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Blair: Silver linings amid a Blue Jays’ season of gloom

Toronto Blue Jays president and chief executive officer Paul Beeston had a message for Alex Anthopoulos on Sunday morning. You wanted to be playing in meaningful games in September? Well, here we are: Game 162, with a playoff berth at stake.

"Not for us, though," Anthopoulos said. "But for Tampa Bay."

There will be recriminations for the Blue Jays' 74-win season, beginning this week when Anthopoulos, the Blue Jays' general manager, and manager John Gibbons go over the team's coaching staff. So let's find the silver lining to 2013, shall we?

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Attendance: The Blue Jays drew 2,536,562 fans to the Rogers Centre, an increase of 436,899, which was second-largest in the majors and the most fans they've drawn since 1997, when attendance was 2,589,297. Anthopoulos said this should settle the debate about whether Toronto is a big-, medium- or small-size market.

"This is a large-market club," he said. "If we were where Tampa Bay is right now, we'd have drawn more than three million."

Not only has Rogers Communications and Rogers Media taken a hands-off approach to the club's payroll, there is in fact a good chance it could increase as much as $20-million for 2014.

Anthopoulos sounds wiser: Sunday, the GM spoke about needing to "change our view of defence on artificial turf," and while Anthopoulos didn't mention Josh Johnson and Melky Cabrera by name, the fact they came from outside the organization and finished the season on the disabled list seemed behind his comments that the organization needs to "manage risk a little more."

In other words, act like a big market and not take fliers on players or pitchers with dodgy histories of health. Pay a premium for health when it comes to free agents or trades.

Brett Lawrie sounds wiser: Anthopoulos won't close the door on moving Lawrie to second base, but it will take the acquisition of an all-star-calibre third baseman for that to happen.

This much is clear: the frenetic, hyperactive Lawrie has smoothed some rough edges. He admits the obvious: the game is coming slower to him.

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Lawrie has been a much more productive hitter in the second half, but it's the decrease in his strikeouts that might arguably be the most positive individual statistic on the entire team. Lawrie had 37 strikeouts in 148 at-bats in the first half and had 31 in 258 at-bats in the second half.

R.A. Dickey loves Toronto: The knuckleballer sure sounded after his last start on Friday as though he were convinced he'd made the right decision signing an extension after the Blue Jays acquired him in a trade with the New York Mets. "Next year, we won't have the World Baseball Classic, which means I can take my normal time getting ready," said Dickey, who finished 14-13 (4.21) with 2242/3 innings pitched. "I'm not upset I came here. I knew this was going to be a ginormous challenge and that's one of the reasons I signed here."

Whether it was finally getting over his back injury, which made it difficult to vary the speed of his knuckler early, or figuring out how to pitch in the American League East and the Rogers Centre, Dickey's second half was better than his first. He shaved more than an earned run off his earned-run average (4.69 to 3.56) and increased his strikeouts-to-walks ratio (from 1.96 to 3.54). He could be happy winning in Toronto; so could Jose Reyes, who said Sunday that he "couldn't wait" for 2014.

Bullish on the bullpen: Considered the team's weakness going into the season it turned into the Blue Jays' strength. Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar went to the All-Star Game; Casey Janssen converted 34 of 36 save opportunities and Sergio Santos's slider was one of the team's September highlights. Not only did the bullpen's performance over 5522/3 innings (third-most in the majors) make it easy for Anthopoulos to give Gibbons his public vote of confidence, it also gives Anthopoulos options in the off-season trade market.

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