Off Day Blues Vol. 9

Monday, October 04 2021 @ 07:36 AM EDT

Contributed by: Eephus

The numbers don't decide
your system is a lie
The river running dry
the wings of a butterfly
And you may pour us away like soup
Like we're pretty broken flowers

The 2021 Blue Jays were indeed some pretty broken flowers... unfortunately the numbers decided their fate and it was one tantalizingly, teasingly and frustratingly short of the postseason. As usual, I have some thoughts on this final technical off-day... and these will be my final thoughts on 2021 because I am very done with this painful year. 

The 9th Inning

Simply put, this season was a lot to intake. Many will argue it was a success because this was a young team not widely expected to challenge/be in the hunt for playoff position, while also navigating three different home stadiums. Others (me, perhaps) will lament the severe missed opportunity this all feels like, with multiple players having MVP caliber seasons, a supporting cast strengthened halfway through the summer and a bizarre yet objectively underperforming Yankees squad looking very susceptible.

Anyone can perceive this frankly insane year as they prefer... for me personally though (and this will surprise nobody reading my game thread comments)... 2021 is a season I will not look upon with fondness. No sir, not one bit.

My perception could change. In those winter months, missing baseball and struggling with following a exciting but flawed .500ish Raptors squad (the Maple Leafs do not interest me)... perhaps my heart may grow seven sizes in those cold moments. That cannot change how I've felt watching this team play games since April and how it stings bad now more than ever.  

I'd like to clarify, in case my meaning isn't precise: The 2021 Blue Jays team? A delightfully fun, talented group of ballplayers with dramatic moments, great dugout chemistry... a group of professional players genuinely, emphatically and energetically pulling for each other in every moment at the highest level. The 2021 season? A miserable, infuriating succession of events and inventively painful losses seemingly designed to challenge biblical characters and their undying faith. A mediocre Red Sox team junking up the playoff picture and sneaking in somehow? Sure, slap us in the face with that gruesome one. A Mariners team with a well below negative run differential causing equal difficulties and almost sneaking in? Fine why not. Toronto missing the playoffs by a single game? Happens I guess, although if the Washington Nationals had simply not been a completely useless joke (or not traded us a completely useless reliever)... this piece would have a much different tone. If I ever go to a game and Brad Hand comes into pitch he's getting booed mercilessly by me. Same with Chatwood, but him appearing in a game seems way less likely.

Really where this season will hurt longest are the missed victories Toronto themselves could not secure. Josh Palacios' foolish dive in Detroit... Marcus Semien's 1/10,000 terrible throw on the most routine of plays with two out in the 9th... Tyler Chatwood in any game after April... Travis Bergen walking the entire Dunedin bleachers... Rafael Dolis in Fenway Park... The B(r)ad Hand Experience... just so damn many of these!

Too many brutal moments, too many handfuls of gentle victories snatched by razor blade hands... it wears on a fella eventually. You just start wondering why you're subjecting yourself to something so tantalizing while it's brutally torturing you. Certainly, this would hurt significantly less if the team weren't so lovable, if they'd been knocked out with a week left instead of on the final day... or, what's the term... oh yeah if they hadn't been so really damn good. 2021 marks the 7th time in forty-five seasons that the team has won at least 90 games: of those teams only the legendarily heartbreaking 1987 squad failed to qualify for the postseason, while the 2016 and 1989 teams won fewer games while still making it in. While 2021 is hardly the dramatic collapse 1987 was (not that I remember the '87 team very well, being about three weeks old when that season ended) this one feels more of a longer, drawn out hurt. The good team that could've been truly great if not for a series of frustrating missed opportunities. 

Even with those blown chances, they were still easily one of the best teams in baseball (by talent and run differential) and easily the best to not make the playoffs. Maybe the best team to ever miss the playoffs in the Wild Card era. Instead the Yankees and Red Sox get to go, because we've never seen that before and the universe is obviously terrible. This baseball season was the equivalent of Lucy pulling the football on Charlie Brown for six months, all while your worst enemies watch and laugh obnoxiously. They overcame home-field disadvantages much of the season (All those Rays fans in Dunedin was probably the first moment of the year I wanted to hurl heavy objects at my screen) to somehow stay close enough in the race, finally got red-hot at the perfect time of the season and it still wasn't enough, getting as damn close as you can damn well get. Even a cruel exciting tease is still a cruel tease. 

Only the future will tell for sure if this year was this truly their best shot. It's a young team, sure, but we need only look at the local hockey squad for a young exciting team that appeared to arrive ahead of schedule but then struggled to break through for multiple seasons afterwards. Perhaps a healthy and full year of Biggio, Springer, even Espinal could offset a Semien departure, perhaps not. There are no guarantees, none of the positives of this trying season are certainties. There's only optimism, a lonely beacon atop a distant hill.

Despite the constant gut punches of this finished year and my bitter sullen words, believe it or not I'm still leaning towards that optimism. Better to experience a playoff push and come right to the very brink of it, than to never have even been close like those underrated 2000s teams.

Now please, please, please, don't ever spend half a season with a septic tank fire of a bullpen again.

Around The League

American League

Well... time for a quick reluctant look at the playoff matchups in the American League.

Okay I'm done. Off to the National League!

(Seriously, when the most likeable team to cheer for in the AL playoffs is managed by professional curmudgeon Tony La Russa... I'm not going to bother. I hope all those teams get obliterated and embarrassed)

National League

The NL is more interesting anyway. Atlanta, despite a sluggish start and losing superstar Ron Acuna Jr. for the entire season, figured themselves out and managed to win a pretty (annoyingly) weak NL East. They'll face the surprising Milwaukee Brewers, boosted midseason by a trade for shortstop Willy Adames who has probably been their best position player all year. Milwaukee boasts a formidable front three in their rotation of Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta, all of whom have ERAs below 3, WHIPs below 1.00 and strikeout rates over 10 per 9 innings. Combined with a fearsome and deep bullpen (less deep now though with Devin Williams' silly celebratory injury)... the Brewers look like a team that will be tough to score against.

The biggest issue with that series will be if the Brewers can score enough. While 5th in the NL in runs scored, they rank 11th in OPS and 13th in total hits. Jackie Bradley Jr. has been a complete black hole at the plate, Christian Yelich barely a league average hitter and that itself is their largest concern: plenty of average-ish hitters but nobody that is a seemingly game changing threat. Still though, they're a patient squad (3rd in walks) and with that dynamite pitching staff they won't need to win many 9-8 games.

Meanwhile it 's Dodgers-Cardinals in the Wild Card game. Hard to bet against a 106 win Dodger team. Also hard to bet against a Cardinals team that's gone 21-4 over their last 25 games, good enough to leapfrog over the Cincinnati Reds and win the second Wild Card spot easily. Did I mention I've hated this season? What's that you say.... repeatedly? Ah whatever. Winner of that game goes onto face the 107 win Giants, a win total that still has to be the biggest surprise in MLB for 2021.

Might as well ask, in this moment of day after mourning, if any of you have particular rooting interests as the playoffs begin. I'd personally go for the Giants, since I have a connection there, love the ballpark and it is an interesting story of a bunch of veteran players all bouncing back. The Brewers also seem like an interesting team. I have no interest in the American League playoffs and doubt I watch a single minute of them.

That's it, that's the year. Thanks to everyone who has been reading these all season, through good times and bad, and I do wish this final one had been a sunnier one written under happier circumstances (I definitely would've picked a different song from that album for the header). Enjoy the playoffs everyone, maybe I'll pop in and comment on an interesting NL game but for now I seriously wasn't kidding when I said I badly needed a break from this. So, it's off to "what ifs" and sad songs.... cheers all.