Status as a Cool Young Team in baseball, like youth itself in the wider world, is precarious.
For starters, it isn’t even entirely clear how Cool Young Team status is granted in the first place. Being both young and good is not in and of itself sufficient, as the young, good, but incredibly boring Tampa Bay Rays have repeatedly demonstrated. Rather, Cool Young Team status seems to stem from an alchemic mix of talent, duende, and unmet potential. Having speed and flashy defense is a major plus. Possessing a certain amount of unearned cockiness is a must. An average hair-length in the top quartile of the league is a helpful, though not always necessary, precondition.
But it’s that unmet potential that may be the most important factor in conferring Cool Young Team status. By definition, potential takes us out of the present moment, as mundane and limited as it is. Potential deposits our imaginations into the future. It allows us to dream, and it’s dreaming that makes youth so damn fun in the first place. In many measurable ways, your life when you reach middle-age may be better than it was in your twenties – you might have more money, a bigger place to live, and deeper relationships with people who need you. But you also know exactly what your future looks like at that point, and there’s a good chance it looks like spreadsheets and cube farms. How can you not pine for youth in the face of that?
The Toronto Blue Jays are now in their second season as a Cool Young Team. But this status may not hold, depending on where their potential takes them. If they meet their potential in the form of a World Series championship, their Cool Young Team status will be immediately revoked; championship teams are too much of a threat to be cool. If they fail to win the World Series, but make a legitimate and entertaining bid to do so, they’ll retain their status for one more season, barring any personnel changes that fundamentally alter the make-up of the team. But if, like last season, they fizzle out – either failing to make the postseason entirely, or making an early, uneventful exit – then they’ll risk losing their status in the worst way possible. Coming into 2023, their unmet potential will begin to feel more like a burden than anything else, and a burden is just about the least cool thing in the world.
The 2022 season has not gone exactly as planned for the Toronto Blue Jays. Vlad Guerrero has slipped from being the single best hitter on the planet, to merely being really freaking good. Bo Bichette’s development has completely stalled, owing to his lack of plate discipline. (Any and all publications who placed Bichette ahead of Xander in their shortstop rankings should immediately repent with prayer and good works.) And Jose Berrios, signed to be a rotation-leading ace for years to come, has fallen apart.
Last season, the Jays had a built-in excuse for their under-performance. They were forced to play their home games in three different ballparks in two different countries, essentially making the whole season a six-month grind of a road trip. Despite this, they still managed the fifth-best run differential in all of baseball and looked poised to take the AL East by storm in 2022. It hasn’t happened.
It’s possible that the Jays got a little too comfortable, a little too assured of a level of success they hadn’t yet reached. If so, they better find an edge soon. You can only do so much dreaming before it’s time to translate those dreams into reality. Youth is fleeting, and so are championship windows.
Tuesday, 7PM: Ross Stripling v. Josh Winckowski
Josh Stripling is no one’s idea of either cool or young, but he’s been one of the saviors of Toronto’s rotation in the face of Hyun-Jin Ryu’s season-ending injury and Berrios’ collapse. At age 32, he’s having the best year of his career with a 134 ERA+. His success seems to stem from the fact that he’s used his changeup more than ever before, and he’s seeing a big jump in his groundball rate as a result. A number of Sox players have hit him well though, with Xander Bogaerts (6-13, 1 HR) and Kiké Hernández (4-9, 1 HR) leading the way.
Winckowski will try to bounce back from the worst start of his career, a 5-inning outing against the Pirates that saw him surrender 7 hits, 2 homers, and 6 earned runs.
Wednesday, 7PM: Jose Berrios v. Rich Hill
Berrios’s season has been a disaster. His groundball rate has plummeted, and he’s giving up more homers than ever before, mostly off his four-seamer, which he’s throwing more this year at the expense of his sinker.
As for the Pride Of Milton, at this point we all know what we’re getting from Rich Hill. If he keeps the offense in the game, it’s a solid outing.
Thursday, 7PM: Kevin Gausman v. Kutter Crawford
Gausman’s late-career resurgence has continued this year, and he leads the league with a 2.05 FIP. He’s already faced the Sox four times this season, and has been good-to-great in each outing, surrendering just 4 runs over 26 innings.
A solid season from Kutter Crawford was mugged by reality in his last time out against the Orioles, as he gave up three homers in less than four innings of work.