The Blue Jays were supposed to stink, remember?

At some point last winter, I was talking to my friend Ben about our hometown Toronto Blue Jays.

“Wow,” I said. “This year is going to be terrible.”

Of course it was. Half the starting rotation was gone before the year began, while ownership decided to hold back on spending. Management openly spoke about a “transition year,” trying to temper expectations before the inevitable poor season.

It actually made some sense. With A.J. Burnett in New York and with Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan both out for the season, competing in the AL East would be a tough assignment. Plus, most of the kids would need at least one year of seasoning, while mediocre veterans would be playing major roles.

“Yeah,” Ben agreed back then, as we decided it would be no surprise if the Blue Jays finished with the worst record in baseball this season. On the other hand, we were looking forward to seeing a core built around the kids, because it seemed like the best-case scenario. I was ok with this, I guess. I knew I wouldn’t like it, but I could deal with it.

So why does the season seem more excruciating? Blame the good start.

The Blue Jays jumped out to that nice lead in the first month, capped off by a 4-game sweep of the White Sox that made Toronto look like a team that just might be for real. It was a fun ride, but it couldn’t last. Everything has been downhill from there, with the drop even steeper than I’d imagined. The supposed “stars,” Alex Rios and Vernon Wells, have mostly stunk, while management clearly got into Roy Halladay’s head and derailed a Cy Young-type season.

The worst part is that a bunch of great storylines have been overshadowed:

  1. Adam Lind becoming a real force at the plate. The guy had a huge season and will be a cornerstone for years to come.
  2. Aaron Hill’s comeback. After dealing with a months of symptoms from last season’s concussion,  Hill is back with a vengeance. Fans in Toronto already loved the guy, but he has developed into a premiere second baseman, both in the field and at the plate.
  3. Big years for the vets. Marco Scutaro and Rod Barajas have been great since the spring, while Scott Rolen tore it up before his trade to the Reds.
  4. The kids have been solid. Ricky Romero is a Rookie of the Year candidate, while the rest of the rotation was filled with rookies throughout plenty of the year. It was actually amazing to see the Jays in first place while starting Robert Ray as a regular starter.

That’s the saddest part about the year for me. The Toronto Blue Jays really had no expectations, but they created false hope with a surprising first month. Fans should be excited to have Hill locked up at great value, while looking forward to a year with Marcum back and Romero developed. Plus, Travis Snider will get it together, while Lind is quickly becoming a star. Yes,  the Blue Jays still play in the AL East, but at least there is young talent on the roster.

If the Jays had started out badly and won meaningless games later in the season, morale would be higher. Look at the Toronto Raptors, who won a whack of insignificant games to close out a dreadful 2008-2009 campaign, but left fans with a better memory for the offseason. It’s not even a great example, because the Raptors were incredibly disappointing all season.

Still, whether or not you think the Blue Jays will be contenders in the future, think back to your expectations for this season. They were supposed to be bad. They are bad. But try to catch a glimpse of the silver lining…again.

-DL

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