TORONTO - So this is how the noisiest of Blue Jays seasons comes to an end at home, with a smattering of applause and too many empty seats after a summer of stories to tell — but inevitably disappointment.
This was, for those keeping score at home, the Blue Jays' worst season at the Rogers Centre in years. John Farrell’s first season as manager happened to be the Jays' poorest Toronto season in seven seasons.
Farrell says the Jays play the same way at home as they do on the road. He says that as if it’s a good thing. To me, it’s problematic. To win divisions, to challenge, to qualify for playoffs in baseball, you have to be considerably better at home than you are on the road. It really is that simple an equation.
The Yankees are 23 games over .500 at home.
The Texas Rangers are 20 games over .500 at home.
The Philadelphia Phillies are 24 games over at home.
They’re all division winners.
The fourth place Blue Jays — fourth place for the fourth straight year — ended this most irregular season at home with a record of 42-39. They did that even though they managed to go 11-0 in extra inning games at the Rogers Centre. And yet, the home win total is three fewer than last season, eight fewer than the John Gibbons’ managed 2006 season.
And after a while, in a season of sharp player changes, in a year where the Blue Jays have had the best player in baseball, where there is seemingly improvement and optimism for the future — oh boy, optimism — it is all so same old, same old.
You want to feel great about the Blue Jays future but you can’t. You want to feel they are on the right track, but there is enough tangible evidence to indicate they are not. You look for a sign, something to point to, and you have to admit one thing: You had to expect a little more from Farrell’s team in his first year as manager, even with its apparent flaws.
It’s too easy, too comfortable to blame everything they do on the American League East.
It’s not the Yankees or Red Sox fault they lost home series to Kansas City, Seattle, Oakland and Houston.
For all this team didn’t quit stuff, for all they battled, for all they struggled in the bullpen, for all they improved at first base and third base, designated hitter and offensively at catcher, the results at home say a little too much about the team, its environment, a stadium not filled, and a place way too comfortable for opponents to play.
The Jays should end up with around 82 wins, which is about where they expected to be, give or take a win. Fourth place again. Fourth out of five. In a 17-year-cycle that’s eight times being fourth, eight times being third, one time finishing last in the American League East. No times close. And we can be thankful that Peter Angelos owns the Baltimore Orioles, or otherwise these numbers might be worse.
It’s little wonder why the Jays keep celebrating those World Series years. There has been next to nothing to celebrate since.
Not team stuff, anyhow. There were the Roger Clemens Cy Youngs years and now the Jose Bautista MVP runs and in between a little Roy Halladay and some Carlos Delgado. But the names change and the Blue Jays change and the song remains the same.
They were 17 games out of first place heading into Thursday night’s game with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the worst named franchise in professional sport. If all you want in life in meaningful baseball in September — you have to be in your mid to late 20s to remember that — we present you with this piece of drudgery: At the beginning of September the past 10 seasons, the Blue Jays have been 14, 25, 16, 27, 11, 11, 11, 14, and 24 games out of first place, and that’s leaving off the half games involved. They haven’t even had one of those fluke, look-what-happened-to-us, kind of years.
But they have another great young pitcher on the way. He’s probably a year away. Last year Kyle Drabek was a year away. The year before, Travis Snider. I wonder when they won’t be a year away.
It’s probably why the Jays finished the year with
1.8 million fans in attendance at Rogers Centre. Hope is not eternal. They had the fourth worst attendance year in the history of the Dome. That’s to be expected and it presents the ultimate dilemma for the franchise.
They won’t get better at home without bigger crowds and won’t get bigger crowds until they get better at home.