Smoak's rise, Stro's show highlight '17 season

Smoak's rise, Stro's show highlight '17 season

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays entered 2017 with grand aspirations of making the postseason for the third consecutive year. The worst start in franchise history and a seemingly endless list of major injuries changed all of that in a hurry.

Toronto surprisingly bounced back from an 8-17 April with a strong run in May, but the early struggles put the Blue Jays in a hole and left very little margin for error the rest of the way. There were more lows than highs in this season, but that doesn't mean everything went against the Blue Jays.

Here's a closer look at some of the top storylines and moments from the 2017 campaign:

Smoak the Vote
When the Blue Jays signed Justin Smoak to a two-year contract extension worth $8.5 midway through 2016, it was widely panned by the media and fan base. Less than a year later it turned into one of the best bargains in all of baseball. For all its faults, 2017 will also be remembered as the year that the slugging first baseman finally lived up to all of the hype.

Smoak entered the year as an afterthought, but he quickly became an integral piece of Toronto's lineup. He set a new career high in home runs before the first half was over and made the All-Star team for the first time. This was the player many people expected to see when he was taken in the first round of the 2008 Draft, but it wasn't until his eighth season as a professional that all of the pieces came together.

Stroman fans six, goes deep

The Stro Show
Marcus Stroman's season began with a strong run for Team USA that led to MVP honors at the World Baseball Classic, and he never looked back. While Toronto's rotation was unable to live up to the preseason hype, Stroman was the one constant that the Blue Jays could rely upon every five days. He reached 200 innings for the second consecutive year and became the undisputed ace after opening the season as Toronto's fourth starter.

Stroman posted the fourth-lowest ERA at home in franchise history and never allowed more than three earned runs in back-to-back starts. He also earned some bragging rights in the batter's box. The former Duke University second baseman came through with a pinch-hit double against the Cardinals on April 25 and later hit an opposite-field homer in a game against the Phillies on May 18.

Pearce's walk-off grand slams

The walk-off king
The most entertaining week of the season came in late July and it was because of Steve Pearce. The veteran left fielder became one of three players in Major League history to hit two walk-off grand slams in the same season. The feat had not been done since Pearce's former hitting coach Jim Presley hit a pair of walk-off grand slams in 1986. The only other player to do it was Cy Williams, and that came all the way back in 1926. No player had ever done it in four days until Pearce.

To put the record into perspective, there have only been seven players in Toronto franchise history to hit multiple walk-off homers in the same season. Jesse Barfield, Joe Carter, Jose Cruz Jr., Eric Hinske and Kendrys Morales did it twice, while Josh Donaldson hit three in 2015. Pearce's second walk-off homer came on July 30 and it also capped the biggest ninth-inning comeback in Blue Jays history as Toronto stormed back from a six-run deficit.

Must C: Coghlan's acrobatic leap

The giant leap
Toronto's team motto in 2017 was "Let's Rise," but Chris Coghlan took that to an entirely new level during a game against the Cardinals on April 25. Coghlan helped secure a 6-5 victory with one of the most acrobatic "slides" the game has ever seen. The scene was a tie game in the seventh inning when Coghlan tried to score from first on a double by Kevin Pillar. The throw arrived in plenty of time and catcher Yadier Molina appeared to have Coghlan out on arrival, but the Blue Jays utility man clearly had other ideas.

Instead of trying to slide around the tag or run through Molina, Coghlan jumped into the air and made a headfirst dive toward the plate. Molina was caught off guard and partially ducked while Coghlan soared over his head and had the presence of mind to slap the plate on the way down. It wasn't quite Vince Carter over France's Frederic Weis from the 2000 Sydney Olympics, but it may have been baseball's version.

Must C: Bautista's memorable day

The end of an era
This season was almost assuredly his final one in Toronto, and Jose Bautista will leave town with his name all over the Blue Jays' record books and as the man responsible for one of the most iconic moments in franchise history, thanks to his bat flip heard 'round the world during the 2015 American League Division Series vs. Texas.

Bautista's 2017 season was a disappointment, as he set a single-season record for the most strikeouts by a Blue Jays player, but that won't take the shine away from everything he accomplished in this city. Bautista ranks second in franchise history in home runs, third in RBIs, sixth in hits and third in OPS. Alongside Edwin Encarnacion, he helped changed the reputation of the franchise and helped end a postseason drought that was 22 years in the making.

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.