Is this the least enjoyable Blue Jays season ever … or the most enjoyable?

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays / Scott Taetsch/GettyImages

The Toronto Blue Jays are finished.

The Toronto Blue Jays are going all the way.

Depending on when you read this, please insert the opening line which seems most appropriate.

Because that’s the way the 2023 season has gone for the Jays, isn’t it – a stomach-churning procession of ups and downs, of hope and despair.

For many Jays fans, it has been decidedly more of the latter recently, a precipitous decline into despair as the team struggles to remain relevant in the playoff race. In fact, things have gotten so bad, that some have even gone so far as to proclaim this the least enjoyable season they’ve ever watched.

Seriously though, is this the least enjoyable Blue Jays season ever? Or maybe … the most enjoyable?

This is the least enjoyable Blue Jays season ever

How did we get here? Really, it’s all about expectations.

Coming into the season, the Blue Jays were expected to contend for a division title, perhaps even the World Series. And yet, heading down the stretch, it now seems like the best they can hope for, barring some sort of miracle run, is to sneak into the playoffs through the back door.

This underperformance has built a foundation of negativity around the team, as fans expecting excellence have instead been treated to something not that far off from mediocrity.

Of course, as anyone who has followed the team on a day-to-day basis this season can tell you, it’s not just about the team’s position in the standings, but how they have gotten there – with seemingly every game a sort of bizarre Groundhog Day, a Charlie Brown sketch with Jays fans in the role of Charlie Brown and the team’s promise as Lucy holding the football.

If the Blue Jays simply couldn’t hit, that would be one thing. But the team has spent the majority of the season in the top 10 in baseball in batting average, on base percentage, and OPS. Their problem is that while they are constantly filling the bases and threatening to score, again and again they are unable to find the big hit and actually cash in. Indeed, the Jays fall from top 10 in the league into the bottom 10 in average, OBP, and OPS with runners in scoring position.

Failure is one thing, but failure after building up hope again and again is particularly painful.

It’s more than that though. Had the 2023 Blue Jays simply dropped out of the sky, there would perhaps not be such consternation around their performance. Instead, they are forced to follow the 2022 and 2021 editions of the team, each of which had an unmistakable swagger, and a sort of magic about them.

Yes, they made mistakes in the field and on the bases, and occasionally imploded on the mound, but these were teams who came to the ballpark and smashed people, donning a home run jacket and dancing as they did, teams which never felt out of a game no matter the deficit, and which consequently left behind a long list of dramatic moments and stunning comebacks.

In their place is a listless 2023 team for which dramatic moments have been few and far between, a team that feels finished, and looks dejected, every time they fall behind by two runs in the fourth.

It’s not just that the team has underperformed, or that they constantly raise, and crush, hopes, it’s that the 2023 Blue Jays appear to be a team totally devoid of magic.

Maybe what’s left really is the least enjoyable Jays team to watch of all time.

On the other hand …

This is the most enjoyable Blue Jays season ever

During the climax of a recent game, Blue Jays broadcaster Dan Shulman opined, "If you like stress, this has been the game for you."

Which game did he say this in? It hardly matters, since you can copy and paste the thought onto pretty much any game this season.

Look at it like this: the flip side of the Jays woes at the plate is that they have been nothing short of spectacular on the mound and in the field.

As of this writing, the Jays’ starting rotation has the lowest ERA in the league – despite last year’s Cy Young finalist Alek Manoah totally flaming out – while the bullpen sits 4th overall, and has only gotten better since the acquisition of flamethrower Jordan Hicks.

Meanwhile, defensively, the Jays lead the league in FanGraphs' Defensive Runs Saved by a wide margin – incredibly, the distance between the Jays (77 DRS) and the second place Brewers (47 DRS) is the same as the distance between second and 14th.

In other words, you can make the argument that the Jays have the best starting rotation, the best bullpen, and the best defense in baseball.

The result is that while they languish in the bottom half of the league in runs scored, they sit second best in runs allowed, making nearly every game a dog fight, a battle down to the very last out. In fact, more than two-thirds of the games the Jays have played this year have been decided by three runs or less, or in extra innings – last year, the number was barely half – while only 21 times has a game been a blowout decided by six or more runs.

Simply, if you sit down to watch the 2023 Jays, it’s exceedingly likely that you are going to be entertained down to the final out.

Actually, if you like stress, it gets even better.

Not only is nearly every game close, but as the Jays fight for the playoff lives, each individual game seems to take on a paramount importance, a feeling of do-or-die.

Consider, in 2022, the Jays had a similar record to what they have put up in 2023, and were in a similarly congested playoff race. Except, they were in a playoff spot for every single day of the season, and indeed never woke up in the morning knowing a loss that day would knock them out of a spot. Every game was important, but none really felt do-or-die; they always had a cushion to fall back on.

What about 2021, you may be thinking, when the Jays missed the playoffs by one game in literally the last 15 minutes of the season, were the games that year not do-or-die?

On one hand, they were, yet the 2021 Jays had had the feeling of a team which was playing with house money, having come out of nowhere to take the league by storm. While it would surely have been nice to make the playoffs, in many ways it felt like the Jays were just happy to be there.

Go back even to 2016, when the Jays had to scratch and claw for a playoff spot, yet led the division for much of the year and never once fell out of playoff position in August or September. Or 2015, when the team was well back at the All Star break, but by September, had blown past everyone.

The point is, this season is different. Every night feels like the night the season is saved, or lost, every victory euphoric, every defeat soul crushing. Not only is almost every game close, but every game means everything. And really, what’s better than that?

If you like stress, then maybe this really is the most enjoyable Blue Jays team to watch there has ever been.

So, is this season the least enjoyable you’ve ever seen, or the most enjoyable, or somewhere in between? Let me know on the platform formerly known as Twitter – @WriteFieldDeep.