By Rob Ficiur
This week, the uninspiring 2017 Toronto Blue Jays season comes to an end. Anything less than a World Series appearance would have been disappointing to Jays fans who have been spoiled by two magical playoff runs the last two years. When the Jays finished the 2017 pre-season with an American League worst record of 12-18 loyal fans said that their veteran group would turn it on when the games mattered. Not this time. On April 28, the Jays regular season record fell to six wins and seventeen losses; the worst in all of baseball. The team never recovered from the worst start in franchise history.
Despite having a disappointing season, a few bright spots emerged that leave Jays fans hopeful (are we naïve?) that 2018 might be a bounce back year.
1. Justin Smoak – A year ago the switch-hitting first baseman was left off the Jays’ playoff roster. In the pre-season fans begged management to start a AAA rookie instead of giving Justin Smoak a spot at first base. Today Smoak leads the Blue Jays in home runs (38), runs batted in (89) and slugging percentage (.541). Even when Smoak got off to a great start, fans “knew” he would digress to the strike out machine he was last year. Not so – the first time all-star has been consistent all year long. While fans lamented his two-year contract at the start of the season, they are glad he will be coming back next year to be the every day first baseman.
2. Ryan Goins – The day before the regular season started Jays management chose to keep Ryan Goins on the roster rather than losing him on waivers. The back up infielder has been great as a replacement for injuries at shortstop and second base. Defensively, he has been a upgrade over starter Troy Tulowitzki. His .227 batting average does not describe how his hitting has helped the team. When the bases are empty, Goins is batting a mere .183 with two home runs. When the bases are loaded, he is batting .714 with 2 home runs and 20 runs batted in. Goins has been a pleasant surprise from a player who was almost lost to the team the day before the season started.
3. Dominic Leone – When the Blue Jays claimed Leone off waivers from the Seattle Mariners on November 18, 2016, it seemed like another player for the minor league team. Why did the Jays want a pitcher who had a 6.33 earned run average in 2016 and an even worse 8.40 ERA the year before? This year Leonne has been a different pitcher – tossing a 2.49 ERA in a career high 68.2 innings pitched. Leonne was the consistent middle inning reliever every team needs. Can he do it again in 2018? At age 27 next year he should be coming into the prime of his career.
4. Danny Barnes – Last year I watched this rookie pitcher in his first major league appearance. He faced the Houston Astros in the eighth inning with the Jays up 2-1. He struck out two batters including 96 rbi man Carlos Correa. The team threw him into the most difficult of situations and he breezed through it. His 2017 season has been steady – he has pitched 64 innings in 57 games. His earned run average is a respectable 3.52. He looks to be a young reliever they can count on for next year and beyond.
5. Roberto Osuna – The 22 year old closer has had a tough season as defined by his near perfect play in his first two years. Osuna’s bad year has included a career high 37 saves, an all-star appearance and a respectable 3.54 earned run average. He has blown ten save opportunities – so had he been perfect the Blue Jays would be a playoff team. In the coming weeks I will write a column about where the Blue Jays season went wrong. Osuna’s ten blown saves is a franchise record; which did not help the team. However, as true as those comments will be – he has stuck to his closer role in spite of anxiety attacks early this season; and struggling since the all-star break. Thirty seven saves (or more with a week to go) is a good season.
As we look forward to next season, there are always September call ups. Every year there is one player who does so well in the Majors that we know he will be a star next year. Usually it does not work out – but this year there is one September star that gives Blue Jays fans much to hope for in 2018.
7. Carlos Ramirez – This 26 year old rookie has moved from Double A to Triple A and now to the Majors in one season. All totaled, he has pitched 49 innings and allowed zero runs in 48 of those outings. He went through the 18 games (23 innings) with New Hampshire without letting up a run. When he moved up to Triple A Buffalo he pitched seven games (14 innings) without letting up a run. When he arrived in Toronto on September 1, his 0.00 earned run average seemed unreal. Ramirez went on to pitch his first seven games (ten innings) without letting up a run. In his eighth game, he let up his first earned runs of the entire season. No one can be perfect for a whole season, but Jays fans hope they see a consistent perhaps star reliever playing next year.