At 22-17 the Blue Jays are right in the thick of the AL East race for the top, and while it’s still early, they have a significant opportunity coming up in the schedule over their next ten games.
That’s because the Blue Jays are finally going to have a stretch of games against teams in their own division. That’s not to say they haven’t played them at all over their first 39 games, as they’ve seen the Yankees six times, but otherwise they’ve only played Tampa three times, Boston twice, and they’ve yet to see the last place Orioles.
They still won’t play the Orioles for the first time until June 18th, but the next 10 games features the rest of their division rivals, and also the teams that are realistically in the playoff race. Each roster has plenty of upside, and their fair share of flaws too, and it’s led to the four teams being within just 2.0 games of each other, with the Red Sox at the top of the pack at the moment at 25-17.
Starting with the Red Sox, I’m looking forward to the Blue Jays finally getting a chance to derail what’s been an unexpectedly successful start to the year in Boston. At the beginning of the season I predicted they would finish fourth in the division, and I still believe that’s how things will ultimately shake out, but I have to admit they’ve been better than I expected. Arguably the biggest surprise has been the starting rotation, which was supposed to be their weakness, and I can think of nothing better to rectify that situation than for a hot-hitting Jays lineup to put them in their place.
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In an ideal world they’ve have both George Springer and Rowdy Tellez at their disposal, but neither will be available against the Red Sox, or maybe even across the 10-game stretch as a whole. That said, there is still plenty of firepower on Charlie Montoyo’s lineup card, and even if Eduardo Rodriguez, Garrett Richards, and Nick Pivetta have been strong to start the season, I still like the match-up for the Blue Jays.
After that they’ll welcome the Rays for four games, and it’s always better to play them anywhere other than Tropicana Field. They’ve found a way to push their record to 23-19, but they haven’t looked like the same calibre of team we’ve watched over the last several years. The biggest difference is their starting pitching has taken a step back, and that works for this powerful Blue Jays lineup. A four-game series will be a good early-season test of how the two teams line up right now.
At the end of the ten-game AL East stretch will be a trip to New York to play the 22-18 Yankees. We’ll see what the health of their roster looks like after another week passes, but at the moment their IL features regulars like Giancarlo Stanton, Gleybor Torres, Aaron Hicks and Roughned Odor, but Luke Voit did just return from a long stint on the sidelines. The Yankees still have a ton of talent on their roster, but they’ve struggled to produce, and to stay healthy. Some of their bats have come around a fair bit more recently like Judge and Stanton for example, but the rest of their outfielders have badly scuffled to open the year, and both catcher and first base have been black holes for the Yankees other than the time DJ LeMahieu spent there, but that was to make room for Odor at second. Voit’s return will help a lot, but he won’t make the difference on his own.
Having said all of that, I fully recognize the flaws with this young Blue Jays roster. Their bullpen is a revolving door or injuries, and the excitement about having Springer on the roster has died for now, at least until he finally returns. However, they have been playing very well lately, and even if we’re still less than 25% of the way through the schedule, this feels like an important opportunity.
There’s only so much they can control, but if the Blue Jays can finish this 10-game stretch with a winning record, they could very well find themselves at the top of the AL East standings. That would be a pretty enviable place to be, especially because the roster should be getting healthier and more dangerous by then. It won’t spell the end of their playoff hopes if it goes the other way, but it’d be a heck of an early statement to make among the division contenders.