It is never good to dwell on what ifs in sports, it can be too torturous and it doesn't get you anywhere. I am sure Toronto Maple Leaf and Chicago Cubs fans can attest to that.
At the same time, it is interesting to imagine what could have been if only to use it as hope for the future. As any Toronto sports fan can tell you, hope is a necessary fact of life, or else they might have given up long ago.
So what if you were to look at the Blue Jays 2011 season and contemplate a few things going differently?
What if Brett Lawrie didn't get injured just before getting called up earlier in the season and spent most of the year playing third base for the Blue Jays? In a 136 at-bats, Lawrie is hitting .301, with 41 hits, 9 HRs, 23 RBI and 7 stolen bases. It is a relatively small sample size, but what if you put that, or a similar projection into the Blue Jays lineup since June?
That would have removed some of the at-bats of Edwin Encarnacion, John McDonald and Mike McCoy and would have kept Jose Bautista's production coming out of right field.
It is of course difficult to say whether Lawrie could have maintained his impressive pace over the course of two thirds of a season, but the addition of another capable bat in the lineup could have paid dividends.
What if the bullpen continued its strong form from the early part of the season and saved an average number of games? The Blue Jays bullpen has had 55 save opportunities this season, but has only saved 24 of them. It is unreasonable to expect for the Jays to hold the lead every time, but what difference could it have made it they had a consistent closing and weren't third in the league with 24 blown saves?
What if they had the league average in save percentage at 68 percent, rather than their dismal 56 percent, that could have meant an extra 13 wins so far in the season. That would give them a 89-62 record, good enough for second in the AL East, two wins ahead of Boston.
What if Ricky Romero wasn't the only consistent starter during the course of the season, or Jo-Jo Reyes was replaced earlier in the year by Henderson Alvarez or another young prospect? Reyes started 20 games for the Blue Jays this year, with a 5-8 record and a 5.48 ERA.
It wouldn't necessarily be the case that another prospect or a different starter could have done better than Reyes did, but if it was a prospect, they would at least have had more time to learn at the big league level.
Romero also leads the team with 15 wins, but the next closest pitcher is Brandon Morrow at nine wins and Carlos Villanueva at six wins. Last year, the Blue Jays had four starters with 10 wins or more, with Brett Cecil managing to get 15 wins.
But the expected progress in the rotation never really materialized in 2011, except in Romero, and the Blue Jays are left wondering whether they have the rotation they expected.
If Morrow and Cecil can once again make strides forward in consistency next year, and a combination of Henderson Alvarez, Kyle Drabek and Dustin McGowan can claim the fourth and fifth spots with strong showings, then the Jays rotation will once again be impressive.
As mentioned at the start, it isn't worth it to examine lost chances, unless it gives an opportunity to correct mistakes and draw hope for next year. The Blue Jays seem to have the players in place on the field, now it is up to the management to make the necessary adjustments to the pitching. If this is done, the Blue Jays will have a chance to play much more meaningful baseball in September next year.