The Home Stretch
It doesn’t take too much to have the wind change directions.
For the Toronto Blue Jays, four days off in July seemed to be just enough to do that.
They started off the month of July with a pair of wins, but then a series sweep by the Oakland Athletics and series opening loss to the LA Angels started a skid for the Jays. They won take the second game of the three-game series with the Angels, but lost the third game 8-7.
After a day off they defeated the Tampa Bay Rays, but then lost the final two games of the three-game series to go into the All-Star Break having lost eight of their 12 games to start July.
Since coming out of the break their bats have come back to life, with some exceptions of course. They have moved back up the standings in the American League East, sitting 2.5 games back of Baltimore heading into Tuesday’s game at Fenway Park against the Red Sox.
They have won eight of their 11 games since the break, but more importantly they picked up most of those against division rivals.
Their first series win against the Rangers kick-started their offence again, but that was shaken with a 14-1 loss to the Red Sox at home. Three straight wins led into another series opening loss, the third in three series. This time it was to the New York Yankees.
The loss was also significant because it was their 17th straight loss at Yankee Stadium.
Losing to the Yankees, regardless of where it is, has been somewhat of a regular occurrence for the Toronto organization in recent years. That is what makes winning their next two games a big deal.
Neck and neck with the Yankees in the AL East for second spot, they not only snapped their losing streak in New York, but in the third game moved ahead of the Yankees after tying things up in the second game. Oh, and they won the series, which was shocking to say the least. Maybe Jays fans just have their expectations low, but there was a lot of excitement over that series victory.
That jubilation shouldn’t be too surprising though since the team hasn’t finished second or above in the AL East since 2006. They also haven’t made the playoffs since 1993, which most Canadians remember as an important year for the organization – the second straight season they won the World Series.
Getting back to today – on Monday Toronto opened their series on the road in Boston with a 14-1 win, a full week after losing the series opener at home by the same score. Every divisional series is important to the big picture and they are proving they are contenders this season in one of the toughest divisions in baseball.
Unfortunately for the lone team north of the border they still have two months of baseball left to be played. August baseball hasn’t always been kind to the Jays. Maybe it’s because it’s the hottest time of the year? The saying “if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen” seems like it might apply here.
Regardless of the past, this year they need to sustain what they have been doing as of late and with all but seven series against division rivals they can’t afford to lose because of the greater consequence.
That of course has been an issue for the team, but they didn’t dip too much this season when they lost Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind in late May and early July to injury.
On Monday Jose Reyes left the game early, when the team had a significant lead, because his shoulder has been giving him issues as of late. That could pose a problem in the coming weeks if he is out of the lineup, but Toronto has also shown this year they have a team that isn’t completely devastated by injury.
Their pitching has continued to keep them in games, for the most part, so as long as the return of their success at the plate and strong pitching continues they should be in a good position come September to make a push for the playoffs.
Most would hope for more than just making the playoffs, but considering it has been since 1993, fans will likely take a move in the right direction as opposed to missing out on October baseball again.
Christopher Cameron is the sports reporter for The News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NGNewsChris. His column runs weekly on Wednesdays.