Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Boys of Bummer

The moment the Blue Jays threw in the towel
Another lost season for the Toronto Blue Jays is coming to an end tonight. It would be very easy to blame the myriad injuries for the current state of affairs—and, really, they became almost comical as even the pitching coach was injured in a freak play during a game—but that would be missing the bigger picture, in my opinion. Sure, Jose Bautista—the two-time reigning major league home run champ who was leading the majors again when he was injured—missed all but two of the Jays' final seventy-two games, ripping the lineup apart despite the heroics of Edwin Encarnacion, currently two homers off the American League lead himself. And the pitching staff was destroyed by injuries, putting all the weight on Ricky Romero, who probably wishes now he had been injured himself as he had a brutal season. But it's not as if the Jays were tearing up the league before all the injuries, despite all the expectations of the spring. There was even one extra playoff spot up for grabs this year, giving the club its best chance in nearly twenty years of returning to the playoffs; however, the veterans on this team, such as Adam Lind and Kelly Johnson (who will likely set a new team single-season strikeout record tonight if he plays) were not up to the challenge and the next level of players, notably Yunel Escobar and Brett Lawrie, almost unanimously took a huge step backward. The two left fielders that fought for the job in Spring Training were both traded away for long relief help, which doesn't say much for their perceived value. There were, of course, bright spots such as the emergence of Encarnacion as a top-flight power threat and Casey Janssen as a premier closer. But the inner workings of the team was an absolute mess, resulting in embarrassing situations like Lawrie throwing a helmet at an umpire and Escobar wearing the offensive eye-paint, which went somehow unnoticed by every other person on the team that day and yet Escobar alone was left hanging out to dry at the press conference in New York. It is obvious to me that John Farrell has absolutely no clue how to handle a major-league ball club; the clubhouse has completely gotten away from him (at times, it seems the hot-headed Bautista has full control of the players) and his coaching staff seems woefully inadequate in their own jobs. The staggering number of injuries to the Jays' pitchers this year would seem to be an indictment of the training and coaching staff and, to make matters worse, Farrell used to be a pitching coach. Clearly, to my mind, he is not up to the challenge and ought to be replaced, the sooner the better.

Miguel Cabrera on the verge of history
But that doesn't mean it's time for me to stop watching baseball. I will be glued to the television tonight, the final night of the regular season, as Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers attempts to accomplish something that hasn't been done since 1967: win a "Triple Crown" by leading the American League in home runs, RBI and batting average. It's an incredible feat at any time, but especially in an era with so many power hitters and so many hitters for average who are specialists. Tonight a couple of teams will be fighting for their respective division championships as well, with the winner going on to the next round and the loser having to play in a one game wild-card playoff on Friday. There could even be a one-game playoff tomorrow to determine the division winner in the American League East, if Baltimore and New York end up tied after tonight. That would make for an interesting couple of days if that were to happen; either way, the one-game playoffs between the two Wild Card teams in each league will be exciting viewing on Friday. However, all of this will pale in comparison to the final night of last season, which might have been the greatest single night of Major League Baseball ever seen. I spent the evening flipping between all four games that had an impact on the post-season, never dreaming that the last 20 minutes or so would be as electrifying as they turned out to be. Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory and vice-versa; solid performers coming unglued while almost unidentifiable players hit game-tying home runs; incredible and unlikely comebacks—three in the four games—leaving the fans who were watching utterly drained. The night led to my treatise on "Why I Love Baseball", which I reprinted on this blog this past April.

But tonight will offer no chance of a repeat of that drama, as all ten teams that will take part in at least one post-season game have already been determined and all that is left to work out is who will be playing whom and for how long. One would think that adding an extra Wild Card spot to each league—coupled with quite a bit of "bunching" in the standings of the A.L. as nobody really ran away with any division—would have drawn the suspense out longer than ever before, but that wasn't the case. Come Friday, though, baseball's "Second Season" will begin and I will be watching.

And so will the Boston Red Sox... so it wasn't a total waste of a season.

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