2015 for the Toronto Blue Jays will go down as one of the most incredible seasons in franchise history. So whether you’re a die-hard fan who watched them since April or somebody who hopped on the wild ride in the summer months, there’s something to gain by looking back at the season that was for your Toronto Blue Jays. While this season will be remembered for the explosive mid season trades and the dominant sprint into October, we should not forget the 4 months that lead up those moments. They too were filled with many incredible moments and it was the events of these first 100 games that set the stage for the most exciting end to a season since Carter touched ’em all. So how about we take some time and look back on April to July of the Toronto Blue Jays 2015 season.
It seems like a decade ago, but it all started rather routinely. The off season got fans a little excited with the acquisitions of superstars Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin. Other additions including Michael Saunders, Marco Estrada, Devon Travis, and Justin Smoak also added some intrigue, as did the six rookies who would be breaking camp with the team. Expectations were lowered though after fluke injuries to Marcus Stroman and Michael Saunders. The season began in the Bronx on April 6 with a win highlighted by a strong start by Drew Hutchison and a Devon Travis home run. However, the Jays pushed through the first two months of the season with middling results as they bobbed over and under the .500 mark (usually under) in a fashion that we were all too familiar with. In the early going, the Blue Jays offence was looking special with a middle of the order that seemed video game-like. With help from a few unexpected sources of offence like Devon Travis and Chris Colabello, the Jays scored a lot of runs.
However, as has been the case too often for this franchise, when one part of the team is strong, the others are anything but. In this case, pitching was the problem. Dickey began the season slow as he has every year as a Blue Jay. Mark Buehrle was getting hit all over the place leading some to question whether he was finished. Sanchez was having trouble finding the strike zone and Norris was constantly walking a tight rope and struggling to get past the fifth inning. Drew Hutchison was pitching alright at home but was absolutely terrible on the road. All of this was in the shadow of what “appeared” to be a season ending injury to Marcus Stroman in spring training. However, despite this, the bullpen may have been an equally big problem. Cecil and Loup were not getting the job done and Castro’s coronation as the king of pitching was demonstrated to have been a little premature. It didn’t take very long for rookie Roberto Osuna to emerge as not just a huge part of the bullpen, but really he was the whole bullpen for a stretch.
Though, there were some highlights from the early months that shouldn’t be forgotten. There were a couple of glorious walk off home runs from Josh Donaldson. Devon Travis, a prospect with mixed reviews, came in and outperformed all the superstars around him. Chris Colabello, an independent ball veteran, made it seem possible to never find a glove with a batted ball. Kevin Pillar was producing a weekly 5 minute highlight reel by himself (not much of an exaggeration). Oh, and Jose Bautista had another couple anger fueled home runs off of Orioles pitchers. Despite all this, the early part of the season didn’t leave a good taste in the mouths of players and fans alike. At one point, Josh Donaldson famously said “This isn’t the try league. It’s the Get-it-done league”.
Around the end of May, things started feeling a little bit better though. The pitchers began to progress towards their career marks and swingman Marco Estrada was giving the Jays a fighting chance in games he started with his dynamic changeup. Bautista was returning to the field after DHing for 6 weeks following an ill-advised, heat of the moment throw during the big brush up with the Orioles in late April. The significance of this couldn’t be overstated. Bautista’s injury contributed to the reason that infielders like Colabello and Valencia were in the outfield, it meant that Justin Smoak’s bat was stuck glued to the bench, and it meant Edwin had to play first base every day and accentuate his nagging injuries. Additionally, Navarro and Reyes (yeah, remember him?) were coming off the DL. It felt like the Jays were going to go on a run. Then they went to Washington and barely lost game one of a double header. Game 2 that night was between Max Scherzer and Marco Estrada and a very bad day seemed to be a real possibility for the Jays. Then, Kevin Pillar hit two home runs off Scherzer and the Jays won game 2. Other than reminding everybody why they watch baseball, that performance seemed to jump start the Jays and they went on to win 10 more right after.
This 11 game win streak showed everyone that there really was legitimate talent on the Blue Jays roster, so when they went on to play sub .500 baseball between the streak and the all-star break, rather than throwing in the towel and saying that the team just wasn’t good, most fans pushed for specific moves to address specific holes. They had faith in the core. People understood that they needed a good starting pitcher to take the spot in the rotation that was possessed by Felix Doubront. Also, they needed bullpen arms. Other issues included shortstop and left field defense. All of this was apparent based on how the Jays were losing games. Aaron Sanchez got hurt just as he was becoming a dependable starting pitcher causing the Jays front office to throw Scott Copeland, Matt Boyd and Felix Doubront at the wall to see what sticks…nothing did. Also, misplays in left field and at shortstop were continually and frustratingly costing the Jays one or two run games. Jose Reyes was becoming a particularly strong lightning rod among the Jays fan base, especially after Blue Jays long time radio play by play announcer, Jerry Howarth, called him out for his misplays and even implied that he wasn’t serious enough on the field. Finally, no Jays fan felt at ease when a relief pitcher that could legally drink in the US was on the mound. Due to these factors, an offence that was heads and tails better than anybody else was behind in the standings to the light hitting rays and the retirement home Yankees.
But then, after another heart breaking loss to the Mariners in late July in which Ezequiel Carrera hit a home run, robbed a home run, and was tripled off all in one game, deadline week began and all hell broke loose. The events of the week that followed would set the stage for one of the greatest runs in Blue Jays history and it would ignite a fan base that had not had anything to cheer about in decades.