TORONTO -- The Blue Jays might have fallen short in their quest for the World Series, but the 2016 regular season will still go down as one of the best years the franchise has seen.
Toronto arrived at Spring Training with expectations of making the postseason. Anything less would have been a major disappointment, especially for a team with 10 players eligible for free agency at the end of the year.
The Blue Jays snapped a 22-year postseason drought in 2015, but that run didn't begin until the end of July. It seemed to be over almost as soon as it began, leaving Toronto fans wanting more. Enter '16, which turned out to be a year-long odyssey.
Despite the talent and expectations, nothing seemed to come easy for this team. The Blue Jays were in first place for weeks at a time, yet they nearly fell apart at the end of the year, only to rally at the last possible minute. It might have been frustrating to watch at times, but it also set the stage for some historic drama.
Here's a look back at five of the biggest storylines from Toronto's 2016 season:
The September swoon
The Blue Jays opened September with a two-game lead in the American League East. The postseason seemed like a foregone conclusion, and most of the talk surrounded setting the rotation for an eventual best-of-five series. But that changed as the offense went missing down the stretch.
Toronto entered its final regular-season series needing to take at least two of three on the road at Fenway Park. After a loss in the series opener, but J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez came through with back-to-back quality starts. The Blue Jays finished September having scored the fewest runs of any team in the AL, but on a dreary afternoon in Boston, none of that seemed to matter.
The Bat Drop Jose Bautista earned his signature moment in 2015 with The Bat Flip, and the following year, it was his friend and longtime teammate Edwin Encarnacion's turn to take center stage with The Bat Drop. All of the lows from Toronto's tumultuous season seemed worth it when Encarnacion unloaded on a poorly located fastball from Ubaldo Jimenez and sent it soaring deep into the Rogers Centre seats for a walk-off Wild Card Game victory vs. the Orioles.
With one swing of the bat, Encarnacion ensured that the Blue Jays would be moving on and their dream of the World Series would live for at least another week. Encarnacion also rightfully took his spot alongside Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar and Bautista in providing a lasting legacy.It just so happened to come in what will ultimately be his final season with the club.
Let's face it -- 2016 would have felt incomplete unless the Blue Jays and Rangers had an opportunity to settle their differences in the postseason. The animosity between them only added to the drama of an AL Division Series -- Bautista's bat flip in 2015, Rougned Odor's right hook that led to a benches-clearing fracas in May and a war of words through the media set the stage for one of the most highly anticipated matchups in recent memory.
In the end, the Rangers weren't much of a match at all. Toronto rolled over its rivals by outscoring Texas, 22-10, en route to a three-game sweep. The sides remained cordial on the field, but it was hard to deny that advancing to the AL Championship Series felt even more special for those inside the Blue Jays' clubhouse when it came at the Rangers' expense.
The Cleveland factor
The Rangers-Blue Jays series was the one everybody wanted to see, but a matchup between Cleveland and Toronto was almost as fitting, albeit for entirely different reasons. For Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro, it was a homecoming of sorts and an opportunity to show that the product he left behind in Cleveland was something that should be celebrated.
Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins obviously would have preferred to eliminate their former associates, but Toronto's struggles at the plate returned vs. an Indians staff that dominated from the bullpen. There was a glimmer of hope after a victory in Game 4, but the Blue Jays could not find a way to send the series back to Cleveland as they fell, 3-0, in Game 5.
The end of an era
Toronto's top priority after being eliminated by the Indians was trying to re-sign Encarnacion. They made an initial offer at the end of the World Series and then a second one prior to the start of free agency worth $80 million over four years. Encarnacion's camp had a few days to decide, but when the deal was not accepted, the Blue Jays moved quickly to strike a deal with designated hitter Kendrys Morales instead.
The writing seemed to be on the wall for Encarnacion's departure, but the two sides did remain in touch after that. Parameters of shorter-term deals were discussed because the Blue Jays felt they could no longer do the $80 million offer, and Encarnacion's agent Paul Kinzer continued to search elsewhere. In an ironic twist, Encarnacion ultimately chose the Indians, who offered a guaranteed $65 million over three years.
It was a bizarre way for this saga to end. Encarnacion wanted to stay and the Blue Jays wanted to keep him, yet it didn't happen. In the end, the Blue Jays felt they had maxed out with their $80 million guaranteed offer, and they believed Encarnacion was determined to get more. Kinzer didn't believe the Blue Jays would move on so quickly, and in the end he called their bluff while deciding to wait for more offers. Both sides potentially lost out as a result, but it still won't change the way Encarnacion is remembered in this city. His place among the franchise greats is secure.
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.