the season that he kicked off, one of the wildest, craziest, and most entertaining seasons in the history of the franchise.

In between, the Blue Jays experienced some of the lowest lows and highest highs in their history, re-energized both a city and a country, and re-acquainted themselves with both the Major League Baseball spotlight and with postseason baseball for the first time in 22 years.  The team transformed itself into a juggernaut and tore its way through the second half, something that would have been a dream in March, and seemed unimaginable in the depths of despair that was May.

There were so many things that stuck out about the 2015 Blue Jays.  There was the offense that blew away opposing teams and led baseball in runs scored by a country mile.  There was the emergence of rookies in the bullpen who pitched well beyond their years.  There was the thunder in the middle of the lineup, the renaissance of R.A. Dickey, the trades, the second half, and on and on.  But the most telling stat of the season has to be this: 0.

That is the number of times the Blue Jays were able to field their full starting lineup this season.

Remember back in March, when Toronto’s anticipated lineup consisted of Bautista, Pompey, and Saunders in the outfield, and Donaldson, Reyes, Travis, Encarnacion, Martin, and Smoak in the infield and DH?  They never played together – not even once.  Saunders was hurt to start the season, and when he came back Bautista was hurt, and when he came back Reyes went down.  Then Saunders went down again, and so did Travis.

So AA went out in July and brought in Revere and Tulo, who along with Pillar, replaced Reyes, Saunders, and Pompey.  But still, even after the reinforcements arrived, not even that lineup could make the field as a unit.  Devon Travis was injured the day before Tulowitzki arrived, forcing even more changes.

All of which meant that John Gibbons was forced to juggle his lineup before a single pitch was even thrown, before a single inning was even played, and he continued to do so flawlessly all year.  Every team experiences injuries, but this is a team that at various points of the season lost Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki, Devon Travis, and Michael Saunders – yet still dominated offensively.  And think about what else the Jays had to overcome:

This is a team that lost its best starting pitcher in spring training to a torn ACL, effectively ending his season (or so we thought) before it even began.

This is a team that broke camp with six rookies in important roles on the roster, yet saw three of them flame out spectacularly, and two more deal with significant injuries.  Two of the six wouldn’t even be with the organization by August.

This is a team whose Opening Day starter turned in one of the worst seasons in all of baseball, including historically awful numbers on the road.

This is a team that was forced to turn to a guy in LF (and then CF) with terrible career numbers and who was banished to the minors last year for attitude issues, and hope that he developed into a serviceable big leaguer (hint: he did).

This is a team who burned through two closers before the season was even a few weeks old, and who used 28 pitchers in total, a number so high not due to injury but due to general ineffectiveness.

Yet somehow, this is also a team that surprised baseball and captured the hearts of fans all across Canada by winning the American League East in dominating fashion.  This is a team that inspired Canadians from coast-to-coast in September – a time when most are eagerly anticipating the start of hockey season – to cast aside their thoughts of the Canucks and Senators and instead focus on the boys in blue.  It didn’t matter the market, be it Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Ottawa, and, yes, even Montreal – this is a team that reignited baseball passion in this country.

There are many amazing stories that took place this past season, and many were about redemption.

There was Marcus Stroman making a miraculous comeback from that torn ACL to go 4-0 down the stretch, and then pitch incredibly in the playoffs.

There was Kevin Pillar (the guy who was banished and had bad numbers) developing into one of the premier CF in all of baseball.  He should win a Gold Glove for his defense, and he proved he could also hit by finishing the season with a .278 average, 12 HR, 25 SB, and 76 R.

There was R.A. Dickey – already vilified in this city for having the nerve to be acquired for d’Arnaud and Syndergaard – going 8-1 with a 2.80 ERA in his last 15 starts to stabilize an often erratic rotation.

And most of all there was John Gibbons, the skipper, the man whose head was being demanded by fans and media on a weekly – no, daily – basis, sticking to his plan and leading the team to glory.

The season didn’t end the way everybody wanted.  There will be no World Series banner hanging above the Jumbotron.  There will be no parade downtown Toronto.

But even though the final goal proved unattainable, the season was a smashing success.  When the smoke clears and the cold, dark winter arrives, it won’t be the near misses or what-ifs that fans look back on.  We won’t wonder if things would have been different if Goins caught that pop up, if the Amish Royals fan didn’t reach over the fence, or if the pitch to Revere was called a ball.

No.

What will be remembered is the ear-crushing volume of a sold-out Rogers Centre.

What will be remembered is a huge smile on the face of Ben Revere, or a diving catch by Kevin Pillar, or the look of awe on the face of David Price as Ryan Goins makes an incredible play at short.

What will be remembered is the Bautista bat flip.

What will be remembered is the on-field embrace between Gibbons and Anthopoulos minutes after the AL East was clinched, and minutes before chaos erupted in the locker room.

This will be remembered as a season for the ages.

I can’t wait for 2016.

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