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A look at the Blue Jays’ forgettable 2018 season

What Jays fans can expect next season
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Former Jays manager John Gibbons endured a frustrating 2018 season. KEITH ALLISON/CC FLICKR
Former Jays manager John Gibbons endured a frustrating 2018 season. KEITH ALLISON/CC FLICKR

This has been a forgettable season for the Toronto Blue Jays — memorable only in the players and personnel that their fans bade farewell to. This season marked the departure of manager John Gibbons, Josh Donaldson, JA Happ, Roberto Osuna, and most likely Marco Estrada due to injury. This was also the first season in a decade that José Bautista’s name did not show up on the roster: the franchise legend signed with the Atlanta Braves, and was later traded to the New York Mets and then the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Blue Jays finished the season with a dismal sub .500 record, more than 20 games out of Wild Card contention. The year started uncharacteristically well for the Jays, who usually struggle in April. May, however, saw a return to dismal form: for the first time in franchise history, the Jays failed to win back-to-back games throughout the entire month.

The only noteworthy achievements this season — and the only few instances that the league paid attention to the Jays — were when Happ was named an All-Star, Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales the American League Player of the Week in April and August respectively, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. the American League (AL) Rookie of the Month in July.

Superstar woes

The Jays’ five most popular players — Josh Donaldson, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, and Troy Tulowitzki — all had tumultuous seasons. Shortstop Tulowitzki didn’t play a single game due to a bone spur in his right ankle that had carried over from last season. His absence, however, was a blessing in disguise, as it allowed minor league call-up Richard Ureña to shine. Ureña recorded an impressive .292 BA in 39 games played. When Ureña wasn’t playing, offseason acquisition Aledmys Diaz played the position, batting a modest .266 in the process.

Donaldson was out with an injury in May and was traded to the Cleveland Indians on August 31 for a player who is to be named later. With over 100 innings pitched, Stroman recorded a lacklustre 5.54 ERA for the season, while Sanchez fared only slightly better, securing a 4.89 ERA in only three more innings — not what anyone expected from two young pitchers who were once considered infallible. Osuna was meanwhile traded to the Houston Astros after receiving a 75-game suspension for domestic violence in May. Charges against him were withdrawn last Tuesday.

All in all, the players who Jays fans thought were mainstays were either traded, injured, or subpar in performance. Though this allowed unexpected players like pitcher Tim Mayza and Ureña to shine, it also marked the end of the veteran-dominated team that characterized the Blue Jays organization for the past four years.

Unexpected surprises

The offseason acquisitions of Yangervis Solarte, Curtis Granderson, Randal Grichuk, and Diaz were seemingly a step in the right direction at the time, yet, bar Grichuk, most of the Jays’ outstanding new players were minor-league call-ups.

After making his Major League debut on September 5, Rowdy Tellez hit six doubles within his first three games, setting an MLB record. Two weeks later, on September 20, the Jays managed a seven-run comeback in the top of the ninth inning to walk off the Tampa Bay Rays 9–8. Though this match was far too late in the season to be at all meaningful, it was a much needed reminder of how fun baseball can be.

Looking forward

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the rookie on the tip of everyone’s tongue, and for good reason. Not only did he win Pipeline Hitter of the Year, but he finished the minor league season with an unbelievable .381 BA. Though Guerrero wasn’t called up to the major leagues this season, he will surely start making his mark come March.

And Toronto only got a quick taste of what Rowdy Tellez and Dwight Smith Jr. will be bringing to the plate. In only 66 at-bats, Tellez managed 14 RBIs and 4 home runs, while Smith Jr., who plays left field, secured a .266 BA with 64 at-bats.

As the postseason plays out — and either Mike Trout or Mookie Betts receive the AL MVP title — the Blue Jays will have to reconfigure their players in order to secure a sustainable core that can make a winning team.

They will have to find a manager who will be ready to lead the incoming rookies through a rebuild. The manager will have to build up a group of players who can survive the AL East, pitted against the Rays, the New York Yankees, and the Boston Red Sox, which will make for a tough division to succeed in for the coming years. It is hard to do, but possible.

Next year, Blue Jays fans can look forward to seeing the beginning of Guerrero Jr.’s and Bo Bichette’s Major League journeys. Overall, though, it doesn’t seem like the 2019 season will be any more memorable than the one we have just witnessed.