TORONTO (Oct. 4) — The moral of the story is simple and somewhat a cliché: Be careful what you wish for.
Moments after the Maple Leafs kind of fluked their way to a playoff elimination of the Tampa Bay Lightning, euphoric fans in the square outside Scotiabank Arena began chanting “we want Florida!” Loudly. And, for several minutes. The roar was understandable. The following night would offer up Game 7 of the opening–round series between the Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins — the latter having eclipsed regular–season standards in the National Hockey League for victories (65) and points (135). Florida finished 43 points behind Boston and 19 in arrears of Toronto. Neither had the Leafs upended the Bruins in a playoff clash since 1959. So, of course the denizens were chanting for a Panthers upset, which occurred at the TD Garden. Twelve nights later, Toronto fans were ruing their choice, as Matthew Tkachuk and the south–Floridians annihilated the Leafs in five games.
On Sunday of this week, amid the absurd spectacle of the Blue Jays enjoying a champagne party at Rogers Centre for losing two of three to Tampa Bay and backing into the last wild card playoff spot, baseball fans around here were decidedly in favor of avoiding the Rays and matching up against the weakest of the Division winners (Minnesota) in a best–of–three series. Which, all–too predictably, ended after just two matches at Target Field — the visitors having scored one whole run in 18 innings. The Jays couldn’t hit a beach ball with runners in scoring position all season. Nor could they in meekly bowing to the Twins. Again, Toronto sports fans got their wish. And, watched forlornly as Tampa Bay was destroyed in consecutive games on home turf by the Texas Rangers.
IT’S ALL OVER: ANOTHER LOST BLUE JAYS SEASON ENDED AROUND 7:45 p.m. EASTERN AS OUTFIELDER DALTON VARSHO STRUCK OUT AT TARGET FIELD IN MINNEAPOLIS. SPORTSNET IMAGES
On one hand, the similarity between the Maple Leafs and Blue Jays is uncanny. Both clubs have gifted players that cannot perform when it matters. There is also a marked difference among the teams: at least the Blue Jays stunk for six months with runners at second and third base, merely continuing their ineptitude in two playoff matches. The Leafs, conversely, performed to (or beyond) standard during the regular schedule… only to choke once the pressure mounted against Florida. As they’ve done every year in the Auston Matthews–Mitch Marner era. Should it be of even minimal surprise that the stubborn moguls on Bay Street are running it back for an eighth consecutive season with the Corpse–4? Does anyone reading this honestly expect a different result next spring?
Blue Jays fans are calling for the head of manager John Schneider after the preposterous removal of starting pitcher Jose Berrios against the Twins. Berrios tossed only three innings, walking one and striking out five. It was a bizarre repeat of Schneider yanking Kevin Gausman in Game 2 last October against Seattle with Toronto leading, 8–1, and two out in the sixth inning. The bullpen collapsed historically and the Jays were bounced by the Mariners. These nearly identical calls, however, cannot be pinned solely on Schneider, who receives far too much “input” from general manager Ross Atkins, an analytics geek that has no comprehension of the heart of a baseball player. If the advanced metrics say it’s time for the pitcher to leave, good ol’ Schneider follows the script.
Neither the manager nor the general manager should return after the latest Toronto sports fiasco.
WILL THE BLUE JAYS REPLACE THEIR CURRENT MANAGER (RIGHT) WITH HIS BENCH COACH, DON MATTINGLY (LEFT)? OR, WILL ROGERS CLEAN HOUSE AFTER ANOTHER PLAYOFF DEBACLE?
The playoff narrative for the Blue Jays and Maple Leafs never changes… because the teams never change. They nibble around the periphery every year, but retain the nucleus of a roster than cannot get it done. Demonstrably and repeatedly. With the Leafs, it’s nearly comical. The same spineless cast authors the same result every year over the span of nearly a decade… yet the tall foreheads in ownership and management are frighteningly oblivious. “This team is different,” they claim each Autumn, without a smidgen of evidence… or legitimate hope.
The Blue Jays keep banking, to no avail, on Vladdy, Bo and George. Skilled performers that might succeed in a different circumstance. But, not as part of the same line–up. Ditto for Marner, Matthews, William Nylander and John Tavares with the Leafs. You don’t have to be a devoted follower of baseball or hockey to figure this out.
Even a casual fan knows when a particular group cannot elevate performance.
But, again, nothing changes here in the Big Smoke. Neither the bodies nor the end result.
Aren’t you growing weary of it?