In retrospect, the post-mortems could’ve been written back in May.
On May 29, with the Toronto Blue Jays mired in a nine-game losing skid, we wrote: “There’s still plenty of time for the Blue Jays to right the ship, still plenty of time to show they’re actually a really good team as opposed to the one that’s limping into June. There’s still plenty of reason to let optimism reign.” They broke out of it that night, but the losing streak—it actually started with the Blue Jays leading the American League East—was the beginning of the end for the team’s 2009 season. It’s hard to remember the heady days of April and early May when the Blue Jays were briefly atop the baseball world. Ever since that losing streak, they’ve more closely resembled the team PECOTA projected would win seventy-three games this year.
After the season ends (Toronto finishes its home schedule this weekend versus the Seattle Mariners before wrapping up in Boston and Baltimore), a lot of people will be quick to call 2009 a failure. We refuse to get dragged into that camp, for while the Blue Jays’ win total this year will be the team’s lowest since 2004 (PECOTA’s looking its usual prescient self right about now), there are three major bright spots, three reasons for optimism heading into 2010 and beyond. Firstly, the organization demonstrated yet again its wealth of young pitching talent—notably Ricky Romero, a potential American League Rookie of the Year. Secondly, Adam Lind had a breakout year offensively. Thirdly, Aaron Hill recovered from his 2008 concussion to lead the team in hits, home runs, and total bases.
There are other reasons for optimism. Roy Halladay is still a Blue Jay. Vernon Wells has to be better next year (he has to, doesn’t he?). And, if we’re to believe Steve Simmons, J.P. Ricciardi will absolutely, definitely be fired this off-season. To be fair, Ricciardi did an okay job of trimming the team’s payroll as it became clear they wouldn’t be competitive this year. But his botching of the Halladay situation (how else to explain an Onion article about it?), coupled with seven previous years in which the team made a lot of sound and fury that ultimately signified nothing, means it’s time for him to go. At this point, a new general manager can only be a good thing, especially if the Jays follow the lead of the Raptors and Maple Leafs and hire one with a proven track record. Or at least one without a Stalin-esque “five-year plan.”
Ultimately, the Jays need to lure fans back to the ballpark. The September 9 game against the Minnesota Twins attracted the smallest crowd in the Rogers Centre’s twenty-year history; indeed, four consecutive home contests were watched by fewer than twelve thousand fans. Next year, then, could be vital to the team’s long-term survival. There are certainly reasons for optimism. It might just be tough bearing them in mind as the 2009 Blue Jays limp towards the finish line.