Major League Baseball’s (MLB) longest playoff slump finally ended in 2015. For the first time since winning the World Series in 1993, the Toronto Blue Jays are back in the hunt for October and the entire nation is buzzing about this team’s chances to make a push for the championship.
After coming back from a 2-0 American League Divisional Series (ALDS) deficit last week to beat the Texas Rangers, Toronto is now one step closer to bringing a banner back to the six. They are currently facing the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series.
In order to fully understand this team’s progress, a bit of backstory is necessary.
The Jays made key moves to bolster their lineup and rotation in order to make a deep run in the post-season.
Prior to the 2015 campaign they acquired third baseman Josh Donaldson, who is now a front-runner for the American League’s Most Valuable Player award. The team also brought in some Canadian talent behind the plate in Russell Martin, who is a great leader and the team’s “quarterback” at backcatcher.
As if that wasn’t enough, they went out and acquired Troy Tulowitzki, who is a gold glove short stop and is going to be a mainstay in their lineup for years to come. As an added bonus they brought in David Price to be their bona fide ace. Both players were acquired just before the trade deadline, and have been integral to this team’s success.
The lineup is scary up and down. The Jays have players who can steal bases, hit for average, and hit the ball over the fence, so there is no real weak point offensively.
The team also led the league in three offensive categories – runs scored with 891, home runs with 232 and runs batted in with 852.
Since the trade deadline the Jays went 48-23, which was the best record in baseball. They also leapfrogged the New York Yankees en route to winning the division title. This was a squad who were four-and-a-half games back heading into the second half of the year.
Whether or not you’re a baseball fan, it’s hard not to fall in love with the only MLB team north of the border. There are so many storylines which make this unit a thrill to follow.
First, there’s the resilience of 24-year-old pitcher Marcus Stroman, who’s come back in full force from a torn ACL in the spring, providing the Jays with a brilliant one-two punch along with Price.
Then, there’s the youth movement. Second baseman Ryan Goins, who’s 27, and centre fielder Kevin Pillar, who’s 26, have provided this group with sound fielding and clutch batting down the stretch, while 23-year-old starter turned reliever Aaron Sanchez and 20-year-old closer Roberto Osuna have thrown smoke out of the bullpen. Both also stepped up in Toronto’s ALDS victory over the Rangers.
Stroman, Sanchez, Pillar, and Osuna also all have a prior Canadian connection. All four developed their game with the Vancouver Canadians, the current Northwest League affiliate of the Blue Jays, from 2011-12.
Finally, there’s the veteran presence of José Bautista and Edwin Encarnación, who joined the team in 2008 and 2009 respectively. It was fitting that Bautista – who has the longest tenure on the team of any player, was the one who sent the Jays onto the next round of the playoffs, with a three-run homer in game five, with the game tied at three all.
Blue Jays fever is alive and well. Regular season and playoff games have consistently sold out, and Jays jerseys and shirts are flying off the racks.
Not only have they been scoring a ton on the field but off the field as well.
The Canadian viewership in late September and early October was tremendous, with over a million people tuning in to watch the Jays’ series against both the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.
The entire nation is holding their collective breath hoping and praying that it will be the year that the Jays can go all the way to the World Series, and win it all for a city and an entire country that is dying for a championship.