TORONTO - As important as the last eight games have been in breathing life into the Blue Jays’ season, it is the next 14 games that will determine if the revival of hope is real.
In their deepest, darkest moments of April and May, when they fell as many as 11 games under .500, the mantra of the Blue Jays was to get back to .500 as a starting point. Nobody was going to take them seriously until that happened.
Now they’re within a game of that goal and, while that is a positive achievement, the only thing that will make it worthwhile is to keep chewing away at the heels of the teams ahead of them in what is still clearly the toughest division in baseball.
The imagined power shift to the west in MLB has not happened as predicted. The Dodgers and the Angels, both wealthy but neither wise in how they’ve spent, are both struggling. The AL East is still populated by the big dogs. Every team except Toronto is above .500 and the Jays need just two more wins to get to that point.
With the Orioles in town for three games this weekend, followed by a seven game road trip to Tampa (three) and Boston (four), the Jays have a tough two weeks ahead of them. If that’s not enough, once they come back from that trip, they host the Tigers for four games.
“That’s a challenge, but we welcome it,” said manager John Gibbons prior to Wednesday’s sweep of the Colorado Rockies. “These are the teams we have to beat.
“For the most part in our division we have held our own except against the Yankees. It’s a good division. But where we are right now, we can’t afford to take a step back.
Even though their overall record was a shambles, the Jays have played Baltimore, Tampa and Boston virtually even. Against the Orioles the Jays are 3-4 so far. Against Tampa, they are 4-3 and against Boston, they are 4-5. Against the New York Yankees, who Toronto doesn’t face again until late in August, they are an anemic 1-8.
“Those teams built a nice bit of padding in one direction and we went down in the other direction and dug a hole,” said Gibbons. “That’s why, even though we’re playing good ball, we’re still trying to climb out of this thing.”
In Gibbons’ assessment, one of the reasons why a rebound was achievable, despite the injuries and the under-achievement of a significant number of players, was the attitude that stayed on an even keel.
“For the most part, the attitude was good all the way along. There was never any sense of panic. We just weren’t winning and we weren’t playing very well. I never sensed that anybody was about to snap or about to go off on somebody else,” said Gibbons. “We have a lot of veteran pros on this team who have seen it all and been able to overcome a lot of adversity.
“We’re not out of the woods yet. Not by a long shot. But we’re playing good ball, we’re getting the kind of pitching we were hoping for from the start and we’re doing what it takes to win. I think the guys are having fun again and winning will do that for you.”
For the most part, the Jays have scored runs at an acceptable rate of about 4.5 runs/game and they’ve been doing it consistently since the start of the season. Only recently, though, has the starting pitching gotten into sync. At one point near the end of May, Toronto starters as a unit were sporting an ERA of 5.57, which would have put them on track to be the worst in the team’s history.
During this current win streak, Toronto’s starters have an ERA of 1.50 over 53 innings and the bullpen has been even better, allowing just four runs on the streak.
“We’ll enjoy it while we can,” GM Alex Anthopoulos was saying prior to Tuesday’s win. “One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn is to not get caught up too much in the highs and the lows. You have to expect both over the course of a 162-game season.
“As good as things seem to be right now, I can guarantee we’ll hit another patch in the next 90-some games where we lose a few in a row. It’s just the nature of the game.”
HOW GOSE IT? NOT WELL
An inexcusable ninth-inning brain cramp by Anthony Gose has landed the Blue Jay prospect in Buffalo Bisons’ manager Marty Brown’s doghouse.
With two outs in the ninth Wednesday, the Bisons leading 4-3 over Gwinnett, and runners at first and second, Gose failed to handle cleanly a single into centre field. That allowed the tying run to score. When Gose failed to get the ball back to the infield in timely fashion, the runner who had been on first base alertly ran home with the game-winning run.
“For the life of me, I’ve had some players as a manager who have really been challenging," Brown said to reporters following that game. "Anthony is one of the most talented players I’ve had as a manager. But sometimes it’s difficult because he doesn’t apply that. It’s nothing we can’t work through.”
Thursday afternoon, in the series finale, Gose was excused from the lineup with his behind nailed firmly to the bench.
“What do you think? Yeah, he needs a day to think,” Brown told the Buffalo News.
Seems Gose has been struggling with his focus or perhaps more accurately, his ego, since returning to Buffalo from a 13-game stint with the Blue Jays in which he hit .304.
“We have to get his head removed from a place it shouldn’t be,” Brown told reporters after the Wednesday game which cost Ricky Romero what would have been his first win in his last 12 starts (minors and majors), a streak stretching back to 2012.