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It’s not all about the playoffs

The journey is at least as important as the destination—so let’s not overlook that it’s been pretty good

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

When the 2022 MLB Draft gets underway this coming Sunday evening, the 2021 World Series champion Atlanta Braves will pick 20th overall. Perversely, that will be three spots before the Toronto Blue Jays, who settled for being arguably the best 6th place in MLB history rather than advancing beyond the regular season.

That’s because Atlanta won 88 games whereas the Jays won 91 games, and the Draft is ordered simply by wins rather than any consideration of postseason status or results (that changes next year thanks to changes agreed to as part of the new collective agreement). To paraphrase Hamlet, there’s something fundamentally rotten when the World Series champ has three less wins that a team that doesn’t even make the field.

And it’s actually even worse than that. Atlanta only even got to 88 wins in the first place by dint of baseball’s weakest division (51 games under .500 cumulatively). They were a .500 team (43-42) outside their division, and won fewer games than the second wild card. By contrast, the Jays won 91 games despite nearly half of their schedule against the best division in baseball (42 games above cumulatively), so say nothing over of other handicaps.

Yet despite having easily the most modest regular season resume, they got hot at the right time to run the table on teams that were more accomplished than them over six months, more talented, or both.

That’s simply the reality of today’s expanded playoff field. Winning the World Series is not about being the best or most talented team over the long haul; it’s about being above average enough to qualify and hitting stride in October. Other sports have large playoff series, but individual games and short series don’t have the same degree of randomness. When four teams made the playoffs, that randomness was still there, but the baseline oh who were there in the first place was much higher (perhaps too high; this isn’t an appeal to tradition).

So where am I going with this? The brutal start to July has the Jays has pushed from the top of the wild card heap to the bottom, now tied with Seattle for the last spot (and far more ignominiously, just a clear games clear of Baltimore in the rear view mirror). If they don’t turn things around and plug some of the holes that have emerged, it’s quite conceivable that they miss even the expanded six team field this year.

At core, this is the source of the anger and frustration with the Jays—there’s nothing worse than high expectations not being met. After all, for whatever their shortcomings, objectively they’re not close to terrible either in results or talent. Even during this recent slide they’ve been mostly competitive (though perhaps that makes it feel even worse).

Curiously, I’ve found myself largely unperturbed over the last week, almost bewildered by the level of criticism and invective. Part of that is just my disposition; in always looking at what can go wrong, I generally expect if not the worst than say the 25th percentile outcome and anything above that ends up gravy. And the 2022 Jays are probably somewhere in the 25th percentile neighbourhood.

But I think more broadly, I just find myself caring less and less about what happens at the end of the season. To be clear, I hope they make the postseason (winning baseball is after all generally better baseball), and I think at the end of the day they probably will. The amount of talent on the roster should carry the day.

But if it doesn’t, that’s not definitive either. If the destination—the playoffs—is ultimately a crapshot anyway, it only makes the journey that much more significant and meaningful. At three hours or so a game, the 162 game regular season amounts to about 500 hours. The quality of those 500 hours is what really matters. And I’d submit in that respect the 2022 Blue Jays season rates very highly at the halfway mark.

For starters, they have played winning baseball. It should probably be more winning baseball than it is, but again, the results are far from actually terrible (just remember 2018 and 2019). But it goes well beyond that bottom line. So many games have been close and compelling, with relatively few blowouts and games that just drag along. And unlike last year, there’s not constantly losing the close ones (the one major negative from last year).

In terms of the actual roster, again, there’s just so much to enjoy. Even given that haven’t fired on anything close to all cylinders, almost all around the diamond are quality big league players (I could however do with less Raimel Tapia) who are average or better regulars or capable of doing so. Vladdy, Bichette, Springer, Teoscar, Kirk, Chapman, Espinal, Gurriel, Biggio, Jansen (when healthy)’s very much worth remembering that such a collection of talent is very much the exception rather than rule.

And for the most part homegrown too. I realize many won’t place as much (or even any) emphasis on this point, but for me having the history, seeing the progress and tracking the evolution over time adds to the enjoyment. And it also means it’s not a short term thing, as we more or less knew it was circa 2015-16, almost all those guys are around for at least another couple years if not more.

Likewise, for whatever its shortcomings, the rotation has on the whole been very watchable. Manoah of course has been a revelation. Gausman was unbelievable to begin the season. Stripling has been solid, and while Berrios has overall been very disappointing, it’s not sending Clayton Richards or Edwin Jackson out there every fifth game.

It’s harder to focus on the positives when things aren’t going well. But there’s a reason for the maxim that the darkest hour is right before dawn. Maybe the 2022 Blue Jays make the postseason and maybe they don’t. But just as the 2021 edition falling short didn’t change the fact that overall it was one of the most fun and watchable seasons in a generation, the same would be true in 2022. And arguably even moreso.