How To Stop Worrying And Love the Blue Jays 

Three reasons why the Blue Jays are going to be worth watching this season, no matter what

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Blue Jays 4, Orioles 11

I’ve been a little league coach for years, and in that time I’ve had some good teams and some not so good teams; I’ve also been a baseball fan for forty years, which means that I am a true expert on one thing when it comes to baseball:

Enduring the hard times.

And just in case you are in any doubt…for the Blue Jays, this is indeed a very very hard time.

Just about Everything that could wrong for a team did go wrong for the Blue Jays yesterday: their offense continued its season-long absence (sidebar to Buck and Pat: when the Jays manage a couple of runs off of a minor league call-up, please don’t try telling me that “the bats are showing signs of life”); their starting pitcher went down with “elbow soreness” (sidebar to Blue Jays front office: you’re not fooling anyone, we know that’s code for “he’s screwed”); the bullpen imploded (sidebar to Twitter: it’s just one game, it happens, this is not proof of anything about the bullpen arms or Gibby’s management thereof); and even the usually reliable defense looked hopelessly lost at times (sidebar to Tulo: seriously, dude, have you completely forgotten how to execute a rundown?).

So what to do? Well, first, you really do need to remind yourself of a couple pertinent clichés that remain as true today as they were two weeks ago: it’s a long season, and it’s about process not results.

I sometimes think that the Blue Jays’ fan base shows its born-in-Canada-hockey-is-all roots a bit too much. Unlike the NHL, the entire baseball season is not about the playoffs. In baseball, the playoffs are really something of an afterthought, as just eight teams play for just over a month after six months of regular season action. Yes, it sure is fun having your team in those playoffs, but it probably doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think. What matters in baseball—and this has been true since it began, and it’s one of the reasons I love it so much—is how your team is doing right now and how that fits into the narrative of their whole season. When you look at it this way, the Blue Jays are going to have a really, really interesting summer, well worth the watching, whether or not they make the playoffs.

So, right now they’re struggling and trying to find a way out of that. Can they? Will they? What are they doing to address their problems? Who’s working hardest? Who’s given up? Who’s learning new things? These are all pressing and fascinating questions that I look forward to seeing answered throughout the season. Whether they end up in first, second or last place in the American League East will have no impact on the interest I have in seeing those questions resolved, along with the many others that will undoubtedly crop up.

At the moment, though, here’s my top three questions; the three things that I find most fascinating about the Blue Jays and that I am eager to see through, regardless of however they may finish the season:

Is This Really The End of Joey Bats?

Love him or hate him—and I love him—José Bautista is one of the most compelling players in baseball. He’s been one of the greatest hitters in the game for years now, and is one of the greatest Blue Jays of all time. But look how things stand for him right now: he’s coming off an off-season spanking in which he thought, not unreasonably, that teams would be lining up with $100 million deals only to find that nobody was willing to pay him more than the qualifying offer the Jays made. So now, somewhat stunned by this, I’m sure, he’s back where he belongs in Toronto…and demonstrating that everyone may have been right to pass on him.

He’s doing terribly at the plate. Really, really, just terrible. He’s batting .136/.264/.182 and shows no signs whatsoever of “coming around” no matter how many times Buck and Pat insist upon it. He’s behind on the fastball, misjudging the breaking ball, and just flat out missing garbage pitches out over the plate. Will this go on? If so, then it will be one of the most surprising and complete collapses of a once great athlete in all sports history. How will he handle it? How will the Jays handle it? They can’t possibly leave him batting at the top of the order all season if those are his numbers, can they? Or will he turn it around? When and by how much? Will this be a season of redemption for a proud man, or the humbling of a great talent? It’s incredibly compelling stuff, and every at bat is another page in that book.

Super Kevin?

Pillar is slowly…slowly…making a believer of me. Is this the season when he finally puts it all together and starts hitting at the big league level like he did in the minors? He’s already proved his value as an outfielder, confronting and vastly overcoming the many doubts about his abilities that had him undervalued his whole career. But now…at least, for now…he’s the second best hitter the Blue Jays have (.283/.313/.391): only Josh Donaldson is better. Is this sustainable? Can he get even better? If so, then this could be the birth of a superstar, and if that happens I want to be there watching it unfold every step of the way.

Stroman and Sanchez

I have never cared about the off-field lives of players (so long as that didn’t impact their performance on the field, or was so egregious that they are pieces of human garbage who shouldn’t even be in the game) so I don’t give a hoot about the “Strochez bromance” that so many other people seem to give a hoot about.

But the show that they have together put on over the last couple of years, the sheer drama of what they have individually and together accomplished, is some of the best baseball I’ve ever had the privilege to be part off.

2015: Stroman gets hurt in a spring training drill and everyone falls into despair, sure that the playoffs are now out of reach; Stroman vows to return by September, and then holy moly he does, and he’s incredible!

2016: Sanchez spends the winter with Stroman, remaking his body, then comes to spring training destined for the bullpen, but then pitches so well he has to be in the rotation, but he’s destined for the bullpen; but then he pitches so well that he remains in the rotation.

This is all incredible, compelling, entertaining stuff and I am delighted to have seen it all. What is even better is that Stroman and Sanchez have together evolved into one of the greatest young pitching duos in the major leagues, a so-called “one two punch” that any team would die for, and they are both going to be Blue Jays for a long time. How good can they get? What are they going to do this season to stay ahead of the scouting reports by other teams? Just how impressive can they become? I want to know the answers to these questions; I want to be part of it.

One More Cliché

If all that’s not enough to keep you interested, to give you a reason to keep following the games without getting myopic about “Are they in first place?” or “Will they make the playoffs?” then I can only assume that you’re not really suited for baseball fandom and would recommend that you resume your obsession with the NHL playoffs where every year half the teams get to play a second season and go home with their participation trophy.

Because it isn’t like that in baseball. In baseball, every day is new day, and every game is just one more step in a very long, ever evolving and never dull narrative that is the season.

And in baseball—as it is now, as it shall be and as it has even been—any team can beat any other team on any given day, so you better keep watching because you never know what’s going to happen.

But whatever it is, it’s going to be great.

 

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