By now we’ve heard a long list of excuses reasons why the 2013 season was such a disappointment for the Toronto Blue Jays. Injuries ended up costing the team a large number of games from their star players like Brett Lawrie, Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, Brandon Morrow as well as others. This was the most obvious reason for the team’s terrible 74-88 finish.
According to others, there is another, less obvious reason for the Blue Jays lack of success. You can call it familiarity, bonding or something else. But, commonly, it is called CHEMISTRY. Regardless what you label it as, it was clear that the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays did not necessarily have it. That is why Jon Paul Morosi (@jonmorosi) of Fox Sports thinks that 2014 could be different for the Toronto Blue Jays. In his piece today (Mar. 10/14) he describes the difference between the feeling of this year’s spring training compared to last year’s.
In the piece, Jose Bautista tells Morosi that chemistry:
“wasn’t a problem.” But Bautista added: “Getting acquainted with teammates, and understanding what their capabilities are, certainly plays into how good a team can be. When everybody’s still getting acquainted with each other, there’s that unknown. We don’t have that now.”
Now, the Sciences are not my area of expertise. I only passed Chemistry in high school because I chose Heather What’s Her Name as my lab partner and copied everything. So, I may not be in the best position to judge what Bautista said, but…Doesn’t that sound like chemistry? Regardless of what Bautista wants to call it, there was an issue. One that should not be there this year.
For a large part of their spring training last year, the Blue Jays were missing a significant part of their core players due to the World Baseball Classic: J.P. Arencibia (USA), R.A. Dickey (USA), Brett Lawrie (CAN), Jose Reyes (DR) and Edwin Encarnacion (DR). These players were off playing with their fellow countrymen in a tournament. Encarnacion ended up hurting a finger and Brett Lawrie dove for a ball and put himself out for a significant amount of time. How can any team learn to play together when 5 players who are expected to have a huge impact on the success of the team aren’t even around the club?
Their absence does not allow for the feeling out process that is necessary on a ball field. For example, with Lawrie and Reyes playing on the left side of the diamond, they need to be able to instinctively know where each other is, where they will be and where they can get to. It is something that requires the “feel” that comes from doing; from working together. Lawrie tells Morosi as much:
“You can’t know a guy in two weeks, three weeks…You’ve got to play with him for a couple months. These guys are like your family. You see them more than you see your family. The more you see each other, you just start to bond. You start to click. The team starts to click.”
It can’t be done when the players aren’t even together. A number of times last season several players looked unsure of their surroundings, or the people in them. The defense suffered.
There were times when Emilio Bonifacio just looked plain unaware of where to go or what to expect at second base. He just didn’t look comfortable. While it is easy to blame the single player for this, it can also be argued that his team mates and coaches share responsibility. Bonifacio is just the personification of the level of DIScomfort the Blue Jays felt going in to the 2013 season. Add injuries to the mix and it is impossible for that comfort to ever take hold. There cannot be a team identity or bond when the field is nothing more than a revolving door and lineup cards are make shift. Assuming everyone stays healthy this problem should not even exist this year. Addmitedly, that is a HUGE assumtion!
Considering all of the above it is a wonder we ever expected the 2013 Blue Jays to live up to their hype. But, as Morosi points out, perhaps it was the hype that was part of the problem. This season there are far fewer expectations of the Blue Jays. The air in spring training is different:
“This spring has been less chaotic: fewer television trucks, lower expectations, and a better overall environment in which to prepare for the season.”
The circus show that suffocated the team last spring has all but disappeared. They can focus on baseball. They can focus on getting comfortable. They can focus on bonding. Perhaps, they can focus on winning.