Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s just say the first week of Blue Jays baseball has not exactly met our lofty collective expectations.
Yes, I know it’s incredibly early. Yes, I know that the 2015 season didn’t pick up until summer was in full flight. And yes, I know I’m one of those “just glad to be in a ballpark” weirdos who always tries to put things into insufferable perspective. But part of the reason there’s an extra sting to this initial handful of close-ish losses is because those hopeful playoff memories are still fresh in our minds. We wanted more. We expected more. We know exactly how well this team can perform, and we know that in some cases they’ve been robbed of victories by bad circumstances. (That tricky slide rule, for example.) Given all that, I’d say it’s okay to be frustrated by a car wreck inning or two, especially immediately after watching Donaldson generously hit a grand slam.
Not only is the team currently last place in the division, the bloom has been further ripped off the rose with some inappropriate sexist comments from everyone’s favourite uncle, John Gibbons, and the firing/resignation/who knows what of widely-liked vice-president of business operations, Stephen Brooks.
People are worried that Mark Shapiro has nefarious plans to turn the franchise into Cleveland North, while pitcher Brett Cecil’s delicate mental game seems to be in minor meltdown mode. No matter how many runs Donaldson and Bautista deliver, the bullpen just can’t seem to keep it together to snag a win. Blown saves have been the culprit in a bulk of our losses, meaning that standard later-inning pitching panic is already in full swing.
To top it all off, there was even an ugly fan fight at last night’s game, reminding us that as much as we love baseball, total asshats are always willing to ruin the general good cheer.
Hey, it could be worse. We could be the Twins or the Braves. But it also could be better, and we all know it. Our frenzied, citywide optimism is exactly what makes this less than stellar start so disproportionately disappointing. It’s not like we don’t know how to lose—Toronto fans have long been trained in that art—but now that we’ve got a taste of what it means to win, we’re a bit curmudgeonly about things not being glorious from the get go. Maybe we’ve even managed to forget that the season is a long, unpredictable slog where anything can happen. (Like the Orioles winning seven straight, right off the top, for example.)
I’m always the first to chastise fickle fandom, and any overblown criticism after one or two poor performances. (Shout out to the incredibly annoying “Brett Cecil is garbage” guy behind me at the home opener.) But I will say the current standings don’t exactly make me feel great, and have definitely blotted out some of the excitement that should have defined the first few weeks of April. Meeting the Rays, the Sox, and the Yankees in the first month revealed exactly what everyone knew and feared—the AL East is a competitive hellscape that will haunt us right through to October. There’s of course no need to panic, but it’s okay to admit that a less than stellar start can feel a bit deflating.
So as the Jays go into the second game of a series against the New York Yankees, and their ninth game of the season, let’s remind ourselves of the things that have panned out for us thus far, despite this depressing (but very, very early) .375 record. Everyone we need to be healthy is, which is a huge step up from the way we came out of spring training last year. The starting roster is solid, with every pitcher meeting or exceeding expectations. Stroman is still being Stroman, Dickey is being a better, healthier, slimmed down version of Dickey. Happ has managed to defy this weirdly generated fiction that he was a bad bet to begin with. Estrada has dominated. Even given last night’s loss, Sanchez has already proved his worth. (It’s also become clear that he’s harder on himself than any of us could ever be.)
In terms of the starting lineup, the bats continue to be comforting. Kevin Pillar has mostly risen to the challenge of leadoff. Michael Saunders has been a pleasant surprise. Bautista and Donaldson remain dizzyingly superhuman. All our early frustrations can’t take away from the fact that this year’s talent still has all the potential they did last season, when the Jays scored 127 more runs than the Yankees, their closest competitor on that front.
As for that tricky bullpen, there are a lot of new faces there, and there’s certainly something to be said about needing some time to work out the kinks. Rule 5 pick Joe Biagini is a welcome addition with a wicked sense of humour, and news broke this afternoon that beloved ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte is on his way up from Buffalo. We’re going to have to face the fact that the experiments and discomfort will continue until it all finally gets figured out. Besides, we’re blessed by the fact that Osuna feels like a sure thing every time he takes the mound.
All of this is to say that after five losses there’s still a lot to be optimistic about, and lots to look to for reassurance if anyone is tempted to abandon ship. One of the most beautiful things about this game is how forgiving its long season is, how its managers, players and teams can afford to have a bad day, week, or even month while they try to get things sorted and back on track. (Hell, if this was the NFL, we’d be more than halfway done.)
Yes, figuring out this messy bullpen is going to take some work, and yes we’re going to have to suck it up and suffer through it. We’re going to curse, and cry into our overpriced beers (they’re introducing Radler and Shandy at the ballpark this year!) and lament some questionable managerial choices along the way. Such is the nature of the game, and while we’re all totally welcome to our early-days disenchantment, we’ve got a long way to go before we need to place any blame.
At the risk of sharing a prediction—always a bad idea in baseball—I have real faith things will eventually fall into place, and that they’ll do so just in time.