Where to start, Blue Jays fans?
How about rewinding to May, a month filled with hope and optimism for a Toronto outfit fresh off a surprising 15-9 April to open the 2009 Major League Baseball season.
But then, as quickly as you can say Aaron Hill, the Blue Jays visited Boston, Atlanta and Baltimore, and came away with zero wins and a .185 batting average with runners in scoring position.
Toronto, though, would stay at or above the .500 mark until a 4-3 loss at Baltimore on July 11 dropped the Jays to 44-45.
The bats that were the hottest in baseball in April were silenced for much of August and September. And the rookie pitchers that wowed thousands at Rogers Centre in the opening weeks of the season were becoming increasingly inconsistent and later shut down for the season to protect their arms.
Fans also started to stay away in droves, with a new record for the smallest crowd ever to watch the Blue Jays in their 20-year history set on Sept. 9, when 11,159 saw Canadian Justin Morneau and the Minnesota Twins prevail 4-1.
While the Blue Jays dropped 70 of their final 118 games to place fourth in the American League East Division at 75-87 — slightly better than CBCSports.ca's predicted finish of 74-88 — there is still plenty to cheer about.
How about career seasons by shortstop Marco Scutaro, outfielder Adam Lind, catcher Rod Barajas and the aforementioned Hill? Ace pitcher Roy Halladay turned in a typically strong season and left-hander Ricky Romero put himself in the running for AL rookie-of-the-year honours.
The question, though, remains: Were the Blue Jays successful? We'll let you be the judge of that. But first, you may want to consult CBCSports.ca's end-of-season report card.
The best in the business in 2008, having allowed a major league-low 610 runs, the 2009 edition couldn't match up and yielded 771 runs to rank 11th in the 14-team American League.
Anchoring the starting rotation was Halladay, who finished third in the league in earned-run average (2.79), tied for fourth in wins (17) and fifth in strikeouts (208). He was also among the AL leaders in trade rumours in July and has said he would like to see how the team performs in 2010 before deciding whether to test free agency.
Of the four rookies counted on most by manager Cito Gaston, Romero showed the most promise. He won 13 of his 29 starts and struck out 141 batters in 178 innings pitched, and gives the Blue Jays a solid No. 2 or 3 arm entering spring training in February.
Fellow left-hander Marc Rzepczynski stuck after his AAA recall in July (3.67 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 11 starts) and has an inside track on a starting job for 2010. Scott Richmond, David Purcey and Brett Cecil had their moments and are lower on a depth chart that also includes Jesse Litsch, Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum.
In the bullpen, Jason Frasor was outstanding in the closer's role after taking over from an injured Scott Downs, while middle man Shawn Camp — unlike Jesse Carlson and Brandon League — showed improvement from a year ago. In July, Toronto released struggling former closer B.J. Ryan, who was never the same after saving 38 games in his first season with the Blue Jays in 2006.
Coming off a stellar 2008 in the field, led by first baseman Lyle Overbay, third baseman Scott Rolen and Scutaro, the Blue Jays followed up with another fine performance.
Despite the absence of Rolen, who was traded to Cincinnati at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, Toronto managed to finish atop the AL with a .988 fielding percentage. The major-league average was .984.
Only two Blue Jays finished in double digits in errors, led by Edwin Encarnacion, who arrived in the Rolen deal. He posted 11 miscues, followed by Scutaro (10). Eleven others had four or fewer errors, including regulars Vernon Wells (one), John McDonald (three), Overbay (two) and Lind (one), who split time in left field and designated hitter.
Hill, who had shown gradual improvement in two-plus seasons prior to 2009, made many highlight-reel plays at second base and was charged with just seven errors in 158 games this season.
New, er, old hitting coach Gene Tenace was the toast of Toronto for April and May as the Blue Jays offence stood among the best in the game in many offensive categories.
Despite poor plate performances by Wells, Overbay and departed outfielder Alex Rios — who was claimed off waivers by the Chicago White Sox in early August — Toronto finished fourth in the AL in home runs (206, sixth in batting average (.266), sixth in runs scored (794) and seventh in on-base percentage (.333).
Hill and Lind led the way. Hill, who missed most of last season because of post-concussion symptoms, was named the AL's comeback player of the year for 2009 after establishing career highs with 36 homers, 108 runs batted in, 195 hits and 103 runs.
Lind, who showed the potential of developing into a .300, 25-homer player 88 games a year ago, exceeded those expectations in his first full season in the majors. The fourth-year Blue Jay topped the team in average (.305), RBIs (114) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.932).
Wells, on the other hand, offered little in the way of offence at the same time his seven-year, $126-million US contract kicked in. The centre-fielder even enjoyed a rare healthy season, but delivered a .260 average, 15 homers, 66 RBIs and 17 stolen bases in 158 contests. That compares to .300, 20 homers and 78 RBIs in 2008.
Rios, a two-time AL all-star who is guaranteed $58.7 million US over the next five seasons, hit .264 with 14 homers, 62 RBIs and 19 steals in 108 games with Toronto this season.
Cito Gaston appears to be on more unsettled ground after a story surfaced in Baltimore in the final week of the season about reported problems players have with the 65-year-old skipper. Those who went on the record described the problems as "communication," an "old-school" style of managing and "negativism."
Still, the Blue Jays managed to win nine of their last 13 games under the two-time World Series champion, despite a three-game sweep at the hands of Baltimore on the final weekend.
Gaston did get plenty of mileage out of a young starting rotation and has a career 809-760 record with Toronto, along with one year and about $2 million US left on his contract. His future with the team will be decided when Paul Beeston, who has been interim CEO since last October, introduces his permanent successor, perhaps by the end of the playoffs.
The Blue Jays' late-season success in the win-loss column wasn't enough to save general manager J.P. Ricciardi, who was fired on Oct. 3 after eight straight seasons without a playoff appearance.
Under Ricciardi's watch, Toronto had four winning seasons (the best in 2006 at 87-75) but never seriously challenged for a division title or wild-card spot.
Most of the criticism towards Ricciardi's regime has been aimed at the contracts he signed, including Wells, Rios, Ryan (five years, $47 million US), Frank Thomas (two years, $18 million) and pitcher A.J. Burnett, who was allowed to opt out of his five-year, $55-million pact after three seasons, and is now with the New York Yankees.
Ricciardi also made headlines everywhere prior to the July 31 trade deadline for publicly putting Halladay's name out to any takers willing to meet his price.
Former assistant GM Alex Anthopoulos, 32, takes over on an interim basis and becomes the second Canadian GM in Blue Jays history. The Montreal native worked closely with Ricciardi over the past few seasons, collaborating on many trades and signings.
Team Grade: C
In April, we said the best-case scenario for 2009 would have the Blue Jays battling for the wild card, but plenty had to go right. Sure, the starting pitching thrilled for a period and shows promise, but you can only go so far with four rookies.
A 17-37 record against division rivals and losing more games than not by one run doesn't help, either.
As for the bullpen, it battled injury (Downs) and ineffectiveness (Ryan, League) while the offence desperately requires a big bat in the middle of the order and much better production from Wells and Overbay, if they last the winter in Toronto.
Until next year.