With each win, the 2015 Blue Jays climb closer to that long-awaited playoff birth.
The Championships of 1992 and 1993 seem SO long ago. They were. I have friends who weren’t even alive for the Jays first World Series title.
But with AA pulling off a sequence of blockbuster trades, and those pieces making an immediate impact, suddenly the connections between the ’92 and ’93 squads and the current team don’t seem so far-fetched. In the off-season, late 1991, the Jays signed free agents Jack Morris and Dave Winfield (on consecutive days). Those who watched the 1992 team will no doubt remember the significance both Morris and Winfield had during the regular season, and during October baseball. In the off-season this past winter, the Jays signed free agent Russell Martin, and 10 days later pulled off a mammoth trade for Josh Donaldson. It’s obvious what an impact those two have made thus far.
It’s the end of August and the Jays are in first place, two games up on the Yankees. Hey, they’ve already started selling post-season tickets!
There are so many moments from both championships that stand out for many fans, but one of the most talked about is the “triple play that wasn’t” during the 1992 World Series.
I reminisced with Kelly Gruber, the Jays third baseman during that memorable play.
Fans may remember that in fact, it was this very day, August 27th, back in 1992, when Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson were traded to the Mets for David Cone. Cone would contribute to the championship with a 1 – 1 record and 3.22 ERA.
David Price has been the masterful pitcher everyone expected he would be, upon his arrival. Toronto has their first true ace since Roy Halladay. It’s exciting to think about what he could accomplish this October.
Over two decades after Carter’s home run disappeared over that left field wall, we find our blue birds that much closer to going back to the playoffs and possibly taking another run at a World Series.
So, is history repeating itself?
At roughly this point in time one year ago, Toronto baseball fans were excited.
Way too excited.
Following a series of moves and acquisitions, Alex Anthopoulos had put together a group of players that immediately moved everyone’s perception of the Blue Jays from a struggling franchise to not just a playoff contender, but a favourite to win the World Series. ESPN’s Dan Shulman wasn’t fooled. I discussed the Blue Jays collapse with Dan last year, you can find that interview here.
Oh how excited we all were.
Ticket sales were up. Merchandise sales were drastically up. New, royal-blue caps became very noticible throughout Toronto streets, bars, and of course Rogers Centre. Spring training was a media frenzy, with much focus being on the two biggest names Anthopoulos had acquired, being Reyes and Dickey. Suddenly, it was cool to be a Blue Jays fan again.
And then the Toronto Blue Jays won the 2013 World Series, we all held hands and sang Kumbaya, THE END.
…sorry, where was I? I must have been daydreaming again…
Obviously we all know how 2013 really ended for the Jays, and I find it painful and pointless drudging up the past. However, we can all learn something from history. The past gives us something to measure progress against. And progress is what the Jays could use, having come off a 74-win season (sorry, sometimes I rub salt in my own wounds).
Fast-forward to Spring training 2014. This off-season has been drastically different for Toronto. The addition of Dioner Navarro as AA’s only significant off-season acquirement pales in comparison to what he did last year. And as a result, the Blue Jays are now flying somewhat under the radar.
Florida is quieter this year, as far as the Jays are concerned. I spoke with Sportsnet’s Jamie Campbell, who said that there are significantly less reporters covering the Blue Jays this spring training. He also said it’s a welcome change for the players, considering the circus they dealt with last year. To listen to the entire interview with Jamie, click here.
Does less media mean fewer expectations?
Hardly. This is almost the same team fans were ecstatic about last year. Only healthy…so far. Think about this scenario: Brett Lawrie, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, and R.A. Dickey stay healthy for the majority of the season. Let that sink in. Now feel the warmth of the Florida sun across your face as your smile grows bigger. Let us consider one more scenario: Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ also stay healthy. Suddenly the rotation doesn’t look so bad, does it? I know, there were so many big-name starters available this off-season, of which Toronto acquired none. But perhaps they didn’t need to. At the 2014 State of the Franchise, Anthopoulos suggested it might be a possibility to add another starter late spring. That possibility seems to be slipping away. Jamie Campbell doesn’t see it as a concern. He and I discussed the expectations from Toronto fans regarding acquiring Ervin Santana, but he pointed out that Ervin has been battling injuries. Combine that with Ervin’s expectation of a $50 Million commitment, and suddenly Toronto’s current options seem somewhat more attractive. Waiting in the wings are a handful of hungry pitchers, with a significantly smaller price tag. Toronto also had a very dominant bullpen last season. Delabar and Cecil both had All-Star worthy performances through the first-half. And who doesn’t like a fairy-tale/David-vs-Goliath style story that could be Marcus Stroman?
Yes, I know I just painted a very colourful picture with a rather optimistic brush. What can I say? I bleed blue.
But “worst-to-first” isn’t an impossibility. Ask Boston, they know all too well (jeez that still stings, doesn’t it Toronto?)
So get excited again.
Why not? It’s baseball season.
Anything can, and usually does happen.
For more on Toronto’s current pitching situation, listen to my interview here with Sportsnet’s Jamie Campbell. We also discuss the home plate collision rule change by Major League Baseball, which should prove to make for some interesting calls this season!
Follow Jamie Campbell on Twitter: @SNETCampbell
At the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays State of the Franchise, season ticket holders had emailed in questions ahead of time for Paul Beeston, Alex Anthopoulos, and John Gibbons.
Full Q & A session in the video above explores topics such as the Blue Jays playing on a grass surface at home, Roy Halladay joining the Level of Excellence, the ownership’s level of financial commitment and concerns surrounding financial obligations towards other sports (Maple Leafs and Toronto FC). Other topics discussed included Gibby’s predictions for players who will have break out seasons (spoiler alert – expect a lot from Melky, Lawrie, and Morrow this season), and Anthopoulos discusses the current position on pitching and if they plan on adding more before the start of the season.
For other videos such as the introductory speeches for this event, click here.
On Wednesday, January 29th, 2014, over 1,000 Toronto Blue Jays season ticket holders attended the annual “State of the Franchise” event at Rogers Centre. Guests were treated to a coctail party, complimentary food from the concession stands, and adult beverages from the bar. Following introductions of Paul Beeston, Alex Anthopoulos, and John Gibbons, Buck Martinez, the emcee for the evening directed everyone’s attention to the Jumbotron for the following Blue Jays 2013 highlight video:
Prior to the Q & A period, Beeston addressed the crowd, acknowledging the disappointing season of 2013:
Last year wasn’t what we wanted it to be. We got knocked down a bit. We hit the mat, and when you do, you can do one of two things. You can either stay down, or you can get back up and fight for another day. And that’s what we plan on doing. We don’t plan on just staying on the mat, we’re going to get up and do what we wanted to do, which is win the World Series…Last year’s team was not built for just one year.
Watch the full speech from Paul Beeston:
Next, attendees were treated to a video highlighting the Blue Jays Winter Tour. I attended the Mississauga event, hosted by the Erin Mills Town Centre. Click here to read about that event.
Watch the Winter Tour highlight video:
Q & A Session:
Buck began by asking Alex about the contrast between the busy off-season last year, and the relatively quiet one this year. Alex said he’s hopeful they will add to the ballclub, and that there are still some great quality free agents available. He went on to say that they’re still having active dialogues, and still discussing trades as well. “We’re definitely not done trying to add, we’re going to look to add, we just need to find the right deal”. Alex went on to say he felt like they may even add players into spring training.
Watch the full video of Alex discussing plans moving into the 2014 season:
Next, Buck addressed Gibby, asking him how he would conduct spring training this year, implying the approach may be different since 2013 was a World Baseball Classic year where some key players missed significant time with the ball club. Gibby, in his typical ultra-relaxed style, first replied with a good-natured ”Duck Dynasty” joke, aimed at Colby Rasmus. Once the laughter had died down, he reassured fans that this is a good ball club and to stick by them. He suggested that some “minor tinkering” might be necessary, but the real mission would be to get off to a good start early this year. One month into the 2013 season the Jays occupied the basement already 7 games under .500, and 8.5 games behind the first-place Red Sox.
Watch the full video of Gibby discussing spring training plans:
The standard (and expected) questions surrounding financial commitments and trade rumours followed. I’m actually surprised that there was no mention of Tanaka (other than the brief reference by Anthopoulos when he suggested that it had held up the free agent market action). While I never actually expected Toronto to have a legitimate shot at the Japanese super-star, it would have been interesting to know if they were ever “in the running”. Not that I’d ever expect Anthopoulos to say so either way. The man plays his cards close to his chest. Let’s hope he’s got an ace up his sleeve. The Jays could use a little help in this increasingly-stacked division this season. Then again, that’s the beauty of baseball. The mystique of the unknown. The Morrow of old could return and blow the roof off. I remain hopeful that at least one of either McGowan, Drabek, or Hutchison will be back to make an impact. Young studs like Sean Nolin and Marcus Stroman, albeit both dark-horses, could perform above expectations and either could make the rotation as a 5th starter. Yes it’s unlikely, but who predicted Happ would pitch like he did last season? While fans still have the bitter taste in their mouths from a high-expectation filled season gone bad, let’s not forget that for a time in 2013, the Jays bullpen was one of the most dominant in baseball, and played a significant role in the 11-game win streak they enjoyed in June. Thinking about that puts a smile on my face, how about you?
For the full video with Q & A from season ticket holders, click here.
In the winter this off-season, Anthopoulos gave Jays fans something to get excited about. A lot to get excited about. Having made substantial moves that “won the off-season”, the Jays were picked by many to not only make the playoffs, but also win the 2013 World Series. That’s no small feat, considering only three teams in history have won the World Series having not made the playoffs the previous season (’88 Dodgers, ’87 & ’91 Twins, ’02 Angels). (EDIT: a couple fans on Reddit notified me I had forgotten the ’10 & ’12 Giants. My bad!) In fact, such a buzz was created by the media and Jays marketing campaign, that pre-season ticket sales “increased dramatically” according to team president Paul Beeston.
Besides, teams like Boston seemed to be in trouble with their managerial situation a question mark. And when they ended up taking Farrell, the Toronto attitude was “if he doesn’t want to be here then take him, we don’t want him”. The Yankees picked up old Blue Jays castaways Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay to compensate for their injury-ridden line-up (Jays fans quietly chuckled, knowing all to well what a string of injuries can do to a ball club).
Fast forward a few months and a near worst April on team record, and the Jays find themselves in the last place everyone expected – last place.
Boston, New York, and Baltimore all currently have .600 or better records.
Boston and New York.
The Miami Marlins, who gave up most of their veteran talent to the Jays in the most talked about trade this off-season, currently have a 10-25 record (compared to the Jays 13-23). Even the Houston Astros (the joke of the majors this season), have a 10-25 record.
To say Toronto is grossly under-performing is a massive understatement.
Which poses the question, “How the heck did this all happen?”
It’s a complex answer. But to put it simply; a series of injuries and slumps:
- Jose Reyes Ankle Injury – A total spark plug. The energy and life force of the squad was leading the team in avg (.395) and stolen bases (5) early in the season until the severe ankle sprain put him out of commission until the All-star break.
- Quiet Jays Bats – I don’t need to go into great detail here. Simply put, they didn’t produce runs. Period. If you want to depress yourself further, you can check out JaysJournal.com to see how many “league worsts” the Jays set in April.
- Mediocre Pitching – This came as a surprise to many, as the Jays went out and “traded the farm” for some veteran arms. Then the only pitcher who proved to be reliable was the guy who wasn’t even supposed to make the starting rotation in the first place (JA Happ).
- The Inability to Win Consistently – This might seem obvious, but the ability to string together a series of wins, or win a large percentage of games in chunks somewhat consistently will build confidence amongst players and assist the team in building momentum to generate winning streaks. Just recently, the Jays won their third game in a row this season – for the first time.
- More Devastating Injuries – We don’t need to re-hash the horrible onslaught of injuries the Jays had last year. But it would appear as though that nasty injury bug has reared its ugly head again. Suddenly Josh Johnson is out with what was reported as “mild bicep/tricep” tightness. He won’t be back until June. Romero was brought up to take his place (likely too soon) and now his mental toughness is being questioned, having pitched the shortest outing of his career recently (1/3 inning). JA Happ got hit by the most devastating line drive I’ve ever seen: Happ miraculously only suffered a fractured skull (really, it could have been far worse) and twisted knee, and will be out 4-6 weeks. RA Dickey has been battling upper back tightness which has been limiting his outing duration. Morrow’s Friday night start was pushed back due to back spasms. The lack of health in the starting rotation could be the major blow to any playoff hopes that are still alive.
So, is it time to panic if you’re a Jays fan? Or did that already happen a while ago and you’ve already given up?
Some don’t think that it was even fair in the first place that the Jays were put up on such a high pedestal. ESPN’s Dan Shulman was a guest on The Dugout recently, and told me who he thought would be playoff favourites: Dan Shulman on The Dugout
Even though the odds are heavily stacked against them, they might not be counted out entirely. In spring training there were many comparisons made to the 1993 World Champion Jays, but April Whitzman from the MLB Fan Cave made a comparison to the 1989 Blue Jays, who at this point in their season (May 10th) had a nearly identical record (12-21). They went on to win their division that season.
Surely Boston and New York can’t keep up the pace they’re going at. Baltimore may in fact be the team to be reckoned with. At least they seem to be the healthiest.
So what do you think?
Were the Jays over-hyped from the beginning?
Are they going to disappoint the (larger) fan base again?
Or will they manage to get everything functioning together and become THE comeback story of the century?
Click here to listen to: The Dugout Show #9 – Two-Sport Blue Jays Prospect Anthony Alford Jr
Brock Picken talks with Blue Jays prospect Anthony Alford Jr, who was drafted in the third round right out of high school for $750,000.
Anthony talks about playing football for Ole Miss and who his favourite football and baseball players are. He also discusses and clears up the altercation on Southern Mississippi campus in which he was initially charged with aggravated assault (the charges were later lowered). As a powerful athlete with terrific speed and quick hands, Anthony has the Jays organization excited about his baseball future.
Check out some of Anthony’s baseball skills:
It was a move everyone was dreading, but no one really believed would actually happen.
On Tuesday, March 26th, 2013 the Toronto Blue Jays announced that Rick Romero would be starting the regular season in Class-A Dunedin.
He was supposed to be the #5 Starter this season. He was supposed to recover from a disastrous 2012 season and be the Ricky of 2011 that we all loved to watch. Romero and Josh Johnson publicly joked that they were likely the best 4-5 starting combo in the majors. And they should be. But that will remain to be seen, until Romero can rid whatever demons are in his head and get back on pace to being the CY-Young caliber thrower we all know he has the potential to be.
So how did this happen?
Two main points:
1. With an increase in artillery in the off-season, the Jays suddenly became THE TEAM to be reckoned with. Gone were the days (thank goodness) of sending Romero out on the mound bad start after bad start because every one else was injured. Being thrust into an “ace” position he wasn’t ready for only worsened the entire situation. Anthopoulos has sent a very clear message this off-season: the Jays are going for it. And there’s no room for error, or “working out the kinks”. One week from today the Jays will field the very best squad they have.
2. J.A. Happ had a heck of a spring. He pitched with attitude. He pitched like he had a chip on his shoulder. Maybe he did. Going from expecting to be in a starting role to suddenly being #6 in a starting rotation of five sure ticked the guy off. So he fought like hell for that last spot, and loudly voiced his opinion over not wanting to start the season in AAA. Happ deserves that final spot. He earned it.
So what now?
Ricky has to peel away all the layers and start over. He’s got to be hurting right now, and there isn’t a Jays fan who doesn’t feel for him. We all want to see him do well. And I think we will. History has a way of repeating itself…
During the 2000 season while pitching for the Jays, Roy Halladay posted a 10.64 ERA in 19 games (13 he started). This was the worst season in history for any pitcher having thrown over 50 innings. At the beginning of 2001 he was sent to Dunedin for the start of the season to work on his delivery. 2002 was Halladay’s break-out season, and, well, if you’ve followed baseball over the years you know what else Halladay has done. Even though Roy has also looked rough this 2013 pre-season, I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that he’s going to be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.
So how does this translate to Romero?
Ricky strikes me as the kind of guy who has the same fight Halladay does. Ricky’s a competitor. A fierce one. And no one is tougher on Ricky than Ricky. While this is currently hurting his performance, in the long run it will help. The kind of horrific 2012 season combined with the disappointment of not making the starting rotation this season is enough to break most guys. Most guys wouldn’t recover from this. But Ricky isn’t most guys.
If there’s one term most Jays fans hate, it’s “re-building”. But that’s what Ricky needs to do now. How quickly he bounces back is beyond anyone’s comprehension at this point. We could see him back in a couple months. Or it might take longer until we see the Ricky we all know and miss.
I have my fingers crossed that it will be sooner than later.
But I’m quite certain that Ricky will be ok.