TORONTO - Another September begins with no meaningful baseball to be played around here.
In ways, it is like the September of last year and the year before, a final month of optimism heading towards next year.
But with the Blue Jays, the future is never now, and the next year of our expectations always seems a year away.
This has been a summer of hope and stories, a summer of discovery for the Blue Jays. You may see the future through the eyes of Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus.
You can see it, if you squint hard enough and if you don't consider what this season was supposed to be about, and what hasn't been from the Blue Jays.
That is the easy part about selling optimism. The public tends to forget what it was you were selling in the first place. But if you dial back a few months, back to March, back to when the baseball publications were making predictions, what you quickly come to realize is what a season of regression this has been in what was supposed to be the Blue Jays' area of strength.
This was to be a team build around young arms, promising pitchers, the hope that next September games will factor in the standings for the team that calls Rogers Centre its home.
There was some talk that a young rotation of Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil would be the Blue Jays whittled-down version of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. Or failing that, something along the lines of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito.
So what happened? Romero has taken a giant step forward this season: He has become the rock of the Jays rotation, the ace he was designed to be.
Romero has made 27 starts this season and by baseball's own definition of a quality start, he's made 21 of them. He won't win 20 games this year, but he's pitched well enough to be close.
The leap Romero made has been a false start for Morrow. Born the same year, looked at as a possible ace of the future, he is more about possibilities than he has been about performance.
The truth on Morrow: He pitched better last season than he has this year.
He made more quality starts. He was more dominant. His earned-run average was a third of a run less.
There is no certainty now that Morrow will be anything but a guy on a staff.
One great start.
One average start.
One poor start.
A lot of talent, a lot of question.
If you're building the future around pitching, understand that Morrow will be 28 years old when next season begins. And quite possibly, he will be a 28-year-old who has never won more than 10 or 11 games in a season.
The third member of the apparent Big Three has gone from 15 wins to four, from a 6-1 record against the Red Sox and Yankees to no wins in two starts this season. To a stint in the minors and some doubt as to where Cecil fits in down the line.
If there was once a Big Three -- there is now a Big One and The Question Marks.
In just about every baseball pre-season magazine, it was written that the key to the Blue Jays future surrounded the development of Kyle Drabek.
If this season has proven to be a setback for Morrow and Cecil, it's been close to disastrous for Drabek. He didn't start well in Toronto. He fell apart in AAA Las Vegas. In 14 starts, he has four wins and a 7.41 earned-run average. In combination, he's given up 144 walks/or hits in 68 innings pitched.
There is little wrong with his arm but much to correct with his emotional makeup.
It could be argued that of the three greatest prospects in the Jays organization — two of them, Drabek and outfielder Travis Snider, had horrible seasons, putting their futures under some kind of cloud.
Maybe they'll make it back.
But maybe this is all it is right now.
In order to compete in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox, the Jays have to be better pitching-wise. They can't be 11th in earned-run average in the American League or 24th in all of baseball. They can't give up the fourth most hits or 3rd most walks or be 12th out of 14 teams in saves.
And while the everyday lineup has improved with Rasmus and Lawrie and the rejuvenated Edwin Encarnacion, the Jays can't hope to be a factor unless they upgrade their pitching staff significantly.
The arms they believed in for the future let them down this summer.