2017 Toronto Blue Jays
2017 Toronto Blue Jays / Franchise: Toronto Blue Jays / BR Team Page
Managed by John Gibbons
History, Comments, Contributions
After losing their home opener on April 11th, 4-3 to the Milwaukee Brewers, the 2017 Toronto Blue Jays had a 1-6 record for the worst start in franchise history. They had gone into the season quite confident after making it to the American League Championship Series the previous two years. They had lost slugger Edwin Encarnacion to free agency but had replaced him with a similar player in Kendrys Morales, while LF Michael Saunders and SP R.A. Dickey were the only other pieces missing. One positive development was that they had managed to retain slugging RF Jose Bautista, who had tested the free agency waters but returned for one year after finding no one willing to give him a long-term deal. On paper, they had the best five-man starting rotation in the majors, featuring 20-game winner J.A. Happ, ERA champion Aaron Sanchez, 2017 World Baseball Classic MVP Marcus Stroman, 2016 All-Star Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano, who had been almost unhittable during spring training. Alas, in the first week at least, none of them had been dominant, as the losses included a couple of extra-inning affairs and some poor pitching performances. Also of concern was that the Jays were now the oldest team in the majors. They lost their next two games as well to fall to 1-8 on April 13th and also lost 3B Josh Donaldson to a sore calf muscle that had been bothering since the start of spring training and landed him on the disabled list.
The Jays put an end to their early-season seven-game losing streak at home on April 15th, against the Baltimore Orioles. Estrada gave them seven scoreless innings and left with a 1-0 lead, only to see Roberto Osuna blow a save because of a hit off his foot by Welington Castillo, which allowed pinch-runner Gary Gentry to tie the game on a stolen base and a couple of fly outs. This could have been the start of another devastating loss, but Morales led off the bottom of the 9th with a walk-off homer against Tyler Wilson to get a huge weight off the team's shoulders. However, they then fell to 2-11 before Liriano and three relievers combined to shut out the Boston Red Sox, 3-0, on April 19th. A sign of how listless the Jays had been was that when Kevin Pillar stole a couple of bases in that win, they were the first two recorded by the team since the start of the season. On April 22nd, it was the turn of SS Troy Tulowitzki to head to the DL, with a strained hamstring, joining Donaldson, and Sanchez, who had landed there with a blister problem. It took the Jays until the final game of April, a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on April 30th, to win back-to-back games and to win a series against a team. They finished the month with a record of 8-17, last in the AL East and second worst in the league, ahead of only the Kansas City Royals.
Toronto began to play better in early May, but the injuries continued to mount. The next players to end up on the DL were C Russell Martin on May 8th, victim of nerve inflammation in his left shoulder, and a third member of the opening day starting rotation, Francisco Liriano, who joined the crowded list on May 11th because of shoulder soreness. On May 4th, they had released back-up C Jarrod Saltalamacchia who had gone 1-for-25 on the year, which left catching duties in the hands of two relatively inexperienced players in Luke Maile and Mike Ohlman when Martin went down. Still, they ended the month very strong, hitting 49 home runs during the month while going 18-10 to move within one game of the .500 mark, even though they were still in last place in the division. Among the strongest performers were 2B Devon Travis, who hit .364 with 16 doubles and 4 homers during the month, and Jose Bautista, who hit .317 with 9 homers and 21 RBIs.
June turned out to be a frustrating month for the Jays, however. They could not reach the magic .500 mark, losing every time they came within one game of the mark, something which happened five times over the next three weeks. Their two offensive starts from May both went missing, Bautista falling back into a slump, and Travis being lost for an extended period after damaging cartilage in his knee. On the positive side, J.A. Happ was back healthy and pitching well, while 1B Justin Smoak was their most consistent hitter, with 20 homers and .300 average on June 20th. They finished June at 37-42, having gone a disappointing 11-15 during the month, and seeing their goal of clawing their way back into the postseason race slip further and further away. Their final game before the All-Star break, on July 9th, encapsulated all that had gone wrong with the first half: they were hoping to end on a positive note after having won two of the first three games of a four-game series against the Houston Astros at home, holders of the best record in the league. Instead, they got pummeled, 19-1. They were on their way to suffering the worst shutout loss in team history when Ezequiel Carrera saved a modicum of pride by hitting a solo homer with two outs in the 9th. As a result, they went into the break at 41-47, in last place in the AL East and 8 1/2 games back of first place.
Things did not turn around in he last two weeks of July and the Blue Jays were sellers at the trading deadline sending Liriano to the Astros for OFs Nori Aoki and Teoscar Hernandez, and P Joe Smith to the Indians for a couple of prospects. One rare highlight came in the last week of July, though, as Steve Pearce made the history books by hitting two walk-off grand slams in the span of four days on July 27 and July 30th; only two other players before him, Cy Williams and Jim Presley had ever had two such hits in the same season, never mind in a week. the Jays ended the month at 49-57, in last place in the AL East and 9 games out of first. But even that did not tell the whole story: they had given up a whopping 86 runs than they had scored, and the Pythagorean percentage was an even worse 44-62, which would have placed them next-to-last in the league.
By winning their final game of the season over the Yankees, 2-1, on October 1st, the Blue Jays moved one game ahead of the Orioles and avoided finishing in the cellar with a record of 76-86, something of a feat given they had spent just about the entire season in last place in the NL East.
Awards and Honors
- Dave Bidini: "Baseball, Blue Jays and the long journey into darkness", The Globe and Mail, May 4, 2017, p. A11. 
- Jon Paul Morosi: "Sources: Blue Jays could be big sellers", mlb.com, July 5, 2017. 
- Ben Nicholson-Smith: "MLB team report: Are the Blue Jays poised for another playoff run", USA Today Sports, February 15, 2017.