By Dan Rankin
Okay, Blue Jays! From Josh Donaldson’s mad dash to home in Game 3 of the ALDS last Sunday, to Edwin Encarnación’s thrilling three-run walk-off home run in the franchise’s first-ever appearance in a Wild Card game, the 2016 Toronto Blue Jays will be a team that Canadian baseball fans remember for a long time.
For a lot of long-suffering fans of what is now widely described as “Canada’s Team” (sorry, Expos fans), the past two seasons have brought back a lot of memories from the team’s early-nineties hey-day. But, not only that, over the past two years, this exciting bunch of hurlers and sluggers has also succeeded in finally starting a brand new chapter in the Blue Jays history books. Imagine: the Toronto Blue Jays have won four playoff games in a row and, for the second year in a row, they are one of the final four teams vying for the World Series.
“It’s cool to wear Blue Jays t-shirts and hats again,” said Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame director of operations Scott Crawford. “Little Falls Public School just had a Blue Jays spirit day. Schools weren’t doing that two years ago. Last year it started, and this year it has really kicked off.”
The increase in the number of people filling the seats at Rogers Centre has also translated to an increased interest in the Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Marys, Crawford said. “If you compare our museum admissions, they’re up 20 percent this year,” he said. “That’s directly related to the Blue Jays and what they’re doing.”
While many Canadians were gathered for a Thanksgiving dinner last Sunday evening, the Toronto Blue Jays were hosting an American League Division Series game for the second consecutive season after a long 22-year drought without playoff baseball. Toronto won 7-6 in extra innings, to knock out Texas for the second-consecutive year, while also putting the franchise on the winning side of its first-ever post-season sweep.
That nail-biting win also put the Blue Jays back in the position to contend for the American League title for the second year in a row. The 2016 American League Championship Series begins tonight in Cleveland at 8:08 pm, with Marco Estrada (1-0) on the mound for the Jays against Clevland ace Corey Kluber.
“I think it’ll be a tricky series,” Crawford told the Independent. “The Jays have slightly better pitching, and Cleveland has slightly better hitting – if you look at their regular season stats. But, pitching usually wins out, and I think the Jays pitching is actually a lot better right now.”
Neither of the Tribe’s top-of-the-rotation starters Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar are expected to make a start in the series, Crawford said. “So, Cleveland is really down to one superstar pitcher, in Kluber, and some others,” he said. “Whereas, Toronto, as we know, has a really deep starting staff, assuming Liriano comes back. [Second baseman] Devon Travis also needs to come back, hit lead off and play solid defence. Without those two, it’s going to be more of a struggle, but of course I think the Blue Jays are going to win.”
Crawford’s prediction was that it would take six games for Toronto to win the American League pennant for the first time since 1993 and book their ticket to the World Series.
“They’ve started hitting again,” he said, explaining his reasoning. “Donaldson has really hit in the playoffs, and Ezequiel Carrera, who was hot in September, has kept up his streak of hitting.”
Carrera has been a stellar lead off man and a solid outfield option. According to FoxSports.com, he has scored four runs in four games, behind only Donaldson and Encarnación (five each), and tied with José Bautista. “Zeke” is tied with Edwin for the team’s second-best batting average (.375, six hits in 16 at-bats) and also has the team’s only stolen base of these playoffs.
Listeners to some local radio stations may recently have begun hearing Crawford serve as a local baseball expert. Since August, he’s provided his opinions and analysis in the morning on London’s modern rock station FM96. “FM96 called me up and said they wanted to have a weekly Blue Jay opinion,” he said. “Once a week we chat on the phone for a few minutes and they play it later that day. They ask me a couple of questions, and it’s a great way to promote St. Marys and the Hall of Fame – it’s a major station in a big city with a wide range of listeners.”
Last week, Stratford’s CJCS also reached out, he said. “They want to talk again when the Jays make the World Series,” he added.
What if the Blue Jays actually go on to win this year’s American League pennant (knock wood) or the World Series (double knock)? Crawford said the Hall would definitely be interested in holding some form of commemorative ceremony, or recognizing the achievement in some way, but, so far, nothing has been planned. “If they were to get that far, we definitely hope that something can be done,” he said. “It’s a difficult thing to plan, because you never know – and you don’t want to jinx them either.”