This is the twelfth edition of Hope for the Hopeless, where we will take a look at the first ten fourteen teams in the league eliminated from playoff contention, and examine what their fans can be optimistic about after a disappointing 2013 season. Next up: the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays and their spiffy new roster played some terrible baseball in 2013. EVERYONE FREAK OUT!
OK, it's not that serious. The Blue Jays didn't live up to their massive expectations in 2013. No one is denying that. But man, every bad break that could have happened occurred in Toronto this summer. Only two starters made 20 starts, and there's a likely possibility that only one other starter will join RA Dickey and Mark Buehrle at that threshold this year, and that man is Esmil Rogers, who wasn't even penciled in to the Opening Day rotation. The chronically injured Brandon Morrow made just ten starts, and the nearly as chronically injured Josh Johnson took the hill just 16 times. Both pitchers were largely terrible when they were healthy too, complicating matters even more for the Jays. JA Happ also missed half the year after a scary line drive to the head in Tampa Bay, but has returned in the second half.
The Blue Jays also suffered numerous injuries to their offense, as Brett Lawrie and Jose Reyes both missed huge chunks of time. In fact, things really started to go downhill once Reyes got hurt in Kansas City in April in a freak accident at second base. If Reyes doesn't get hurt, who knows what happens with Toronto's season? Maybe if he's healthy, Emilio Bonifacio doesn't get shipped to the Royals in August because of his awful year. Maybe Lawrie doesn't feel obligated to return as soon as he goes down, and he doesn't get injured again at the end of May. There's really no telling what could have happened, and that was the first domino that fell in sabotaging Toronto's season.
But with the bad comes plenty of good. Edwin Encarnacion had another phenomenal year as a part-time DH, part-time first baseman. Adam Lind, who has looked like non-tender bait for the last three seasons, put it all together and got his OBP back up to a respectable level. Colby Rasmus has put together a four win season and looks like the superstar he was hyped as during his early days in St Louis. Jose Bautista returned from a disappointing 2012 and proved that he's still Jose Bautista, complete with nagging injuries that prematurely end his season. Dickey and Buehrle haven't been great, but neither has missed a start and both will finish the year logging 200 innings while getting vastly better in the second half of the season.
Perhaps the most important revelation of 2013 for the Blue Jays is their bullpen. Holy crap have these guys been good! Steve Delabar made the All-Star team and has struck out 80 hitters in 55 1/3 innings. Casey Janssen remains the best closer you've never heard of. Brett Cecil has been filthy after moving from the rotation to the bullpen full-time, while Aaron Loup has been quietly effective in the middle innings. Then there's former closer Sergio Santos, who has two unintentional walks in 19 innings this year to go along with 18 strikeouts despite missing about 2/3 of the season. The best part of that bullpen is that the only member that likely won't be back is Darren Oliver, who seems destined for retirement.
In fact, Toronto brings back nearly everyone in 2014. Their only free agents are Johnson, Oliver, fourth outfielder Rajai Davis, and pitcher Ramon Ortiz. It's a very basic statement, but the Blue Jays really only need to improve their starting pitching in 2014 for them to immediately become contenders again. The club has used 13 starters (and counting) this year, and Chad Jenkins is the only one with an ERA under 4.00 as a starter. If Dickey and Buehrle pitch like they did in the second half all year next season, Toronto will be a much better team. And if the club manages to get 25 starts from Brandon Morrow (which is probably a pipe dream at this point), they'll definitely be able to hold their own. But if Toronto has to waste starts on guys like Esmil Rogers, Chien-Ming Wang, Ramon Ortiz, and a irreparably broken Ricky Romero, Alex Anthopolous' grand experiment will be a bust.
Expectations will need to be tempered for Toronto going into 2014, but this is still the same core of players that was everyone's World Series pick six months ago. Some things worked, some things didn't. That doesn't mean that all hope should be lost.