Is it possible for these Blue Jays to be a championship team
Given every opportunity the Jays still fail to clinch post-season
The Blue Jays are going to the post-season!! Why are people not more excited?
It’s clear these ’23 Jays have failed to capture the hearts and fire the imaginations of their loyal but frustrated fanbase for this year’s stretch drive as surely as did the 2015 team.
That group of drama kings from eight years ago, the ones that lost to the Royals in the ALCS, was itself adrenalized by a series of dramatic moves at the deadline, then spurred by dynamic players like Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion they earned fan admiration and affection. With the additions of Troy Tulowitzki, David Price and others, the ’15 Jays found a place in the souls of Jays fans from coast-to-coast who packed into Rogers Centre throughout the second half and three rounds of playoffs. This 2023 experience, defined by Brandon Belt imploring fans to “Make more noise” is nothing like 2015. Why is that? Maybe it’s because of the way that they arrived at the finish line.
On May 16, 1983, pop legend Michael Jackson mesmerized an international viewing audience, introducing the Moonwalk on national television as part of a live broadcast of “Motown 25”. Now, 40 years later, at Rogers Centre and, in fact, for the past two weeks at various ballparks around America, the Blue Jays have been performing their own version of that iconic M.J. move, effectively moonwalking themselves to the post-season, giving the impression they are moving forward when actually they are really sliding in a reverse direction.
The Jays’ magic number for a wildcard berth finally reached zero on Saturday while players remained in the clubhouse or sat at home with their families and watched. The key now is they will be able to save ace Kevin Gausman for the wildcard series, likely at Tropicana Field. The Jays have had their fate in their own hands ever since sliding past the Astros into the second AL wildcard spot on Sept. 19, with a win over the Yankees. It took a Rangers win across the continent for their fate to be sealed.
They mucked ahead from Sept. 19, counting on playing .500 and frequently on nightly failures from the three contenders in the AL West. Somehow the Jays maintained their place in the standings, entering the final homestand needing to go 3-3 to clinch a post-season berth, while playing the Yankees and Rays, the same two teams against which they had been 4-2 on a final road trip. Straight forward task.
The ’23 Jays did not make it easy on themselves or their fans. Saturday’s 7-5 loss to the Rays in extra innings was a perfect example of just how frustrating for fans this campaign has been.
There were three specific moments on Saturday that, had they resulted in victory, could have been looked on as defining that game. Teams of destiny always have moments that can be looked back on years later and viewed by fans as turning points in seasons that remain special. Here are the three moments that should have motivated them to Saturday’s victory.
Moment 1-After trailing 2-1 through three innings, the Jays jumped on reliever Cooper Criswell, just promoted from Triple-A and activated Saturday, scoring three runs in the fourth, giving them a 4-2 lead. That should have been the needed emotional boost, but in the top of the fifth, right after taking the lead, Trevor Richard, working his second inning, allowed a walk and a two-run homer to Harold Ramirez to tie the game. Should have inspired.
Moment 2-In the sixth inning, tied 4-4, reliever Erik Swanson was faced with a Rays runner on third base and nobody out, thanks to a single, a passed ball to Kirk and a throwing error by the catcher. With one out, Swanson induced a slow grounder that Matt Chapman turned into a nifty, run-saving double play. Should have inspired.
“You don’t feel great, first and third with (Arozarena) up,” manager John Schneider said. “Swanee made huge pitch after huge pitch. Guys are fired up.”
Moment 3-With the ghost runner on second base in the 10th inning, Jordan Hicks entered his second frame. The first batter he faced, pinch-hitter Jonathan Aranda drove a missile into the gap in left centre. Kevin Kiermaier raced onto the warning track, reached out for the catch, bounced off, using the fence as a springboard and fired a strike to third base to hold pinch-runner Osleivis Basabe, who had flinched towards third on initial contact and was, thus, unable to tag and advance. Should have inspired. But, later, with two outs and the bases loaded and a chance to escape, Taylor Walls lined a two-run single to right field.
“You get into extras and (the Rays) make a base-running mistake, most times it comes back to haunt you,” Schneider said. “Today it didn’t for them. Another great catch by K.K. It’s kind of what he does. He’s been doing that for 10 years. Usually, it’s like you had your chance and you didn’t do it, so … it just didn’t work out with the last couple of hitters that (Hicks) faced.”
The Jays find themselves for a second year in a row with an uncomfortable celebration of season-long accomplishment that is the result of a different team losing to make room for Toronto on the October dance floor. It’s always a better celebration after a win. Sure, the Jays will take it, but now it’s crunch time. The marathon is over, the sprint begins.
There are no scrubs on the hill. Every team from this point on has pared down its rotation to the best and will send a parade of shutdown starting pitchers to the hill every night.
Yes, there are superstars and potential superstars in the Jays lineup, guys that have been to the Promised Land of horsehide dreams. There’s 2017 World Series MVP George Springer. There’s two-time World Series winner Brandon Belt. And there’s other Jays players who have a chance to be that special player, like Bo Bichette and Vlad Guerrerro Jr. However, reaching the next level is up to them and they are not there yet. That dynamic duo can be difference makers, but we will borrow the words of Chicago’s hip-hop superstar Lupe Fiasco from Superstar.
“If you are what you say you are, a superstar
Then have no fear, the camera’s here
And the microphones
And they wanna know.
The regular season now concludes on Sunday, with little drama, thanks to the Rangers. There is no doubt a lot of anticipation moving forward … and the fans wanna know.