Jose Bautista making a sliding catch in right field at the Rogers Centre. KEITH ALLISON/CC FLICKR

Disappointed. That’s how most Blue Jays fans feel as the 2017 regular baseball season comes to a wrap. A plethora of injuries inspired frustration and bitterness — and skilled players that did not reach their potential only soured the situation. The Toronto Blue Jays weren’t supposed to play bad baseball; they weren’t supposed to lose half their roster to injuries or have star players experience uncharacteristic slumps. They weren’t supposed to finish joint last in the American League East, more than eight games out of a Wild Card spot. It wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did, making the season — and reflections upon it — even more brutal.

The good

The triumph of the season hails from South Carolina and goes by the name of Justin Smoak. Toronto’s first baseman not only put up career numbers in homeruns, batting average, and runs batted in (RBI), but had the second best defensive fielding percentage in the MLB, clocking in at second with .998 per cent. All of this while being paid less than $5 million for the season. Smoak was economical and valuable — two words you’d be hard-pressed to find fitting for many players on the 2017 Blue Jays.

In a year where a previously league-leading pitching roster faltered and spiraled due to injuries and slumps, Marcus Stroman shone as the undisputed ace. Putting up the fourth lowest earned run average (ERA) in the American League at 3.09, Stroman will finish the season with the highest wins above replacement eraon the Blue Jays at 6.0.

A bonus fond memory to remember: May 19, when Stroman became the second pitcher in franchise history, after Mark Hendrickson in 2003, to hit a homerun, doing so against the Atlanta Braves.

The bad

Where to begin? It seems as though Canada’s team took inspiration from its climate, snowballing injuries into disappointments. The Jays went 1–9 to open the season, foreshadowing the painful and baffling inconsistencies that would plague seemingly every series of 2017.

The bats went cold and the pitching worsened. Last year’s ALCS performance against the Cleveland Indians proved the importance of having varied approaches to pitching — the Jays were shut out twice in that series — yet it seemed as though no improvement occurred in the offseason. Everything that could possibly go wrong did go wrong: case in point, outfielder Darrell Ceciliani dislocated his shoulder hitting a homerun in Atlanta. Luck was not on the Jays’ side.

It felt as though every win was accompanied with an injury: for every player returning from the Disabled List (DL), two would be sent back. Infielders Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki, pitcher Aaron Sanchez, and catcher Russell Martin, spent significant time on the DL. Sanchez’s blister proved debilitating, restricting the young pitcher — and expected ace — to only 36 innings for the entire season. 

Pitcher JP Howell, signed in the offseason, finished 2017 with a 7.36 ERA in only 11 innings pitched. When added to the absence-due-to-injury of Aaron Sanchez and the sudden, incomprehensible regression of Marco Estrada, the pitching situation for the Jays was dire. And new acquisition Kendrys Morales, who was supposed to fill slugger Edwin Encarnacion’s shoes, finished the year with 85 RBIs and 28 home runs — second in the team for both. Not bad, but unfortunately, nothing like Edwin.

And finally: Jose Bautista, an exciting and nostalgic offseason signing, was noteworthy only in his disappointing performance. Batting less than .210, Bautista’s few spectacular catches in right field could not mask his regression, and the Jays’ offensive output suffered because of it. However, on a positive note: in his probable final game at the Rogers Centre on September 24, the homerun king and bat flipper received a thunderous ovation of gratitude, a bright reminder that one sour season will not ruin the legacy of “Joey Bats.”

The hopeful 

Hope comes in many different shapes and forms in baseball. Sometimes it’s a change of front office, other times a contract extension signing. For Toronto, however, hope is the name of the young’uns: rookies Bo Bichette, Vlad Guerrero Jr., and, most importantly, Teoscar Hernandez. Nineteen-year-old shortstop Bichette was named Midwest League MVP and Prospect of the Year in 2017. Hernandez, acquired in the Liriano trade in July with Houston, was only called up in September, but he has already left an impression, accumulating over 20 hits and RBIs respectively.

Justin Smoak’s breakout year and Marcus Stroman’s positive progression should instill confidence in the older players of the team too — centrefielder Kevin Pillar also had a career high year in homeruns, and Steve Pearce’s solid slashes should ensure his being a confident player to turn to should an outfielder be needed.

The year 2015 had the “Bat Flip.” The year 2016 had Edwin Encarnacion’s Wild Card walk off homerun. Yet a lack of a postseason presence does not rid the Jays of having a defining, iconic moment. Toronto is the fourth AL East destination in outfielder Steve Pearce’s seemingly diligent quest to bat for every team in the division. However, donning Toronto blue, Pearce accomplished a feat no other player in franchise history ever had. Pearce hit a walk off grand slam on a sunny July afternoon against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Capping off a five-run bottom ninth, he repeated the feat four days later against the Oakland Athletics, becoming one of only three players in MLB history to hit two walk off grand slams in a season. If anything is a testimony to the whirlwind of unexpected occurrences — both good and bad — that came to represent the 2017 Toronto Blue Jays, Steve Pearce from July 27–31 is it.

To end on a positive note, the Blue Jays are not done yet. There is still an admittedly small window for success, wherein a World Series victory can be brought back to Toronto once again. There will be no rebuild next year, the front office has confirmed. With young pitchers like Joe Biagini, Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, and, of course, Marcus Stroman in a relatively good form and under club control for a considerable number of years, the Blue Jays can be as competitive as they ever were, especially when considering the young core that is soon to be introduced to the majors. And with veterans like Donaldson, Smoak, Martin, and Estrada leading the pack? As long as the Jays can learn from their mistakes, the future can be bright. 

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