By Rob Ficiur
In the days (and weeks?) to come the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays will begin their first post-season since 1993. What success the Jays have in the post season will be how fans will ultimately remember this year. A great regular season is forgotten if followed by an early playoff exit.
Before we celebrate (or mourn) the Blue Jays playoff round(s), we should celebrate the 2015 regular season with Rob’s 2015 Blue Jay Awards:
1. Worst start possible – The Blue Jays season got off to a dismal start. A few days into training camp, before a game had been played, season ending injuries ravaged the team. Newly acquired left fielder Michael Sunders tripped over a sprinkler while shagging fly balls, tearing cartilage in his left knee. He played only nine games all year. Marcus Stroman, tore his ACL chasing a routine ground ball. Instead of being the opening day starter he was out for the season. (See item #8)
2. Manager of the Year – Alex Anthopolous, the Jays General Manager, watched an inconsistent team the first three months of the year. At times they were unbeatable, tying a franchise record of 11 wins in a row. The winning streak was followed by blown saves and losses that took away the momentum of the winning streak. By late July’s trading deadline they were one game under .500. At the trade deadline, Anthopolous acquired an all-star short shop, an all-star pitcher, two effective relief pitchers and a consistent left fielder. Usually when teams make big moves like this they fail to meet the lofty expectations. These Blue Jays exceeded all expectations. The 2015 Blue Jays went on to have the best record after the All Star break. We still don’t know how far they will go in the playoffs – but fans cannot criticize management for not acquiring the needed help.
3. Mr. Consistent – On the last day of the season Mark Beurle tried to pitch on one day’s rest. His goal was to pitch two innings which would give him 200 innings pitched for the sixteenth straight year. No pitcher has accomplished this feat since 1980. The final game of the season was Mark’s worst outing of the year as he only managed to get through 2/3 of an inning. That does not take away from his consistent play throughout the year. When the team was inconsistent he was steady.
4. Most Improved Player – Ryan Goins – Last year this short stop second baseman showed he was an excellent outfielder and an ineffective hitter. Injuries thrust Goins into starting rolls at short stop and second base. His fielding was better than expected – which says a lot. His batting average went from .181 last year to .252. His on base percentage went from .209 to .321. Goins became a more patient hitter more than tripling the number of walks he had last year. His batting, going into the playoffs is an asset not a liability
5. Power Alley – Growing up I heard the legends of the New York Yankees “Murderers Row” with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the batting order. The Jays had this year their own trio I call the Power Alley. Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edward Encarnaceon hit 41, 40 and 39 home runs respectively. They drove in 123, 114 and 111 runs respectively. If one had an off day, there were still two more power hitters that could win a game single handedly. Playoff pitchers will have a hard time pitching around these three. (I hope).
6. Best second half – R.A. dickey. At the all-star break the former Cy Young award pitcher had a dismal 5-10 record. When the Jays acquired Dickey for the 203 season they thought they were getting a star not this!
Dickey’s second half improvement was part of and influenced by the team’s iimproved play in the last two months. In his last fifteen starts he had 8 wins and only one loss. His earned run average of 2.80 in that time period was on par with the 2.73 average he had in his Cy Young season of 2012. His knuckle ball began to knuckle and confuse batters like it had in the past. Having Dickey pitching at this level in playoff time is just the team needs.
7. Unsung Heroes – Since the traded deadline acquisitions of Mark Lowe and Letroy Hawkins and Aaron Sanchez’s return the from injury, the mid game relievers became a strength not a weakness. Mid-game relievers don’t get noticed unless they lose a lead – which the Jays did all too frequently until the trades. With this steadying effect on the others, former all-star Brett Cecil regained his former confidence. In the early season Cecil sported an earned run average over 5.00. In the last thirty games he pitched (25.1 innings) he allowed 0 earned runs. This steady consistent play does not bring much fanfare; but it does bring wins.
8. Mr. September – Remember Marcus Stroman, who was out for the year? Someone forgot to tell him he was out for the year. All year long he kept saying he would play in September and no one believed him. When he returned he posted four wins and zero losses in four games. His earned run average of 1.67 is a team record for September. Now fans hope that “Mr. September” can be Mr. October on the mound.
9. Most valuable Player – Josh Donaldson lead the American league with 123 runs batted in. When he was acquired from Oakland in the off season, his 29 home runs, 98 rbi’s and .255 batting average made him look like an upgrade at first base. While his numbers all went up from last year (to 41 home runs 123 rbis and .297 batting average) his biggest value may be in unmeasurable things. After a mid-season loss he complained to the media that too many team mates were happy to play, they should be there to win. His on field hustle showed his team mates how to win.
Only in 1992 and 1993 has a Toronto Blue Jays player won the MVP title for the American league. Josh Donaldson is the favorite to win the MVP in 2015. The “Bringer of Rain” would also like his team to win the same award that the 1992 and 1993 Blue Jays MVP won, the World Series.