Monday, March 31, 2014
From Great Expectations to Lowered Expectations: The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays
By Ian Hunter
One year ago, the goal for the Toronto Blue Jays was quite simple; World Series or bust.
After a whirlwind offseason, the Blue Jays were poised to finally end their long playoff drought ... or at the very least, do some serious damage in the AL East. They went from being an overwhelming favourite to finishing last place in the division.
To have expectation levels elevated so astronomically high and then failing to reach them is incredibly disheartening. Add on the fact that the Blue Jays are entering their 20th consecutive season without a postseason berth, and it's enough to make any fan skeptical.
Unfortunately, there are just too many variables, too many "what ifs" and too many question marks.
The problem is nearly everything will have to break right for the Blue Jays and everything will have to go wrong for the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Orioles. Conceivably, that's the only chance the Blue Jays have this year.
There are certainly a lot of things at stake this season, namely the jobs of Alex Anthopoulos and John Gibbons. If 2014 is a repeat of last year, they could be out the door before season's end.
And not just management either, players could be the next to go. With a number of guys with expiring contacts either this year or next, a trade deadline fire sale certainly isn't out the question.
There is a scenario where the Blue Jays don't make the playoffs this year and Anthopoulos and Gibbons still manage to stick around. If they can secure a .500 or a winning record, then they very well could be spared.
But just because the Blue Jays may not end their 20 year playoff drought, doesn't mean they shouldn't play at all. Although as a team they may not excel, I think there will be a lot of great individual performances which Blue Jays fans can hang their hats on.
I mean, the 2010 Toronto Blue Jays as a whole were pretty mediocre, but Jose Bautista was one player who made them watchable. So in a year that could be a write-off when it comes to the playoffs, at the very least there should be some memorable performances.
In seasons past, while this team didn't break out, at least there was a sense it was going somewhere. There was an indication the Blue Jays were building towards becoming an eventual contender.
After progressing slowly year after year, that philosophy was ramped up significantly with the Marlins trade and the Dickey deal. Expectations were raised sky-high, but the results did not fall in line.
If a team is judged by the moves in between the World Series and Opening Day, the Toronto Blue Jays gave the impression as though they didn't care. I think that's the predominant reason why the organization has drawn a lot of ire from fans this offseason.
Obviously they do care, but the frustrating part these past two winters is they have employed polar opposite offseason strategies. Last year it was spare no expense to build a winner, and this year it was spare every expense.
It's odd because among the dichotomy that is the American League East, the Toronto Blue Jays are now the lovable underdog of the division. They've somehow become the Bad News Bears of the AL East.
In retrospect, the Blue Jays could have and should have done things very differently this offseason. You know that, I know that, everybody knows that. They tried to make things happen, but ultimately they failed.
But as well all know, champions are not crowned before the season starts, they are crowned in October.
Typically I consider myself a glass-half kind of guy, but there are still a lot of major concerns on this roster ... namely the pitching. For the most part, the starting rotation will have an uphill battle competing against that of the rest of the AL East.
However, when it comes to offense, I think the Blue Jays are actually in much better shape today than they were one year ago. Not that winning every game 10-9 should be their strategy, but this team should in theory have no problem scoring runs.
I don't want to kid myself and think the Blue Jays can reproduce what the 2012-2013 Red Sox achieved in going worst in the division to first. But there is still hope.
During the offseason, I think it's easy to succumb to pessimistic thoughts about this team because there's five long months of inactivity. That's a long time to stew in what the Blue Jays didn't do.
But with the arrival of Opening Day, at least there's something else to focus on; real live games.
Every year it seems like there are umpteen articles hyping the upcoming season being a "new hope". Heck, even yours truly has been guilty of scribing a few. While 2014 may not be a brand new hope for the Toronto Blue Jays, it's a different kind of hope.
What exactly that is, I'm not quite sure yet. But we will find out soon enough.
Let's play ball.
Image courtesy of RantSports, OK Blue Jays Audio courtesy of Toronto Mike