TORONTO- After the disappointing loss to Kansas City in the American League Championship Series, the Toronto Blue Jays can reflect on their Cinderella story during the 2015 season.
The Blue Jays finally ended their 22-year playoff drought, selling out almost every game during the second half of the season, and TV ratings and attendance increased by forty percent. For the first time since 1993, Torontonians got to experience what they been waiting for – watching the MLB’s only Canadian team play meaningful baseball. The Blue Jays’ glory days returned to not only Toronto, but to Canada as well.
At one point the team was 50-51 and were way out of playoff standing. But thanks to the acquisitions of the MLB Non-waiver Trade Deadline, including Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, the Blue Jays were the team during the 2nd half of the season and won the American League East Division.
Here’s a look at the position breakdown when the Blue Jays brought Canada back onto the map of baseball:
Season Record: 93-69 (1st in AL East, lost to Kansas City during the ALCS 4-2)
Catcher: Last offseason began when Russell Martin signed a 5-year deal worth $82 million, which was the largest contract during Alex Anthopoulos’ era as general manager for the Blue Jays. The 32-year old Canadian hit .240 with a career high 23 home runs and driven in 77 runs, and threw out 44% of base runners attempting to steal a base. The 4-time All Star catcher has done an outstanding job working with the young pitching staff and managed to catch R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball. Dioner Navarro was a reliable backup behind the plate, even though he was eyeing to get more playing time elsewhere. The 31-year old was a huge reason why Marco Estrada had a career year with a 3.13 ERA. Navarro appeared in 54 games in the 2015 and hit .246 with 5 home runs and 20 RBI.
1st Base: Chris Colabello and Justin Smoak provided a solid platoon at first base. Colabello, a waiver claim from the Minnesota Twins, came out of nowhere, appearing in 101 games and hit .321 with 15 homeruns and 54 RBIs. Smoak showed some flashes at the plate and on the field. Though Smoak didn’t hit for a high batting average with .226, he managed to hit 18 home runs and 59 RBIs.
2nd Base: The Blue Jays picked up Devon Travis during last offseason. Missing 100 games due to a shoulder injury, the 25-year old rookie hit .304 with 8 homers and 35 RBIs. Ryan Goins stepped up filling in for Travis. Known for his outstanding defence, Goins improved his hitting with a .250 batting average with 5 home runs and 45 RBIs.
3rd Base: Anthopoulos shocked the baseball world when he acquired 2-time All Star Josh Donaldson from the Oakland Athletics last offseason. Donaldson made an immediate impact during his first full season with the Blue Jays. Leading the AL with 123 RBI and 122 runs scored, while hitting a career high with 41 home runs. Donaldson posted a 8.8 WAR for his ability with his bat and his glove and is a clear front runner for AL MVP.
Shortstop: With Jose Reyes declining, Anthopoulos replaced Reyes with a better all-around player in Tulowitzki from Colorado Rockies. Tulowitzki had to adapt to a new environment after being traded for the first time of his career. Though he struggled at the plate with a .239 batting average with 5 home runs and 19 RBIs, his impact helped the Blue Jays during the 2nd half of the season both offensively and defensively. Cliff Pennington was brought in last August to provide depth in the infield.
Outfield: Jose Bautista has another monster year with 40 home runs and 114 RBI. The 6-time all star had the best eye at the plate with 110 walks and led the AL. Bautista hit a clutch 3-run homer to help the Blue Jays during Game 5 of the ALDS. He followed a 2-homer game during Game 6 of the ALCS. Kevin Pillar proved himself to be a gold glove caliber center fielder whild providing a solid year at the plate hitting .278 with 12 home runs. Ben Revere was perhaps the most underrated pickup for the Blue Jays at the trade deadline. Revere provided speed and hard contact at the top of the order for the Blue Jays’ potent line up while showing his range in left field. Michael Saunders missed most of the year with a meniscus tear in his knee. Dalton Pompey spent most of the year in the minor leagues to refine his bat, but the young outfielder from Mississauga still has high potential.
Designated Hitter: Edwin Encarnacion woke up in the 2nd half to bring his overall numbers up to a .277 batting average with 39 homers and 110 RBI. The Blue Jays have three hitters posting more than 30 homers and 100 RBIs with Encarnacion, Donaldson and Bautista.
Starting Pitching: Acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for Adam Lind, Marco Estrada has been the Blue Jays’ most reliable starter all season long with a 3.13 ERA and pitched a career high 180 innings. David Price was a huge boost to the rotation after being acquired from the Detroit Tigers at the deadline. Marcus Stroman has been another great story. After tearing his ACL in spring training, Stroman made a quick recovery and shown “Height Doesn’t Measure Heart.” Stroman made four starts during the regular season with a 1.80 ERA. He also pitched well during the playoffs. The 2012 Cy Young Award Winner went 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA with the Blue Jays. R.A. Dickey shown his ability to pitch more than 200 innings. Mark Beuhrle was decent once again with a 3.81 ERA and was a shy short to pitch 200 inning which would have been 15 straight years. It’s been a struggle for Drew Hutchison with a 5.57 ERA.
Bullpen: Roberto Osuna had never pitched higher than High A prior this season. Nevertheless the 20-year old righty has been the Blue Jays’ most reliable reliever. Since he became the closer last June, Osuna finished the season with 2.58 ERA and 20 saves. Aaron Sanchez started the season as the starter but was sent back to the bullpen during the middle of the season. Since being back to the bullpen, Sanchez posted a 2.39 ERA in 26.1 innings. Lefty Brett Cecil had another great year with a career low of 2.48 ERA. Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins were picked up at the Trade Deadline for their veteran leadership and presence in the bullpen. Aaron Loup didn’t have a great season overall, but still proved to be a lefty specialist. Liam Hendriks was solid as a long-relief pitcher with a career low of 2.92 ERA in over 64.2 innings.
Management: John Gibbons led the Blue Jays to their playoff spot for the first time of his career as manager. Though there were some questionable decision with the bullpen and misuse of Price during the postseason, Gibbons did a decent job managing his players and making tough decisions. Alex Anthopoulos is a high candidate for Executive of the Year thanks to the offseason moves of Donaldson and Martin. As well as being active at the trade deadline to bring in Price and Tulowitzki. Mark Shapiro will replace Paul Beeston to be the Blue Jays’ next president and CEO.
Overall, the Blue Jays are in a great position to compete for 2016. They are looking to be even more hungry for a chance to earn a spot for the World Series. The entire core on offence will be back next season. There are a lot of question marks on the pitching staff, with Price, Estrada, Buehrle and Lowe being free agents and Hawkins retiring. The club has a lot of work to do this offseason to fill the starting rotation and bullpen, but their offence alone will still make the Blue Jays competitive next year.