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Season of expectations ends in disappointment

Year featured thrilling 11-game winning streak, but Toronto fell out of contention

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' 2013 season began with an almost unprecedented amount of hype following an eventful offseason, but in the end, the club once again fell well short of its postseason ambitions.

Toronto became the center of attention across baseball when the club made a pair of blockbuster trades with the Marlins and Mets. When the Blue Jays added a couple key free-agent signings, it was supposed to result in their first postseason appearance since 1993.

The Blue Jays found themselves crowned the winner of the offseason by the majority of experts and Las Vegas even had the club as the odds-on favorites to win the World Series. But in the end, the big names on paper didn't translate to more wins on the field, as Toronto finished with a disappointing 74-88 record and a last-place finish in the American League East.

The problems began in Spring Training and carried over into the season when a slow start in April and May derailed the season. There was an 11-game winning streak in June, but outside of that two-week span, the club couldn't string together consistent success.

Most of the issues can be tied back to the rotation, which was supposed to be the club's strength, but instead turned into its biggest weakness. Along the way, there was also a series of devastating injuries and disappointing results from a large group of players that previously had proven track records of success.

Here's a look back at the top moments from the 2013 season and some explanations for why the season didn't unfold the way most people expected:

World Baseball Classic: This is one of baseball's marquee events, but the timing couldn't have been much worse for the Blue Jays. With new faces in camp, the hope was that Toronto would be able to use Spring Training to integrate the recent additions and build a winning atmosphere. Instead Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, R.A. Dickey and J.P. Arencibia were among those who left camp to represent their countries. To make matters worse, Dickey struggled at the Classic, while Lawrie suffered a significant injury while playing in an exhibition game for Team Canada.

Reyes injury: The Blue Jays got off to one of their worst starts in franchise history, but there was still plenty of hope that things would turn around, at least until Reyes got hurt. Reyes suffered a severely sprained left ankle while stealing second base during a game against the Royals on April 12. Toronto already was three games under .500 at the time of his injury, and things only got worse when he missed the next 2 1/2 months. An emotional Reyes had to be taken off the field in a cart, and in a lot of ways that image was representative of everything that went wrong during the early stages of the season.

Munenori Kawasaki: Reyes' production is almost impossible to replace, but the Blue Jays found a silver lining with the emergence of infielder Munenori Kawasaki. In an otherwise disappointing season, the energetic Kawasaki won over both the fans and his teammates while filling for Reyes at shortstop. Kawasaki's numbers were far from impressive, but he was able to work a lot of deep counts and kept the mood light in the clubhouse. The highlight of Kawasaki's season came when he hit a walk-off double off Orioles closer Jim Johnson on May 26.

Eleven-game winning streak: The Blue Jays struggled all year to play contending baseball, but there was a period of time when it appeared as though the club could do nothing wrong. Toronto used a series of strong pitching performances from Esmil Rogers, Chien-Ming Wang, Mark Buehrle and Dickey to seemingly jump back into the race by going undefeated from June 11-23. During the stretch, Toronto even moved past Tampa Bay in the standings, but the two teams then went in opposite directions, as the Blue Jays dropped out of contention with a slow finish to the first half, while the Rays captured one of the AL Wild Card spots.

Starting pitching: It's no secret that a strong starting staff is the key to any team with hopes of making the playoffs. That was one of the main reasons why general manager Alex Anthopoulos went all in last offseason by acquiring Dickey, Buehrle and Josh Johnson to bolster his rotation. The expectation was that the trio would combine with incumbents Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero to form one of the best starting fives in baseball. Unfortunately for Toronto, Romero struggled in Spring Training and began the year in the Minors. Johnson got hurt before the end of April. And Morrow's season was over by the end of May because of a forearm injury. The end result saw Toronto's starters finish with the third-lowest innings total (899 1/3) and the second-worst ERA (4.81) in the Major Leagues.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB.
Read More: Toronto Blue Jays, Josh Johnson, Munenori Kawasaki, Mark Buehrle, Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey