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After unforgettable 12 months, Blue Jays present purpose for optimism in 2022

It’s mentioned there may be an previous curse that needs so that you can “stay in attention-grabbing occasions,” and it’s arduous to conceive of a extra attention-grabbing 12 months within the lifetime of the Toronto Blue Jays than 2021.

Pondering the occasions and achievements of the Blue Jays’ 2021 season, it’s simple to be shocked at simply how momentous the season was. With a little bit of time and distance, and as we flip the web page on this calendar 12 months, it’s equally potential to view 2021 as a missed alternative, and as an unlikely achievement.

There have been a large number of built-in excuses for the Blue Jays to have an unremarkable season, not the least of which was the extended impression of the pandemic on their season. Whereas each different workforce within the league started to return to one thing resembling regular, with stadiums partially or totally packed, border restrictions compelled the Jays to make one of the best of their minor league lodging for an prolonged interval.

Apart from the inconvenience, they performed many “residence” video games early within the season with the stadium filled with followers of their division rivals jeering them with growing vociferousness within the later innings. No less than the workforce managed to make one thing again of the refreshment gross sales.

A 91-win season that was solely ok for a fourth-place end is someway becoming for this topsy-turvy 12 months. As is having two reliable MVP candidates end second and third respectively to a participant having a once-in-a-century season.

A Blue Jays pitcher introduced residence the Cy Younger Award this season, and it wasn’t the workers ace they signed the earlier 12 months, nor their prime pitching prospect rising to dominance. Relatively, it was Robbie Ray, a marginal lefty who signed a one-year pillow contract that was barely observed amongst the higher free agent ambitions.

After we look again on this 12 months, it will likely be arduous to not bear in mind a season full of energetic grunts, nasty sliders, and a uniform so tightly packed that the seams appeared persistently in peril of exploding much more than Ray’s fastball out of his southpaw. It was such a memorable season that it’s simple to overlook that Ray concluded his spring coaching by injuring himself falling down the steps with a child in his palms.

That Ray has left simply as rapidly makes the entire thing really feel like one thing of a mirage.

One thing that got here right into a extra tangible focus this 12 months was Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who entered the season as one thing of a query mark given the sky-high expectations, and a efficiency in his first two campaigns that teased and tormented followers.

Within the early elements of the 12 months, someplace in your Instagram feeds, Guerrero Jr.’s determine appeared to take up fewer pixels in your display screen as he sweated via a sequence of offseason exercises. It was encouraging, however followers know sufficient to attend for somebody’s “finest form” to translate into tangible outcomes.

However Vladdy delivered, immediately trying higher in all elements of his sport. A lot so, actually, that followers remained considerably apprehensive, whilst he flirted with the Triple Crown and appeared versatile and balletic at first base. It could have taken till he was elected to begin and win the All-Star Sport MVP earlier than followers began to acknowledge that this was greater than an prolonged scorching streak. The Celebrity that was promised had arrived, and whereas the MVP was out of attain this 12 months, his trophy case was full of a slew of different awards, from Silver Sluggers and the primary workforce All-MLB, to being acknowledged as one of the best baseball participant of the 12 months from two nations, each the Dominican Republic and Canada.

In lots of calendar years, signing a participant to the one largest contract in workforce historical past would most likely fee as a spotlight, however this 12 months, it’s arguably a marginal footnote given all the opposite struggles and achievements.

The Blue Jays considerably surprisingly locked up George Springer, perhaps one of the best place participant in the marketplace, for seven years. Springer battled accidents all through the season, and his on-field efficiency suffered consequently. Nonetheless, Springer hit 22 homers and drove in 50 runs in 78 video games, posting a .907 OPS in that half-season. And he was the writer of one of many Jays’ most memorable moments, hitting a three-run, go-ahead homer to cap a comeback win on August eighth in opposition to the Boston Crimson Sox, serving to preserve the workforce within the race for a playoff berth.

The season’s different exceptional comeback win got here off the bat of Marcus Semien, in a September third matchup in opposition to his previous workforce, the Oakland A’s. Semien walked off with a three-run homer within the ninth, serving to the Jays to maintain tempo with the A’s and the Mariners within the chase for the ultimate playoff spot. It was one in every of 45 homers that Semien would hit, establishing a brand new document for second basemen, a milestone which may stand out extra in some other season.

However 2021 was not like some other season, simply as 2021 was not like some other 12 months that we are going to ever bear in mind. Followers approached the season with muted hope, because the challenges of a second 12 months underneath COVID continued to emphasize and pressure at our psychological and bodily well-being. Nonetheless, the Jays remained a welcome distraction, even from the space created by a closed border.

When the workforce lastly returned to Canada on Friday, July thirtieth, it was an emotional second for followers, and a turning level for the workforce. Seeing supervisor Charlie Montoyo welling up with tears on the reception from the fifty-percent capability crowd, or Vladdy turning to offer a hug to the girl recognized affectionately as “Residence Plate Girl”, or Santiago Espinal’s ridiculous bare-handed catch to conclude that day are reminiscences that may be arduous to explain with out the entire context of the second, in addition to every little thing the workforce and the followers withstood this previous 12 months.

That the Blue Jays would go 40-23 from that time of the season solely helped to go away the fan base with some stage of optimism for what comes subsequent.

When you insist on relitigating the destructive, then, sure, the Blue Jays bullpen will stand out each for its erratic efficiency and its poor well being. In a season the place one sport was the margin between going residence or shifting on, each or any misstep alongside the best way can really feel as if it’s that rather more significant, and the reduction corps had greater than their share.

However as we stay up for 2022, there’s purpose for optimism, at any time when baseball will get began once more. Apart from Guerrero, there’s Bo Bichette, who led the American League in hits, and made his first All-Star look. There’s the arrival and re-signing of José Berrios, and the emergence of Alek Manoah on the entrance of the rotation. To not point out the December signing of Kevin Gausman as a possible alternative for Ray.

As we transfer ahead, 2021 will likely be a 12 months with too many particular particulars to recollect, however too many moments that we’ll always remember. And with every little thing that emerged out of such a tumultuous season, there are attention-grabbing occasions forward.

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