The Toronto Blue Jays are reeling following a series sweep at the hands of the Seattle Mariners, leaving them 7.5 games out of the AL East lead and 3.0 games out of the AL Wild Card. This fall from first place has not been quick and painless, but a sad and rehearsed backwards shuffle. Inch by inch, play by missed play.
With 40 games remaining in the 2014 season, the 90 win mark that once seemed likely will now require a 27-13 finish. This 90-win plateau is by no means a guarantee of playoff baseball, but acts as a goal that the Blue Jays will need to approach down the stretch. With the likely return of Edwin Encarnacion and off days today, Monday, and next Thursday, the Toronto Blue Jays must finally drop their excuses and lift up their long-lost bats.
Outside of the upcoming series with the Chicago White Sox and a September series with the Chicago Cubs, Toronto will match up exclusively against division rivals and contending teams. To overcome a 7.5 game deficit in the AL East would be somewhat miraculous, but is not impossible. The Blue Jays have a lineup fully capable of lengthy win streaks, which has unfortunately also birthed their ability to string losses together. The most important games of the Blue Jays home stretch will be their 6 meetings with the Baltimore Orioles (Sept 15-17, 26-28). If the Blue Jays were able to go 5-1 in these games, 4 games would be gained. Could Toronto eliminate the remaining 3.5 deficit over the course of their other 34 games?
The AL Wild Card race may be a more achievable goal, but the Blue Jays are one of six teams within 6 games of the second Wild Card position. One of these teams will undoubtedly catch fire down the stretch, at the very least. Will that team be the Toronto Blue Jays?
Despite their uninspiring play and invisible offence of late, the Blue Jays maintain a healthy starting rotation and are about to reunite Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Adam Lind at the heart of their order. Many fans have viewed Toronto’s injuries this season with a “woe is us” mentality, but some of the teams competing with the Blue Jays have been hit just as hard, and often more frequently.
The Blue Jays can now begin to field a similar lineup to what catapulted them into first place in their torrid month of May. There are no more excuses, and there are no more reasons why Toronto can or should continue to fade from contention. If (and when) the Blue Jays take losses in their upcoming games, it will be simply because they did not play the game of baseball well enough on that night. No more, no less.
Daunting as it may sound, Toronto’s lineup paired with a mostly competent pitching staff provides a chance. How strong of a chance? That is for 25 men dressed in blue to decide. The Blue Jays are driving uphill with a tattered map from 1993, but they have two healthy hands on the wheel and 40 miles to catch up.