30 in 30: The Toronto Blue Jays
2016 Record: 89-73
2016 Finish: 7th in MLB, 4th in AL
2016 in Review
J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez came into 2016 trying to find their place in the Blue Jays rotation. The Blue Jays didn't have an Ace, Marcus Stroman and Marco Estrada were trying to find their own and R.A. Dickey was just trying to hold onto a spot. Happ was signed in the offseason to a 3-year, $36 million dollar deal and Sanchez was the Blue Jay's first round pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. Happ and Sanchez are on different ends of their careers, but somehow they came together and put almost identical seasons.
J.A. Happ - 20-4, 3.18 ERA, 1.169 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 6th in Cy Young voting.
Aaron Sanchez - 15-2, 3.00 ERA, 1.167 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 7th in Cy Young voting.
It's actually astounding that Happ put up these kinds of numbers in the AL East, a division that is stacked with power hitters. Happ just turned 33, and for his birthday he gave himself the best year of his career. Happ's 20 wins tied him for 2nd in the league with Max Scherzer. Happ had a banner year for the Jays, and it didn't even seem like he broke a sweat.
Aaron Sanchez, on the other hand, pulled his year out of thin air. In 2015, Sanchez started 11 games but appeared in 41 as he was still trying to find his position on the pitching staff. So to start 30 games the next year and post a 15-2 record is almost mythic. I mean, you can skate through to 15 wins if your team is giving you runs on runs on runs, but to do it and have an ERA of 3.00, putting you in the Top 10 for 2016? That's unheard of. It's insanity.
The most disappointing thing a team can do is get to the top of the mountain two years in a row and fall. When the Red Sox made it to the 2004 ALCS the wounds from 2003 disaster was still fresh. A full year had gone by, but the pain felt hours old. You didn't want to go through that week again, you wished you could fast forward and just read it in the newspaper the next morning. But Baseball lives on the edge of glory and despair, and sometimes walking the line is the greatest feeling.
The Blue Jays suffered their 2015 ALCS loss to the Kansas City Royals in 6 games. The Royals were a hard-nosed ball club, hell bent on getting back to the World Series. The Blue Jays tried everything they could, but sometimes you can't stop fate. So when they absolutely embarrassed the Texas Rangers in the Divisional Round, the Blue Jays seemed different, that this year the World Series was theirs.
After the Blue Jays lost to the Cleveland Indians in five games I wrote a little post-mortem about the Blue Jays. " If there’s a takeaway from this postseason for Toronto it’s that you have to be a complete team in these games. You have to play both sides of the ball. Bravado gets you nowhere. Coming into the season the Jays had a target on their backs. Even as a fan, you either hated the Jays and their antics or you loved it and devoured every bit of swagger. Then Rougned Odor punched Bautista and we all got polarized. There’s no in between. In this series, Bautista had his “circumstances” and his “shaking in their boots comments” when in reality, you weren’t playing well. It was a lot of sound and fury coming from Toronto, and not a lot of baseball." That's the issue with this team. You cannot make it to the playoffs on an 11th inning walk-off homer, and then act like you won your division. The Blue Jays have proved that they are a competitive team, but they have yet to prove that they can show up in big games, and THAT'S DISAPPOINTING.
The Blue Jays need their pitchers to maintain the same level of brilliance they achieved in 2016. The other thing to watch for is which Francisco Liriano shows up in 2017. As of right now, Liriano has put up great numbers in his 14.1 innings of work this spring, tossing a 1.88 ERA and a WHIP below 1.00. If this Liriano shows up for the rest of 2017, the Blue Jays have the best rotation in their division, something the Red Sox gave their future away for this offseason. The Blue Jays need to focus on becoming a conhesive unit in 2017, one that is hellbent on one thing: redemption.