Photo credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Oh, The All-Star break. A time for a deep reflection on what has happened, and a time for quiet contemplation of what’s to come. I may irrationally dislike the mid-summer classic as much as Stoeten hates “Hooked on a Feeling” (just give them all some much-needed time off with their families instead of selfie bats and new caps) but I do enjoy the way it, like an intermission at a theatrical performance, neatly splits the season in half. I also love how it allows us some much-needed room to take a deep breath, make actual evening plans with our loved ones, and look leisurely at the story of the baseball season thus far.
In the past I’ve heard people somewhat arbitrarily say, “as long as we’re at .500 by the break we’ll be okay.” Well, we’re a solid sixty points beyond that, and sitting two games out of first and in a second wildcard spot. Not too shabby at all. As Stroman, Tulo, Travis, and Goins hang out in Cabo to get some well-deserved R&R, and Donaldson, Encarnacion, Sanchez, and “Captain Canada” Saunders make their way to San Diego to represent the Blue Jays, the team’s current record certainly gives us something to be optimistic about.
As reported by Sportsnet, the Jays have had their best first half since 1993, despite the ongoing battle that rages at the top of tight AL East standings. The Red Sox and the Orioles are going to continue to be a problem, but now it feels like a problem we can actually face. After a rocky, somewhat uncertain start to the season, with a recent seven game winning streak things seem to be humming right along, even with the loss of Jose Bautista to a bad toe. I recall there was a time last year where the Jays could be tied, or even behind, and it would actually feel like they were winning, and whispers of that same feeling are now all coming back to me.
Yes, we have a real chance to see another October.
The thing that consistently fascinates me about baseball is how a single season always feels like an epic novel or film, with numerous interwoven character arcs and multiple climactic moments. There are always some fun details thrown in, like last season’s scooters, bathrobes, and famed group nap. For a slow, meandering game, it actually has a paradoxical blink-and-you-might-miss-it quality, with so much rich fodder for us more narrative types to revel in. It’s also hard not to read into all that drama, to impose metaphor and symbolism where there might not really be any.
For example, that May 28 the walk off single from a recently returned Devon Travis? That felt like a real kick in the pants turning point for me, whereas for others it was just a minor marker on an otherwise vast roadmap. I had so many emotions about the close back and forth that was last Thursday’s game against Verlander and the Tigers, while others simply checked it off in their win column and moved right along. The game provides lots of valuable moments regardless of your approach, whether you want to track a scrappy underdog, or revel in the glory of that do-little-wrong MVP.
The story that is the 2016 season certainly started out with higher than normal expectations. Coming off a rather thrilling post-season (yup, still not over it,) the Jays dominated during spring training, spending a lot of those “meaningless” games at the top of the Grapefruit league standings. There also seems to be more Blue Jays fans invested in their wins than ever, with consistent blue cap-spotting on the subway, sidewalk, and at the grocery store. The bandwagoners haven’t jumped off since last fall, and the dome feels packed every time you’re there—the attendance average is up about 10,000 per game over 2015.
Since that optimism going into Opening Day, the season has brought us our fair share of ups and downs. Someone on the Internet has at some point wanted to fire or trade or send down almost everybody. There have been a great deal of accusations hurled at management, some heavy bullpen griping, and questions about player talent and longevity. But even with all that, this season has also provided us with some perhaps surprising solidity.
Case in point, our post-David Price starting pitching panic has largely proven to be unfounded. Marco Estrada and Aaron Sanchez have been a revelation. J.A. Happ exceeded expectations. Yes, we’ve collectively fretted about Marcus Stroman’s struggles on the mound, but to much celebration, we’ve actually watched him mostly figure them out. And sure, there have been hot and cold feelings about players like Dickey, Tulo, and Cecil, but in this particular moment it seems like there’s not all that much to worry about. You can cap that off with the fact that every time Roberto Osuna goes in to close a game there is still a real predictable, magical quality to be found.
Elsewhere, we’ve been surprised by Joe Biagini’s strange yet amusing sense of humour, and seen him screw with a group of reporters in a scrum or two. We’ve lamented the potential loss of Encarnacion and/or Bautista, and tried to live in the now as much as we can. We’ve seen position players pitch in an epic nineteen-inning slog, and witnessed Kevin Pillar doing what Kevin Pillar always does. On darker days, we’ve listened to Gibby’s inappropriate dress comment, seen Jose Bautista get punched in the face, and debated the truth behind Colabello’s failed drug test. (See you soon, Chris.)
There have also been some really nice surprises, like Brett Cecil tying an MLB record in early April, and the introduction of Pearl Jam-loving Jason Grilli’s fist-pumping, scream-face energy. We’ve had Josh Donaldson speak candidly about domestic violence, hug his mom after she threw out the first pitch, and enthusiastically profess his unshakable love for Adele. (“I don’t know, it just gets into my bones.”) What was a team that became easy to fall in love with is now, simply, the team we love.
Everyone knows the second half is when things get both stressful and fun, but for now, enjoy your time off. Get some sleep unfettered by late extra innings and exhausting west coast games. Eat something healthier than a dinner of ballpark hotdogs and overpriced tall cans. Call your mom, pet your dog, phone a friend. Come back refreshed and revitalized on Friday, as the Jays continue their hopeful battle right up the standings.