Welcome to BFN, Conor Fletcher…
The 2018 season for the Toronto Blue Jays was in many ways, a long shot. The resurgent Yankees and ever-present Red Sox looked to dominate the division once again, leaving the highs of 2015 and 2016 long in distant memory. If anything 2018 served as a reminder of the true makeup of the American League East and the competitiveness each team brought with them but by-and-large, for the Great White North this was a year to forget. It wasn’t all doom and gloom however of course as the ‘box scores from Buffalo’ rolled in to help take away some of the sting of a disappointing year as we look to the future.
Coming in to the season there were at least a few reasons to be hopeful, additions to the team seemed to help raise the floor all over the ballpark and at the same time stave off the mooted rebuild of the team. Randal Grichuk arrived from St Louis to fill the gap left by Jose Bautista and both Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz came in to help around the diamond. While a far cry from the wow-factor deals of previous years each one helped shore up the side going in to the year.
For the most part these additions worked out as well as they could with a team finishing 73-89, Diaz led the team in batting average ending his season with a slash line of .263/.303/.453 and Grichuk matched Justin Smoak in home runs ending his year with 25. The veterans of the lineup seemed to be either missing once again (in the case of the unfortunately forever-injured Troy Tulowitzki) injured, or disadvantaged by their own glasses (yes, not a lie). It never truly seemed they had much going and it certainly proved to be the case.
In the past any fragility of the pitching staff would be complimented by runs on the board, but this year was very much a sequel to the disappointing 2017. Marcus Stroman had his problems throughout the year pitching almost half his total innings from last year yet conceding just as many runs, Aaron Sanchez suffered with niggling blisters once again and the rotation seemed to be anchored down by J A Happ, truly the only main stay until he was later traded to New York. In total the team managed to make use of fourteen various starting pitchers throughout the year made up of minor leaguers shipped from Buffalo to fill the cracks left by team veterans. Another low point on the year was the ban of Roberto Osuna by MLB for domestic charges leaving the team without a solid closer to finish off games, this was before he was flipped to Houston for Ken Giles, although at that point a bag of balls would have probably sufficed. Looking back the rotation brought little to the table to help a team drag its bones over the finish line but in a season to forget you can’t blame them a great deal.
Over the course of a season like the one just witnessed there arguably should be little to take much pride in, a less than .500 team ambling its way to the trade deadline before they can flip anything of worth isn’t really what the fan looks for but in amongst the mundane were the odd moments of excitement. A glasses-free Kendrys Morales managed to go on a home run streak for seven days, setting a new team record over Player’s Weekend and Kevin Pillar managed to steal home against the Yankees. Small victories of course but all the while moments to remember.
Much of the season however was spent looking minor league box scores in eager anticipation of the future. Call it the tonic to remedy a bad year but the rise of Vlad Guerrero Jr was without doubt the talking point of the year, starting the season in New Hampshire with the Fishercats Vlad managed to take the league by storm, before moving up to Triple-A in Buffalo Vlad Guerrero Jr. was hitting .402/.449/.671 and demolishing balls out of the park. The 19 year old also played alongside Bo Bichette, son of major leaguer Dante Bichette, whilst at Double A New Hampshire and the two helped combine to make the future look incredibly bright for the Blue Jays.
Offence and defence fragilities aside 2018 was more than just a year to forget, oftentimes the team were out and out hard to watch play, very much looking a shell of their former selves. Josh Donaldson who started the year in Toronto before heading down to Cleveland not only underperformed but failed to look himself much of the year. Hampered by injuries it was hard to see the 2015 AL MVP try and turn plays in the hot corner and he spent much of his final year in Toronto on the DL. The 2018 season was very much the swan song for Alex Anthopolous’ Blue Jays, 2 years in to the Shapiro/Atkins era and we’ve just about seen the final parts of a team that lit up Canada disappear, the rebuild at this point it truly on and it’s hard to see just when the Blue Jays will be up there competing with the rest.
A Year of Change
There seems to be a wholesale change to what the Blue Jays will be next year, departing manager John Gibbons has left the team rudderless (although they this week announced the arrival of Rays bench coach Charlie Montoyo to fill the gap) and it’s a long shot to imagine the team will compete next year, the few things to look forward to are the inevitable introduction of Vlad Jr. should the team not hold him back yet again. But on the whole it would seem that 2019 may be another year left to the imagination, the American League East yet again poses to be strong, the Yankees will inevitably bolster their weak areas and the Rays will continue to try to change baseball. The only solace the Blue Jays can have to make inroads into the division is that the the last time the Red Sox won it all the following year they finished dead last, here’s hoping for a miracle. The only true small victory here is that they’re probably in less of a state than the Orioles who are still going to be paying Chris Davis and his .168 batting average all that money.