The Post-Hype Sleeper: Your 2014 Toronto Blue Jays

By: Dan Grant

INT. DEEP IN THE SAME PAGE BUNKER – EVENING

Editor-In-Chief Daniel Reynolds is worried. He glances at his wristwatch (really, he still wears one) and then decides it’s now or never. A bright sheen breaks out on his forehead, but he forges on. He walks down the hall, past security, past Guzman’s abandoned office and past the pillow fort Dagonas built during the opening days of March Madness. He makes a quick left turn, pausing to flirt with two Same Page interns (gotta keep up appearances, heyo!). He then excuses himself and slips down a dark hallway, one mostly…well, if you asked anyone else at Same Page, they wouldn’t be able to tell you what that hallway was for. He swipes his key card and enters a dark room.

INT. DAN GRANT’S OFFICE, OR POSSIBLY A PIZZAIOLO ON QUEEN STREET – MORNING

Reynolds: Hey Dan, you know it’s almost April right?

Grant: Yeah man! I’m psyched for the Jays season. I’m going to do some really hard hitting columns this year. I know the gimmick last season got a bit out of control.

Reynolds: Ah yeah, I wanted to talk you about that-

Grant: I’m just happy to have moved on you know? Pessimistic Dan is gone forever. Life’s too short, you know?

Reynolds: That’s the thing Dan-

Grant: What is?

Reynolds: I let him out.

Grant: You let who out of where exactly? Is this another thing about the interns? Is ‘him’ a metaphor for, you know…?

Reynolds: No! Look, you have to understand, it wasn’t an easy decision. But those were some of our most fun columns! People really liked them.

Grant: Wait, you let HIM out?

Reynolds: Yeah. Yeah I had to. I was a bit desperate, you know, with the new logo and Facebook page, I wanted everything to go well and, I mean, I know you can handle it.

Grant: Hold on. How is this even possible? Pessmistic Dan was just me. He was a part of me. I decided he was gone, so he’s gone. You didn’t lock him up in a cage somewhere or something. That’s not even possible.

Reynolds: It was more of a dungeon. Listen, I can’t explain exactly what happened. Let’s just say there was a scientist, a Ghostbusters-style foot-trap and copious amounts of bourbon involved. The bourbon was for you, the others for him.

Grant:  This is insane.

Pessimistic Dan (PD) strolls into the office. Yes, he has his own body now. 

PD: Oh, hello gentlemen.

Regular Dan (Grant, heretofore known as ‘RD’): HOLY MOTHER OF GOD!

PD: Honey, I’m home!

—————

In 2013, intrepid and embattled Toronto Blue Jays fan Dan Grant fought his desire to be excited for the season vs. his long standing pessimism towards the chances of Toronto sports teams, ingrained in the very fibre of his being by over two decades of across the board futility. The battle was a gory one, but despite a painful season, full of regret, Dan vowed to enter 2014 more hopeful and relaxed. Pessimistic Dan would never rear his ugly head again. Or so he thought…

PD: Dan, relax buddy! You look like you’ve seen a ghost!

RD: I. What. How. I mean. You!

PD: Eloquent as always.

RD: You have a body! You look just like me!

Reynolds: So, ummmm, I’ll be going now.

RD: Hey, wait a minute man!

Reynolds: (running) I left the stove on, bye!

PD: Yeah and these 2014 Blue Jays look just like last year’s team. A real Spinal Tap album review of a team, if you catch my meaning. (winks)

RD: I still don’t totally understand how this is possible. Hey, you can’t talk about the Jays like that! Listen man, this team has tons of promise.

PD: Oh really? The team that only added Dioner Navarro? The team that couldn’t ink one starting pitcher in the off-season, despite having that group destroy any chance they had last year? The team that’s going up against a reloaded Yankees team, a hungry Rays team, a souped up Orioles team and, oh yeah, the defending champion Red Sox? Where is the hope? Find it for me. I’ll wait.

How good can the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays be?

How good can the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays be?

RD: You’re damn right you’ll wait! Remember, around this time last year, I kicked your ass. The hope and the hype for the 2013 Jays was boundless. And you know what? This is pretty much the same team!

PD: Yeah, a team that stunk out the joint last year. A team that lost almost 90 games. A team that couldn’t pitch or catch the ball; two pretty big factors in the game of baseball.

RD: Couldn’t pitch? Their bullpen was elite! You’re right about the catching thing, but it’s hard to do when your team can’t stay on the field. The bottom line is that the team that was hyped before last season never really played together. How many games out of 162 do you think the Jays had their original 25 man roster healthy for?

PD: I don’t know, like half the year maybe?

RD: Five games. Out of 162. That is not a typo.

PD: Wow. I mean, OK, that’s something, but they still aren’t better! They didn’t DO anything.

RD: Last season they did a shitload, and they still sucked! Maybe giving this team some time to get healthy and play together was the right move! Like, what could they realistically have done, if you had your druthers?

PD: A right handed bat to platoon with Adam Lind would have been nice. Dump Melky. Add an ace pitcher or at least a serviceable guy. I don’t know. Something. Anything!

RD: The Lind thing is valid. Nelson Cruz would have been a nice fit, but Baltimore gave him more cash than we wanted to, and the guy can’t stay healthy. Beyond that, right handed bench bats are few and far between. It looks like Moises Sierra will get a shot at that to start the year. He had a great September, hammering out a .909 OPS. He hit for more contact against righties but better power against lefties. I think he’ll be on a short leash however.

PD: Fine. What about Melky? How do you bring that bum back? AND THE ROTATION IS SO—

RD: Listen man, this is getting messy. Let’s go through the team top to bottom and I’ll tell you exactly why I think there’s hope.

PD: Fine! I’m going to crush you, like always.

RD: It’ll take forever to go through every guy, so let’s go by what the most likely batting order will be. Take a gander.

1. Jose Reyes, SS

2. Melky Cabrera, LF

3. Jose Bautista, RF

4. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B

5. Adam Lind, DH

6. Brett Lawrie, 3B

7. Colby Rasmus, CF

8. Dioner Navarro, C

9. Ryan Goins, 2B

RD: Before you say anything, everything I’m going to say is predicated on this team staying healthier than it did last year. You can’t control the kind of freak injuries the team had last year, all at the same time.

PD: That’s a ridiculous premise. You can’t expect everyone on a team, especially THIS team, to be healthy.

RD: Look, you can’t predict injury. You just can’t. It’s a waste of time; right now we need to assume everyone is OK, unless they specifically aren’t.

PD: Yeah fine. It’s a losing battle but you’re clinging to scraps. Go for it. I hate that line-up by the way.

RD: Really? You hate a healthy Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera at the top of the line-up? Reyes looks relaxed and invigorated this spring and Cabrera has been a revelation. You know he had a tumor on his spine last year right?

PD: Yeah I heard about that. Can he actually move now?

RD: He can! He’s been solid in the outfield and ripping line drives at the plate; exactly the guy the Jays thought they signed before last season.

Cabrera's somewhat unorthodox batting stance is cause for concern.

Cabrera’s somewhat unorthodox batting stance is cause for concern.

PD: I know you gave me the injury caveat, but it still feels like Reyes is destined to get hurt.

RD: He always gets that knock, but it’s really not justified. In 9 full seasons, he’s only failed to play 125 games in a season twice, one of those times being last year, the other in 2006. He’s had a couple injuries here or there, but he’s played in 153 games or more in 5 of those 9 years. I think he’s going to have a nice bounce-back season.

PD: Alright I’ll give you those and I mean, I can’t really argue with the next two guys. Bautista and Encarnacion. If they stay healthy, they’re monsters, even I can see that.

RD: You’re getting soft!

PD: Look, the lineup isn’t my issue. Rasmus and Lind will give you a bit of pop and I know you’re going to rant to me about how Brett Lawrie is a break out candidate this year–

RD: Well, he looks fantastic, so I had thought about it–

PD: Those aren’t the issues! The Jays lineup was solid last year, even WITH all the injuries. If they stay healthy, they’ll mash. But what about the rest of the game? Hitting is just a part of it, Daniel.

RD: Well look, you mentioned that they couldn’t catch the ball last year, right?

PD: Right.

RD: That’s where the two new faces, Navarro and Goins come in. Goins can’t hit a lick but he’s a whiz at 2nd base. With him, Reyes and Lawrie all together, the Jays infield is going to be a vacuum. Those are three Gold Glove level talents, whether they win the award or not. Navarro is serviceable, which means he’s 50 times better than the train wreck that was behind the plate last year and with Melky healthy, the outfield corners aren’t atrocious. And as you know, Colby is a stallion in centre.

PD: I guess that makes sense. On paper. I’m not sold entirely.

RD: You wouldn’t be, would you? You’re a goddamned pessimist. It’s right there in your name.

PD: Fine fine. We all know the real turd in the punchbowl is the pitching anyway. Even the bullpen, which was so vaunted in the first half of last year, wore down terribly as the year went on.

RD: They wore down because the starters were so bad! They were overworked.

PD: Exactly. It’s basically the same starters! I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

RD: It is and it isn’t, you know?

PD: No, I don’t know. To me, same is the same, you nut job.

RD: Look, Mark Buerhle is the same. He always is. He might actually be a robot. But R.A. Dickey pitched hurt to begin the season last year. He had a neck and back strain that didn’t let him throw his ONE pitch the way he wanted to throw it. That’s a serious disadvantage. His second half was actually quite solid and if he can sort out his numbers at home (Home: 4.56 ERA, 1.29 WHIP. Road: 3.56 ERA, 1.19 WHIP), he could actually be a top level guy. Regardless, those two guys are going to eat a ton of innings again this season.

PD: Alright but what about the rest of these bums? Did I hear that Dustin McGowan is actually in the damned starting rotation? What is this, 2008?

Dustin McGowan in 2014. Your time machine worked.

Dustin McGowan in 2014. Your time machine worked.

RD: He’s made a gruelling journey back! Surely you have a heart inside the pessimistic chest of yours.

PD: It’s not about the heart! I mean, good for him, but we don’t have anyone better than that guy? Really?

RD: J.A. Happ got hurt, Ricky Romero hasn’t quite figured it out and we’re taking Todd Redmond and Esmil Rogers north in the bullpen, just in case. I don’t see the harm in giving him a shot. If you ranked the Jays starters simply based on talent, with no injury history, McGowan would be behind Morrow and that’s it. It’s always been about health with him.

PD: I think he makes two starts and disappears to the ‘pen.

RD: You might be right, but it’s worth the risk.

PD: OK, so we’ve got two geriatrics and a guy who literally might break a hip if a strong breeze comes along, who are the other two starters?

RD: Well we’ve got Brandon Morrow-

PD: Another glass warrior-

RD: -and Drew Hutchison, who actually looks totally legit.

PD: Hutchison, eh. Where’s he from again?

RD: He came up from Double A in 2012, he had Tommy John and missed all of last year.

PD: Of course he did. So three scarecrows and two dinosaurs. Cheque please!

RD: Bark all you want but this team hits well enough and has a deep enough bullpen that all it needs is some consistency from its starting pitching. It doesn’t need a Roy Halladay season from anyone. Just guys that can pitch into the 6th inning every night, pitch to contact and stay healthy.

PD: I don’t buy it. These guys suck. They derailed things last year and it’s going to happen again.

RD: Buy whatever you want. But this team was 16-28 in one run games last year. You flip that record around and they’re an 86 win team. Beyond that, 44 one run games? That’s an insane amount. That’s almost a third of the season. This team battled. They weren’t good enough but they battled. You wanted them to go overpay a Matt Garza or Ervin Santana, but did you SEE Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman this spring? These guys are young and throw gas. They’re both starting the year in Triple A Buffalo but if those guys aren’t with the team by August, I’m a fuzzy caterpillar named Cletus.

PD: Cletus?

RD: You know what I mean. Plus the ‘pen is stacked! Santos, Delabar, Cecil, Loup, Rogers-

PD: (looking at his phone) Speaking of injuries-

RD: What happened, you jerk?

PD: – Casey Janssen on the DL to start the season.

RD: Oh, I already knew about that. It’s no big deal. We always wanted Santos to be our closer; now he’ll finally get a chance. When Janssen comes back, it’ll just be a bonus.

PD: What?! You’re so calm! What happened to you?

RD: Look man, I told you. I won’t let you bring me down. Not at this time of year. This is MY time. Pre-season. Hope abounds. Haven’t you ever heard of a post-hype sleeper?

PD: Of course.

RD: So you know then that a lot of the time when a team or a player gets a ton of buzz around it, they choke. It happens to players after they sign big contracts, it happens to young teams that aren’t quite ready for the spotlight. Sometimes, buzz is a bad thing. Last year’s Jays just couldn’t withstand all the injuries and bad luck, especially with all the pressure on them. No team could.

PD: So you think that because of that, THIS year, they’re somehow sneaking under the radar right now?

RD: Pretty much everyone picked the Red Sox to finish in last place last season. They won 97 games and the World Series. People pick against the Oakland A’s every season. They got so good at flipping people the bird that Hollywood made a movie about it. I’m not saying this is the same, but this team is undoubtedly talented, and the same ‘experts’ that loved them last year are nowhere to be found. The bad luck is bound to spread somewhere else this year. You can’t worry about how good the other teams are; the AL East is always a meat-grinder. I refuse to be downtrodden!

PD: Alright, this a losing battle right now. And since I’ve got this fancy new body, I think I’m off to see how many beers I can put it in before it dies.

RD: Wait, you know you’re not immortal right?

PD: Aren’t I Daniel? Aren’t I?

RD: I’m pretty sure you’re no–

PD: Invincible, you say?

RD: What? I didn’t say anything like that!

PD: I’m pretty sure you did.

RD: OK weirdo, if you’re still alive then, meet back here in a month? I can actually stand talking to you now that you’re not living inside my head. I’m going to rub your face in the Jays excellent start! POST HYPE BABY!

PD: (wandering away) INVINCIBLE!

RD: This isn’t going to end well. I’m gonna kill Reynolds.

And so the cosmic dance continues. Join us here at the Same Page at the beginning of each month, as RD and PD hash out the ups and downs of this tumultuous Blue Jays season. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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