Jays face tough final stretch

All 15 of the Blue Jays' remaining games are against teams with winning records. Toronto kicks off...

All 15 of the Blue Jays' remaining games are against teams with winning records. Toronto kicks off its final stretch on Tuesday night in Boston against the Red Sox. (Reuters)

Bob Elliott, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:39 PM ET

Alex Anthopoulos remembers the night well.

Seated amongst the scouts at Olympic Stadium on

Sept. 29, 2002, he was charting Montreal Expos right-hander Tim Drew’s first start of the year.

“I mentioned to the scout beside me how Drew was having a nice game. It may have been Larry Corrigan who was with the Minnesota Twins then, I’m not sure, but the more-experienced scout said, ‘Take a look at the lineup, the averages, this isn’t a real major league lineup.’”

Through the majesty of baseball-reference.com we can do so nine seasons later: 

Reggie Taylor (.254), Jose Guillen (.242), Todd Walker (.299), Adam Dunn (.249), Russell Branyan (.230), Wily Mo Pena (.214), Travis Dawkins (.133) and Kelly Stinnett (.231).  

Ken Griffey, Aaron Bone and Juan Encarnacion had the night off. No Barry Larkin, Austin Kearns or Jason LaRue, either. 

“You are always leery of September competition,” the Blue Jays general manager said on Monday afternoon.

The Jays continue their September run — their 18th consecutive without reaching October and post-season play — Tuesday night at Fenway Park. They have 15 games remaining; all 15 against teams with winning records.

The first 12 are against teams hoping to secure an October spot: The Red Sox (two games), the New York Yankees (three), the Los Angeles Angels (four) and the fast-closing Tampa Bay Rays (three). Then, the Jays finish with three in Chicago against the White Sox. 

After the Red Sox lost to the Tampa Bay on Sunday, their fifth straight defeat and 10th in 13 games, David Ortiz said it was time to panic.

“This schedule should help in our evaluation process, we should be getting every team’s ‘A’ lineup,” Anthopoulos said. “This is as good as a September schedule a team could have.

“We’re constantly trying to evaluate the way they react. You don’t want to make too much of one series. We were swept in New York, then took three of four from Boston. Does that mean X over the course of six months? You can’t overweigh one series.”  

A year ago the Jays were three games over .500. They wake up Tuesday one game above sea level. 

The GM’s biggest surprise to this point? 

“Jose Bautista,” Anthopoulos said. “The average is better. I didn’t see him hitting .300. I didn’t think he would improve defensively. He’s better in all aspects of his game. He was already outstanding, it’s why we signed him, then he went out and improved.”

Bautista is hitting .305 with 98 RBIs. He leads with 41 homers, a .443 on-base mark, is slugging .627 and an OPS of 1.070.  He also leads with 114 walks in 134 games. The right-fielder missed 13 games due a stiff neck and the birth of a child. A year ago he was hitting .264 with 42 homers and a 110 RBIs. 

On the other side of the coin are Tuesday’s starter Brandon Morrow and lefty Brett Cecil. 

Morrow is 9-10 with a 5.12 ERA, striking out 177 in 153 innings in 26 starts. A year ago Morrow was 10-7, with a 4.49 ERA with 178 strikeouts in 146 1/3 innings in 26 starts. 

“Morrow started well, had a good July, then struggled, we’ll see how he finishes his final three starts,” Anthopoulos said. “Right now Cecil’s ERA is comparable, he started out slowly and went to (triple-A) Vegas.”

Cecil is 4-9 with a 4.37 ERA in 18 starts. A year ago he was 12-7 with a 4.12 ERA on his way to leading the Jays with 15 wins. This season he made 12 starts at Vegas. 

“A career progression does not go upward in a straight line,” Anthopoulos said. “Russ Adams had a nice first year for us. Aaron Hill started out hitting .180 one year, was about to be sent out and then came on. Travis Snider and Adam Lind came up and had to go down. Roy Halladay was sent out.

“There are growing pains with a young team. Some might regress, some might get hurt. You can’t be naive or stubborn to think they will all progress at the same rate.”

The Jays take the field at Fenway Tuesday night with a 0.1% chance post-season play.

The earliest date they were eliminated was Sept. 3, 1995.


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