2016 Toronto Blue Jays
2016 Toronto Blue Jays / Franchise: Toronto Blue Jays / BR Team Page
Managed by John Gibbons
History, Comments, Contributions
Expectations were high for the 2016 Toronto Blue Jays as they were coming off their first postseason appearance in 20 years and had dominated the major league's hitting charts with their dominant offence. With all the big boppers - RF Jose Bautista, 3B Josh Donaldson, DH Edwin Encarnacion and SS Troy Tulowitzki - returning for another season, there was no doubt that they would continue to pound the ball. Of more concern was the pitching staff, but with Marcus Stroman healthy for the full year and J.A. Happ returning to the fold after excelling down the stretch for the Pittsburgh Pirates the previous year, they figured they would have enough starting pitching to get by even though they had been unable to re-sign ace David Price and unwilling to bring back veteran Mark Buehrle. They did make a move to improve the bullpen, acquiring former closer Drew Storen from the Washington Nationals as an insurance policy in case sophomore Roberto Osuna proved a flash in the pan.
The biggest changes were in the front office, however. General Manager Alex Anthopoulos, widely credited for finally building a winner in Toronto, left in the off-season after losing a power struggle with new team President Mark Shapiro. The former Cleveland Indians executive then brought in a number of close associates on board, most notably new GM Ross Atkins and special adviser Eric Wedge, who was immediately seen as a successor-in-waiting in case manager John Gibbons faltered ever so slightly.
On the field, it took a while for things to click. The Blue Jays defeated the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-3, on Opening Day, April 3rd, behind Stroman's strong pitching, then veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey picked up another win by the same score the next day. The Jays lost the final two games of the series, then two of three to the resurgent Boston Red Sox and spent the rest of April trying to stay above .500. They were 11-14 and 4 games back as May rolled around, and after a three-game sweep at home by the Rays, were at 19-23 on May 19th. They were having trouble getting hits at that point, and had lost two key players: Tulowitzki to nagging injuries, and 1B/OF Chris Colabello to a suspension for PED use. However, starting with a 3-2, extra-inning win over the lowly Minnesota Twins that day, the Jays got hot. By winning three of four games against the Philadelphia Phillies from June 13-16, they improved to 38-31, having gone 19-8 since that win over Minnesota. They were now within two games of the division-leading Baltimore Orioles and one of the second-place Red Sox. Key to the turnaround had been Encarnacion who had hit 8 homers and driven in 21 runs since the beginning of June. Another key figure was LF Michael Saunders, back healthy after missing almost all of the previous season following a knee injury in spring training. On June 17th, he led the Jays to a 13-3 win over the Orioles with three homers and 8 RBIs, to bring Toronto within a game of first place. His big night came on the day Bautista was placed on the disabled list, however.
On July 25th, the Blue Jays hosted the San Diego Padres at the Rogers Centre for the first time ever. It was the last possible match-up between big league teams that had yet to occur at least once since the introduction of interleague play in 1997 (the Jays had visited San Diego, CA previously). They won that game, 4-2, behind Aaron Sanchez's 10th straight win, a first for a Blue Jays pitcher since Roy Halladay had won 15 straight games in 2003. The Jays had reactivated Jose Bautista from the disabled list before the game, but also cut lose reliever Drew Storen, who could never regain the form that had made him a top closer as late as the first half of the previous season. He had been banished to mop-up duty since the beginning of July. On July 26th, the Jays made a couple of trades, first sending Storen to the Seattle Mariners in return for Joaquin Benoit, another once-great reliever who had been struggling badly of late, and then acquiring OF Melvin Upton from San Diego for Rookie-class P Hansel Rodriguez. They completed their mid-season shopping by acquiring P Francisco Liriano from the Pirates in return for Drew Hutchison. All three players would prove to be useful additions down the stretch.
On July 30th, the Jays took the AL East lead for the first time when they routed the first-place Orioles, 9-1 behind the pitching of Happ, who earned his 8th straight decision. It was the Jays' 16th win in their last 22 games as they were about to complete one of the best months of July in team history. Their stay in first place was short-lived, as they lost to the Orioles in extra innings the next day, but Toronto had given a sign that they were looking to repeat as division champions. The race was a back-and-forth affair between the Jays and the O's over the next two weeks, with the Red Sox never far off either. In a memorable game on August 16th, the Jays scored 8 runs in the 8th inning against the New York Yankees to get back into the lead. Tulowitzki continued his hot hitting with four hits and a homer, while C Russell Martin homered twice, his last three two-homer games having come on the road at his old haunts, New Yankee Stadium. The Jays finished August in first place, but then began to play poorly. A three-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees on September 6-8 put them one game back of Boston, with a crucial series between the two division leaders about to start. The Jays lost two of the three games to fall one game further back. From that point forward, the Red Sox became nearly unbeatable, while the Blue Jays sputtered along, with the division title falling further and further away. On September 28th, the Red Sox clinched the title, but the Jays were still leading a very tight wild card race. One major concern was the bullpen, especially following the loss for three or more weeks of Joaquin Benoit, who had been nearly impeccable since his acquisition from the Mariners, but had suffered a freakish injury when he slipped and fell running in from the bullpen during an end-of-game celebration.
The Blue Jays headed into their last two series of the season, one at home and one on the road, with a one-game lead over the Orioles for home field advantage in the Wild Card Game. They won the first contest with the O's behind the pitching of Aaron Sanchez on September 27th, but then lost the next game when the bullpen collapsed in the 8th and 9th innings, and were shut out by Ubaldo Jimenez and a couple of relievers in their final home game of the season to fall into a tie with the Birds. They then headed to Fenway Park for the final three games, but lost the opener on September 30th when David Ortiz, playing his last regular season series at home, hit a two-run homer off Brett Cecil in the 7th to give Boston a 5-3 win. Toronto was now only a half game ahead of the Detroit Tigers for the final postseason slot in the AL, with two games left to play. They won the middle game, 4-3, in spite of getting only 4 hits, with Dalton Pompey scoring on a sacrifice fly by Ezequiel Carrera in the 9th to set up a do-or-die final game which could result in them hosting the Wild Card Game, or going on the road to play it, or even missing the postseason altogether. The Jays faced their former teammate David Price in that decisive contest on October 2nd, with Sanchez taking the hill for the Jays. Sanchez was at his best, not giving up a hit until 2 were out in the 7th - a solo homer by Hanley Ramirez - then winning the game, 2-1, when Tulowitzki singled in the winning run in the top of the 8th. That gave the Jays the right to host the Wild Card Game, while Sanchez performance clinched an ERA title for him as he finished at 15-2, 3.00.
The Blue Jays had the best starting rotation in the American League and had their starters lead the circuit in innings pitched even though they did not record a single complete game all season. It was the first time such a combination had occurred.
Awards and Honors
- All-Stars: Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Marco Estrada, Aaron Sanchez and Michael Saunders
- AL Silver Slugger Award: Josh Donaldson (3B)
- Anthony Castrovince: "Sense of urgency surrounds Blue Jays", mlb.com, March 23, 2016. 
- Gregor Chisholm: "Blue Jays open camp with lofty goals for 2016: Toronto a confident club after snapping postseason drought last year", mlb.com, February 21, 2016. 
- Cathal Kelly: "For the Toronto Blue Jays, the end is finally beginning", The Globe and Mail, September 11, 2016. 
- Bob Nightengale: "Blue Jays will keep it real, but is bunker mentality a hindrance?", USA Today Sports, May 25, 2016. 
- Jorge L. Ortiz: "Blue Jays bullpen a concern in AL wild card chase", USA Today Sports, September 29, 2016. 
- John Perrotto: "Organizational report: Blue Jays set sights on World Series", USA Today Sports, February 17, 2016. 
- Mike Petriello: "Credit where it's due: Blue Jays' bullpen comes up huge: Toronto relievers have allowed five hits in four games", mlb.com, October 12, 2016.