There's an old sports adage that I like that says, as a team, you are what your record says you are.
With that in mind, there's no denying that the Toronto Blue Jays finished as a fitting .500 club this season. The team was within two or three games of the break-even mark for virtually the entire campaign before settling at 81-81.
Back in early March, I wrote a column and broke down Toronto's win-loss totals from the last five seasons to try to project how they might fare in 2011. The goal was to try to see how the Blue Jays could rise from the 85 wins they earned in 2010 to a playoff-challenging 90.
Now, it's time to see how close the math was.
Between 2006-10, it took an average minimum of 89.6 wins to capture the Wild Card in the American League. Tampa Bay squeaked in this year with 91, so we know that Toronto's 90-win goal toward a playoff spot was on target.
Toronto flipped from 39-33 against the A.L. East a year ago to 33-39 this year, a loss of six games and the primary difference in their win drop from 85 to 81. Take away their 12 wins over Baltimore, and the Blue Jays finished 21-33 against the big three of New York, Boston, and Tampa Bay.
I had projected 36 wins against the East for Toronto, based on their 181-181 combined record against the division over the previous five seasons.
The other projections were for 19 wins against the Central division (they had 18) and 20 against the West (22).
So again, Toronto came extremely close to matching their recent performances against the rest of the league. But the drop against their own rivals proved costly.
I wrote in March that all things being equal, it was Toronto's 18-game performance against the National League that might provide the best chance to move closer to the 90-win plateau. Toronto had played just .466 ball in the five years prior, and were 7-11 in 2010. There was room for improvement, especially when the rest of the AL generally feasted on the Senior Circuit.
But once again, Toronto was mediocre against NL competition. Toronto dropped two of three to the Phillies, Pirates, and yes, the 106-loss Astros. Plus, they were swept by the Atlanta Braves. Only three victories over the Cardinals in St. Louis and a couple of wins over the Reds helped the Jays finish 8-10 overall.
The American League has won the interleague season series against the National League each year since 2004, and extended that record again in 2011 with a 131-121 record. The AL played .520 ball against the NL, while the Jays were .444. The Jays lost five games in the standings to the Yankees (13-5 in interleague play) and four to the Rays (12-6).
Even the Angels, who were in the Wild Card race until the final week of the year, finished 13-5 against the NL and 86-76 overall. Their five-game margin over Toronto could be attributed to interleague play by itself.
So all in all, the Blue Jays matched, nearly exactly, their five-year trend in almost every category. Their drop against the East accounted almost single-handedly for their four-game slide in total wins.
I projected the Blue Jays for an 83-79 record in March. Sports Illustrated predicted 77-85, one game behind Baltimore for last in the division (Toronto actually finished 12 games ahead of the Orioles). Yahoo! Sports had Toronto at 78 wins.
The goals for 2012 are pretty clear when it comes to the competition. Assuming that Toronto will have a hard time making up ground in 72 contests against the ultra-deep AL East, the Blue Jays must make a dent in their other 90 games. A nine-game improvement back toward the 90-win plateau may be a lot to ask, but a five-game rise against the National League will go a long way toward making it possible.