As the regular season winds down, 22 teams are facing an offseason filled with golf rounds and hot-stove strategery.
Meanwhile, the fans of those squads are looking at the prospect of spending the winter without the warmth of a postseason appearance. In an attempt to bring some closure between franchise and follower, we're asking a blogger from each team to write a cathartic missive to their disappointing 2010 lineups.
Up next is our pal Drew Fairservice from Ghostrunner on First, a Jays fan who was pleasantly surprised that his local nine spurred long-shot hopes of realignment once more.
Dear Toronto Blue Jays,
Before you shuffle off to the golf courses and gun ranges of the southern United States or an island nation to be named later, I'd like to express my sincere appreciation for the cartoonish entertainment you provided this season. I didn't have high hopes six long months ago, but the unexpected win total that you delivered in an exciting package made this an exciting summer.
You slugged and slugged and made me realize that yes, the batter's box is indeed in scoring position. Your cadre of exciting starting pitchers took turns flirting with no-hitters and racking up innings and strikeouts. A very surprising slugger named Jose Bautista(notes) emerged to give everyone in Toronto something to cheer about, sparking a ridiculous and tired steroid debate and setting team records in the process.
While you won far more games than most believed possible, you play in a division which 90 wins gets you a tee time. Eighty-five wins gets you a kick in the jeans. I could've written this tear-stained letter on May 1 and your chances at a playoff spot would have been about the same. Life in the AL East — at least you have your pride!
Don't get me wrong, there is more than a small amount of pride and (that most Canadian of traits: condescension) in being a Blue Jays fan. Watching you roll into the home of a future division champ, kick butt, take names, and leave is most satisfying. Sadly we all knew the inevitable was coming. The Yankees, Sox, or Rays came to town and let you know that you were good but, ultimately, not good enough.
The Good Times: Swinging for the fences — on nearly every pitch with nearly every guy in the lineup — may not be the soundest offensive strategy but it sure is fun! Home runs! Every night! Who doesn't love that? Opposing pitchers, that's who. But we love watching you defy the odds, conventional wisdom, and basic baseball strategy all at once.
Hosting the rival New York Yankees in August with performance-enhanced allegations swirling, Bautista nearly incites two riots. After Yankees farmhand Ivan Nova(notes) buzzed the home run king's tower with a fastball, Bautista informed the young hurler that this type of behavior didn't fly in the homeland of apologies, emptying both benches. Later delirious Jays fans nearly rioted with joy after Bautista sent a David Roberston offering deep into the Canadian Shield. His second shot of the day came with a side order of stink/cut/side eye, staring down the Yankee reliever much to the delight of Jays fans (and Yankees haters) everywhere.
Brandon Morrow(notes) came to the Jays in the offseason from the Mariners in exchange for beloved middle reliever Brandon League(notes) and certainly made his mark. His ace stuff quickly established him in the Jays rotation but one special start in August made him a legend forever.
A complete game, 132-pitch, 17-strikeout opus came one batter shy of a no-hitter against the Rays. Not only one of the best games thrown by Blue Jays pitching in franchise history, one of the very best games ever pitched. Though no-hitting the Rays is about as rare as a failed urine test at the Lohan home, Morrow completely dominated the hapless Rays hitters with his otherworldly collection of high 90s heat and darting curveballs.
Morrow and Bautista shone individually while the group won by not losing. In other words, a supposed rebuilding year that opened with numerous question marks ends with a similar feeling of frustration and a (not-so) secret desire for realignment. A winning record heading into the final weeks is a heady accomplishment for a team expected to slip behind the Orioles in the standings. The Baltimore Orioles! Can you imagine anything more insulting?
The Bad Times: It's hard to pick one day, exactly, as your continued failings against divisional rivals ups the despair and self-loathing in Toronto by a good 10 percent. You may sport a winning record against the AL East, but picking on Orioles (12-3 season series) doesn't mean too much when you can't beat the Rays, Sox, or Yanks.
The offense is exciting, sure, but also one-dimensional and prone to making it very easy on the opposition. Some blame falls on struggling "Faces of the Franchise" Aaron Hill(notes) and Adam Lind(notes). Blame a new hitting coach, bad luck, or the strong Canadian dollar if you must; these two guys simply didn't get it done. They somehow managed 46 home runs between them, but every other number you can find (average, on base, slugging) lags badly behind their breakout 2009 seasons.
Lind and Hill are symptomatic of the entire Jays attack: Boom or bust. Opposing teams will gladly surrender three solo shots a night rather than one big, pitch-count-ruining inning. A little more balance, a few extra rallies might do the trick.
Also, the bullpen used to rank among baseball's best. The loss of a certain inning-eating horse named Roy Halladay(notes) puts a little extra pressure on the sunflower seed experts beyond the left field fence. The beleaguered pen (or is it de-Leaguered!) faltered under the increased workload.
And then there's the manager. The Manager. Clarence "Cito" Gaston, making his final victory limp around the league. A favorite of fans content to cling to the fuzzy memories of the glory days compared to the stark realities of today, Cito confounded armchair managers and pundits alike with his bizarre lineups and inert managerial style.
Gazing out at the field, the picture of inactivity, armed with a get-out-of-jail-free attitude of "lose one now, win two later" that ensures an insular atmosphere around the certain members of the team while repeatedly setting others up for failure. I guess you don't need to worry about the "win two later" part of the equation when you're hitting the 4 p.m. dinner buffet and touring butterfly plantations with the rest of the retirees.
Cito, your legacy is secure and your enormous place in Blue Jays lore is treasured. But please, for all of us, enjoy your retirement. I'm sure your wife will learn to love that you use the same grocery list every day, no matter what's in the cupboard. Bringing home a seventh loaf of bread when the cat hasn't eaten in weeks is no big deal, I assure you.
It's Not All You: Sure Toronto, you have some shortcomings. But greater forces are at play too. Blame the ill-timed injury to Travis Snider(notes), knocking the young slugger out for two months just as his bat finally seemed to come around.
It really isn't all you, it's that new group you've been running with. Being good just isn't good enough. You're good, but I need you to be great. Another option: Cloud City. Take the entire metropolis, pick it up and park it over a corn field somewhere. Move to the Central division; boom. Six-time division champs without changing a thing.
Shape Up or Ship Out! Did I mention Clarence is retiring? Because he is. Right? You promised! C'mon, give him his ceremony and gold watch and let's all move on. Make sure he takes affable hipster swingman Brian Tallet(notes), pudgy throw-in Edwin Encarnacion(notes), and anyone else who stands in the way of Snider and J.P. Arencibia(notes) getting a legitimate shot to prove themselves at the big league level.
There are many veterans facing free agency and most of them figure to be on their way out. It isn't that Jason Frasor(notes) and Lyle Overbay's(notes) contributions aren't appreciated; it's just time for cheaper and younger options to step in and take their shot. Scott Downs(notes) is one of the very best in the business, but now is his time to be paid consistent with that title and this ain't the time or the place for the Jays.
That's homework, beloved birdmen. Come back in the spring with the kids ready to go. Plug in a veteran bat if one falls into your lap, but don't seek it out. A few minutes on the elliptical, a few appearances at spin and you'll be all ready to find that special someone, maybe our next relationship will last all the way into October?
See you next April,
* * *
Follow Drew on Twitter — @DrewGROF
Read Big League Stew's previous Dear John letters here.