Once upon a time, there was a man named Joe Carter. He wasn't a Canadian. But he's responsible for the greatest moment in Canada's sports history -- non-Stanley Cup/Olympiad division.
In 1993, Joe Carter hit a home run. In a lot of ways, it's a home run that never came down. It is to the history of Canadian baseball what Bill Mazeroski's home run is to the history of baseball south of the Ontario border.
It was a home run that ended the World Series and made the Toronto Blue Jays the champions of baseball. Followed by an untimely 22-year intermission.
But turn up the lights. Intermission over. Not only are the Blue Jays about to reacquaint themselves with October, but they're also about to ...
Wait! Before I finish this sentence, I need to issue an official disclaimer -- for the Blue Jays' sake and yours:
The prediction you are about to read may prove to be highly inaccurate. It comes from a man whose prediction record is so historically pathetic, he is known as the Cleveland Spiders of forecasting. So do not place any large wagers based on this prediction. ESPN and the author are not responsible for any losses that may result. But we promise to apologize profusely.
All righty, now that we've got that out of the way, where was I? Oh, that's right:
Not only are the Blue Jays about to reacquaint themselves with October, but they're also about to ... (insert gasp here) ... win the World Series.
I've actually been thinking this for a while now. Since it's the time of year when I'm required to put my annual (incorrect) prediction down in writing, I wanted to assure myself that other people were also thinking along these lines.
So I polled 20 baseball executives and asked them which teams they thought would get to the World Series -- and which team they thought would win it. You should know that six of those execs work for teams currently in the playoffs. So I let them answer a slightly different set of questions. I asked them to pick the World Series rep from the other league. And I asked them which team they feared most in their league.
Here is how they voted:
American League favorite (or most feared team):
Blue Jays, 18*
Yankees, 1 (Survey conducted before Yankees lost CC Sabathia)
National League favorite (or most feared team):
"Winner of the wild-card game," 1
Abstained from making NL pick, 1
World Series winner:
Blue Jays, 11
Obviously, the six execs working for playoff teams weren't required to pick a winner. As for the other 14? I think it's pretty clear they see a powerhouse lurking in the northern provinces!
Here's what was even more compelling: They weren't just picking this team based on metrics or scouting reports. There's also a distinct vibe about the Blue Jays these days that even their opponents have picked up on.
"They've got that fear factor," said one AL exec. "Not many clubs have that right now."
"I'll take Toronto to win it all," said an NL exec. "They just seem to have that 'it' factor."
If you've watched this team play for like two innings lately, you can't miss that "it" factor. However, even longtime nonclairvoyants like me understand you can't pick a team to win the World Series without strong, well-thought-out arguments that contain some actual facts. So you'll be shocked to learn I've dredged up a few of those, too. Here we go:
They can mash a little
We could spend the next 7,000 words ruminating on the Blue Jays' incredible offensive onslaught. They lead the major leagues in runs, homers, extra-base hits, walks, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS. There's more, but those are the highlights.
To merely say they "lead" the sport, however, doesn't do them justice. They scored 897 runs this season. No other team even scored 800. They wound up putting up 127 more runs than the next-best offense in baseball. That puts them on a list with some of the greatest teams of all time.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only four other clubs since 1900 had that huge a gap over the next-best lineup in baseball. There were two of the most legendary teams ever -- the 1927 and 1936 Yankees. Then there were the 1953 "Boys of Summer" Brooklyn Dodgers, a team that won 105 games (in a 154-game season). And there were the 1931 Ruth/Gehrig Yankees, a juggernaut that nearly hit .300 as a team (.297). And that's it.
You'll notice, by the way, that all of those teams did it when there were just 16 teams in the major leagues. To do it in an era with 30 teams? Unbelievable.
OK, so it's true that in the wild-card era, just four teams have won the World Series after leading the big leagues in runs scored (2013 Red Sox, 2009 Yankees, 2004 Red Sox, 1998 Yankees). Does that sort of history even apply when you're talking about a team that out-rakes the rest of the sport by this many runs?
"Their offense is so good," said one NL exec. "They're going to decimate some poor pitching staff. When I look at October, I keep thinking: 'What pitching staff would be able to come out of there alive?' With some of these staffs, by the time you go through Toronto, your pitching staff will be exhausted."
Their rotation is underrated
Here it comes, your American League ERA leaderboard since the All-Star break (minimum 60 innings):
Anybody out there see what we're getting at? Of course you do. Three of those four -- Price, Estrada and Dickey -- are going to be trotting to the mound to start games for the Blue Jays this October. And that doesn't even include their biggest X factor, Marcus Stroman, whose record in four starts after a miraculous return from reconstructive knee surgery is a cool 4-0, with a 1.67 ERA and 0.96 WHIP.
"I've thought this all year," said the same NL exec quoted above. "The single biggest injury on any team this spring was Marcus Stroman. So if he can be this effective in October, he's a total game-changer."
"For a long time," said an AL exec, "I thought their rotation was their biggest issue. But with Price, and with Stroman pitching the way he's pitching, I don't worry about it anymore. I know it's a small sample. But boy, does he look good."
"Nobody even mentions Dickey," said an NL exec. "But he's back to what he was a few years ago, the way he's mixing the hard and the soft knuckleball. It's not going to be fun to face Price and Stroman, and then have to face that knuckleball. And then you get Estrada, with the plus-plus-plus change-up. All those different looks can really mess with you."
Let's ignore, for a moment, the fact that this team allowed eight unearned runs in one inning in its final game of the season. That was kind of unattractive. It was also about as unrepresentative of how the Blue Jays play as any game all year.
They'd allowed eight unearned runs in the previous month before that. Baseball Prospectus ranks them first in the major leagues in defensive efficiency. If we use Baseball Info Solutions' defensive runs saved as our guide, six of the eight position players they could potentially start in this postseason are above-average defenders. Three of them (Kevin Pillar, Josh Donaldson and Ryan Goins) are significantly above average. You could make strong cases, with other metrics, that Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin should join them.
"Defensively, since they added Tulo, you're talking about Tulo, Goins, Pillar and Martin up the middle," said an NL scout. "That's classic plus-plus defense up the middle, to go with that bludgeoning offense. They're built almost like those Orioles teams from the '70s: Pitching, defense up the middle, and they can hit three-run homers against you all night long."
They have this year's MadBum
History tells us it is possible to win a World Series without one of those ultimate aces who just blitzes through every lineup he faces, start after start after start. History also tells us this:
Well, Price wouldn't be the only name we could nominate as this year's Madison Bumgarner. But he'd be right up there.
He's 9-1, with a 2.31 ERA and 1.01 WHIP, since he arrived in Toronto. The Blue Jays are 9-2 in games he's started. One of the losses came in an Aug. 14 start against the Yankees in which he left in the eighth inning with a lead.
All but two of those starts came against teams that finished .500 or better. He gave up three hits or fewer in four of them. Only once did he rack up fewer strikeouts than innings pitched. He faced 296 hitters and allowed just four home runs -- and zero stolen bases.
"If you go through the video of any game and try to pick one thing he didn't execute in his delivery, you won't find it," said a scout who covered the Blue Jays down the stretch. "This guy makes fewer mistakes than any pitcher you'd put under the microscope this whole season."
What makes that doubly impressive is that Price is dominating these days with a whole different arsenal than he used to -- throwing more cutters, two-seamers and changeups, but still getting big swing-and-miss rates with his curve and four-seam fastball.
"He varies things so much, it's almost impossible for the hitter to figure out how he's going to work you," the scout went on. "And remember, this is a guy who used to throw 110 fastballs out of 115 pitches. What he does so well now is, he doesn't give you a comfort level to shrink the strike zone. If anything, he makes you expand it. He's got hitters looking for every pitch, in any count in any spot. So if you try to figure him out, he's going to kill you."
You'll probably hear a lot this week about Price's 0-5 record as a starter in his postseason career. When I ran it by the same scout, he said: "I could care less what his track record is. This guy has pitched the biggest games of the year against the best teams of the year. I wouldn't even enter that into his equation."
So what could possibly go wrong?
Congratulations. You've reached the point in this column where it's time for me to brilliantly hedge my bets. Of course, stuff could go wrong. It always does, for pretty much every team I've picked in my life. I just have that knack.
So I should mention there's lots of concern out there about the Blue Jays' bullpen, especially the age and inexperience of the closer, Roberto Osuna (age 20), and one of his primary setup men, Aaron Sanchez (23). It's always possible this lineup won't score against good pitching in October -- "but to be honest," said one NL exec, "I don't see that happening."
It's also possible somebody else will just outplay this team -- get on one of those classic postseason rolls and never stop rolling. We had votes for the Cubs, Pirates and Royals to do exactly that. We had other execs who thought this would be the year that Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke wouldn't let the Dodgers lose. One exec said he sees "some magic" in these Mets.
The Yankees could overmatch any lineup with the back of their bullpen. The Astros are playing with house money. The Rangers are "really scary right now," said one exec. Those six execs who picked the Cardinals raved about their depth, leadership, way-too-underappreciated pitching and their unrivaled array of guys who "just know how to win."
I could easily have doomed any of those teams by picking them. They can thank me later. Instead, I'm going with my gut, going with the flow of the execs I surveyed and going with one more powerful trend.
The Blue Jays finished with an astounding plus-221 run differential. No one else in the AL was within 110 of them. According to Elias, they're the fifth team in the division-play era with that large a gap over the next-closest team in their league. The other four all reached the World Series. Just the 1995 Indians failed to win it.
I see absolutely no reason that the 2015 Blue Jays can't go where all of those teams went. Except for one reason, of course:
They've now been officially picked by me to win the World Series. So they're doomed.