Tagged: 2015 Blue Jays

The year in review

 

2015 is now mere hours away from completion and while the year has had its ups and downs, for us Blue Jays fans it has to be considered a success. A long, patiently waited for success. All we can hope for is that Rogers and Mark Shapiro will make a resolution to make 2016 even better and jump through that window of contention while it’s still open.

Granted it was disappointing that Toronto ended up bowing out in the championship series, but all-in-all, the first 90+ win year and first playoff entry since magical 1993; the league MVP and highest attendance in decades more than compensates. The 2015 season showed us several important things. Jose Bautista can compete and deliver in the big games just as well as meaningless ones. Alex Anthopoulos did have, or at least had developed, a good sense of talent. Marco Estrada and Chris Colabello are ample proof of that, not that AA’s prowess benefits the team anymore, sadly. It also showed that John Gibbons can certainly punch his weight as managers go. Perhaps no Connie Mack or Billy Martin, Gibbons kept the good ship Jay upright through difficult early months and then showed he had the know-how to take a good team and run with it. He is another illustration of a shrewd Anthopoulos move which looked a bit dubious at the time.

the year also showed that Toronto , and Canada in fact, love baseball. The 3 million fans in the stands, the high TV ratings coast-to-coast, the fact the team was more searched for domestically on Google than Trudeau, Jenner or ISIS all speak to the excitement the Jays generated when the fans were finally given a team to be excited about. This bodes well for the future if only the owners pay attention and try to build on that excitement rather than did up the skeletons of JP Ricciardi’s playbooks and “five-year plans.” What’s more, the season showed that baseball loves Toronto as well. No longer can we Canucks think about complaining that baseball and its people don’t pay attention to the blue-and-white because of their location. Having a player voted MVP- ahead of Golden Boy Mike Trout- and recipient of the Hank Aaron Award , not to mention the fact that the league-sponsored ESPN special on the best plays of the season (which ranked 3 Toronto plays among the ten best of the year in all of baseball) put that myth to rest. In the eyes of MLB, Toronto is every bit as valid a city, and organization, as New York, Chicago or St. Louis.

So now we look ahead to February and Dunedin, and that opening Sunday in Tampa a few weeks later. It goes without saying that now with David Price gone and a weaker bullpen, the Jays hopes don’t look quite so bright. The Red Sox and Yankees have gotten better- as much as I dislike Chapman from everything we hear about him, he will certainly give NY a bullpen to rival Kansas City’s- while Toronto has at best trod water. All is not lost however; remember Toronto was the best in the division; Boston particularly have a lot of catching up to do to compete. Merely standing pat is disappointing to fans but may still yield a team that can win. If Marcus Stroman develops into the pitcher they think he can be, or JA Happ continues to pitch like he did in late summer in Pittsburgh, with the bats of Bautista, Donaldson, Encarnacion and crew this team could still better their 93 wins and take their playoff experience and grow from it – as the Royals did in 2015.

As a reminder and encouragement to those who feel all is lost before the season begins, I offer a little look at early 2015 and how things were expected to play out. I picked Boston to win our division and Toronto to finish right at .500. I also thought the White Sox and Mariners could win their divisions. I might be loopy therefore, but so too are the more experienced pundits. Athlon Sports springtime annual picked Boston, Detroit and LA Angels as division champs and predicted a Washington World series as did so many others. USA Today got ten out of 30 clubs in the right position at year’s end, although they did manage to pick our team to win the AL East. Furthermore, of their panel of 7 expert writers , not one predicted KC or the Mets to win their division let alone meet in the World Series. Likewise, none of the 7 predicted Josh D for MVP or got either of the Cy Young winners. It all goes to show, predicting and speculating is fun, but there’s a reason they actually take to the diamond for 162 games.

2016 should be a good one! Enjoy the ride, and while I’m at it, let me wish you a happy new year away from the ballpark as well as when at it!

 

Royals Crown Paves the Way for ’16 Jays to Reign

It’s been said Kansas City was the model for the early Blue Jays franchise to model themselves after. No wonder, the Royals had jumped into competitiveness quickly after their 1969 birth. By the time the Jays came about, KC was an increasingly respectible team with the likes of Steve Busby, Paul Splittorff, Al Hrabrosky and a young buck called George Brett. The early Jays tried to emulate the KC formula of smart draft picks, quality starting pitchers supplemented with a few “character” player free agents to add a bit of bop and leadership in the clubhouse- and of course, powder blue jerseys!

A lot has changed in the 35+ seasons that have passed and both teams have a couple of World Series banners to fly proudly. But the Royals can still be a bit of a role model for the Blue Jays, which is why we Toronto fans can join KC in celebrating this year’s World Series.

Not only did the Royals quick disposal of the Mets in the World Series allow for us to make a reasonable claim to be the second-best club in all of baseball this season (after all , we put up more of a fight against the best team than the NL Champs did) but it also showed a clear path for Toronto to follow for 2016. With a little guidance from that roadmap and a bit of luck it can be the Jays enjoying the champagne and a parade downtown this time next year.

Significantly, Toronto is in good shape to follow the Royals’ lead by adhering to the old Dear Abby-ism “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” KC realized they came within a few pitches of winning it all last year and did their best to return largely the same team to the field this year. Manager Ned Yost and most of the coaching staff were renewed. While they did lose their top starting pitcher (James Shields) to free agency and aging de-facto captain Billy Butler, the primary core of the team returned en masse- Guthrie, Ventura as starters, Moustakas, Cain, Hosmer, all-star catcher Perez, as well as the bullpen trio of Davis, Holland and Herrera. While they perhaps had to sacrifice a little leadership with the departure of Shields and Butler, they made up for it with Edison Volquez (who’d been close to Shields in ’14 numbers: 13-7, 3.04 with Pittsburgh in 192 innings compared to 14-8, 3.21 in 227 innings) and upgraded at DH by bringing in Kendrys Morales who seemed to have a chip on his shoulder because of nay-sayers who wrote him off after a lack-lustre season (.218, 8 HR in 98 games). Morales responded with the second-best season of his career, hitting .290 with 106 RBI.

Like last year’s Kansas City, Toronto is poised to bring back most of this year’s squad, from manager John Gibbons through the coaches to all the significant position players (Bautista and Encarnacion had their contract options picked up today and Martin, Pillar, Donaldson are already signed or arbitration-eligible) and a good chunk of the pitching. Granted, right now the Jays may lose more than one of their starting rotation but will still have the likes of Dickey, Stroman, Hutchison, Cecil, Osuna and Loup returning. If Estrada re-signs, Toronto could be just a decent free agent starter and reliever or two away from another division title with or without David Price.

Kansas City also showed that playoff experience matters. Although last year’s team were solid and gave San Fran a good battle, there’s no mistaking the added confidence and swagger of the 2015 edition. Jose Bautista showed he can step up to the plate in pressure games, one can only hope that this fall’s run will likewise boost the Jays confidence in close games next year.

The Royals have built a club well-suited to their spacious ballpark, with an emphasis on speed and outfield. Toronto is totally different but have also built a club designed to maximize performance at Rogers Centre and other East division parks, with the home run power and solid infield defense to work on the artificial turf.

2016 will be a long grind as all seasons are, but this October suggests Toronto could be having a lot more to celebrate next fall than this. But “interim” General Manager Tony LaCava had better get to work, add the piece or two of the puzzle needed because not only the Royals give an example to pay attention to. So too do the last-place Phillies who show all too well what happens when a club stagnates and fails to take advantage of success when the window for it opens!

Did Final Week of Schedule End Jays Playoff Run Too?

As I sat and watched, fairly disinterestedly, the Royals prevail against the Mets in last night’s marathon Game 1 of the World Series, I couldn’t help but think “Toronto could have won this game, and probably in 9 innings!”. Ahh, what might have been!

There’s no shame in being the bronze medal and that’s essentially what the Blue Jays were this year- baseball’s bronze medal winners. That’s a lot better than we’d really hoped for six months back. Yet it still smarts a little, knowing how close they came to having a shot to go for the gold. A sting made worse by the way KC won the final game of the ALCS, what with a very questionable ninth inning strike call against Ben Revere topping off a fan-assisted Royals homer. Nevertheless, lose they did and there were ample chances for them to have turned around at least a couple of the KC wins. Ultimately we might have to just tip our caps and acknowledge Kansas City have it all together and might be the best team in baseball.

When looking back to what the Blue Jays could have done differently, all I can come up with was that they seemingly took their foot off the gas a little bit in the final week. That’s pretty understandable, given human nature but might have cost them the World Series they, and we fans, craved. In particular i think 2 miscues cost them badly.

First, the October 1 game against Baltimore. Having clinched the division the day before in Maryland in Game 1 of a double-header, they fielded a team of subs for the second game and lost. Understandable, even acceptable. The regulars were not only high on winning the division but tired. No harm in putting in the likes of Carrera and Pompey for the nightcap. The problem came the next day when they again sent out a team of minor-leaguers and fill-ins. Cliff Pennington hitting second and Jonathan Diaz in the starting lineup hardly inspires confidence. Not to mention the starting pitcher, Drew Hutchison, well-rested to the point of being rusty and (as well-noted) having an awful season pitching on the road. Not surprisingly, Hutch gave up four hits (one a home run) and three runs in the first and was chased from the game, requiring six relievers patched together to get through the game. Baltimore won 6-4.

To make matters worse, David Price had last pitched on the 26th, making the day his normal day to pitch. As we recall, he didn’t pitch again until the playoffs and seemed out of sorts doubtless due to having an unusual amount of time off. It’s quite conceivable that Price would have easily gone six or more innings, shut down the Orioles early and won the game.

Of course, that is 20/20 hindsight. John Gibbons addressed the issue and told ESPN “we want to win home field … we’ve been going at it hard all year. Going back and playing an early game (for the regulars) today would be like no day off. I’ve got to do what’s best for these guys.” He has a point. It was a cool rainy day, the game’s start was delayed for three hours and most of the regulars had been playing hard day in, day out for weeks. Some, like Edwin Encarnacion playing through injuries. So giving them an extra day off to rest and chill out has its merits. Besides which, Diaz and Kawasaki, two of the more questionable players in the lineup both responded with RBI singles. Had Encarnacion made his hernia worse, or David Price slipped off the muddy mound and torn a ligament, there would have been no end to the second guessing and criticizing of Gibby.

Perhaps even more questionable was the last day of the regular season. Readers here know I am a fan of Mark Buehrle but giving him the start on one day’s rest simply to allow him to try to hit a personal milestone (200 innings pitched for the 15th time in a row) was bizarre to say the least. Of course it backfired with the Rays jumping out to an early 8 run lead and as it turned out, chasing Buehrle from the game in the first, without even hitting his 200 innings. It would have been far better to send RA Dickey out to the mound to start and then, if the game seemed under control by the 6th or 7th inning, let Buehrle come in to finish it off if he felt up to it. Dickey would have been on short rest, but 3 days rest is better than one and he wasn’t slated to pitch until well into the ALDS, so he’d have plenty of time to recuperate. It was a regrettable game to give away. Granted, as it turned out KC would win that day and pick up the AL-best 95 wins but the Jays didn’t know that taking the field and still had a shot to win home field advantage throughout the playoffs. We saw how huge that would be this month.

The Royals lost their opening playoff game at home to Houston on Oct. 8 and haven’t lost in Missouri again since. The Jays won 2 of 3 against them in Toronto but were swept in KC. Had the fields been reversed, one has to feel that the Jays might have at least gotten to game 7…and could be the ones putting those Mets in their place right now.

The things that might have been. We could dwell on it, but instead, let’s look back and enjoy the memories of the most exciting and successful Jays team in a generation and look forward to another run for the gold next year!

I’ll look at some areas the team needs to address for the 2016 season next time here, but the first need is obvious- the General Manager. Rogers need to get someone in place and soon, with free agency only a week or so away and players having options that need picking up or declining. I’m as surprised as anyone to say it, but after the 2015 season, I now am fully behind the idea of bringing Alex Anthopoulos back to finish what he started. That should be Mark Shapiro’s Job 1.

UPDATE OCT.29: Well Mark Shapiro DID make it his Job 1, but in a rather unexpected way. The Blue jays now are looking for a new General Manager.

Woo-hoo!! 21 years later… Success!

The drought is over!! After 21 years of futility, we know the Blue Jays have a shot at winning it all this season!! Today’s win over Tampa not only gives them the biggest win total since 1993 but also guarantees them their first post-season berth since that year!

In coming days there’ll be time to break down the possible match-ups, evaluate Toronto’s October roster. But today is all about saying “YES!” and congrats to the team, to John Gibbons, to Alex Anthopoulos who’s shown a newfound determination to winning this year, and to all the fans back up north who’ve supported through thick and thin… but cheered harder the last couple of months!

Bring on October!!

Wow- a Late Season One That Isn’t an Autopsy!! Jays prime for the Playoffs…

How nice it is to be writing a blog at the end of August about what the Blue Jays should be doing to prepare for a World Series run in a month instead of what they did wrong and what they need to do in off-season to build a contender for the next year!

While my fingers are still crossed, it’s looking more and more likely our 21 years of frustration are coming to an end… at time of writing this, Saturday, Toronto is a game and a half in front of the Yankees for first place and have a full six-and-a-half games over the top, “non-wildcard” team. With our post-Tulowitzki record and the schedule today now offering us the same number of home games as road ones (following the great 8 game road trip that ended Thursday) it would seem the Jays really would have to have a collapse of epic, 2011 Red Sox-type to miss the playoffs.

That said, a little insurance couldn’t hurt. this late in the season, it’s unlikely “insurance” will come via trades – even though rumors are swirling about Craig Kimbrel being traded to an unknown team – so we have to look within the organization to bolster the roster for September.

Alex Anthopoulos has apparently said that additions will be few, but will be coming in September with the expanded rosters. Thankfully, a team that’s won 22 of its last 27 doesn’t need a huge overhaul but a few more options on the bench would be nice. Interestingly, Bluebird Banter suggested that only A-level Lansing is likely to make the minor league playoffs and play beyond the (unusually late Sep. 7) end of their regular season and that Marcus Stroman might end up there for a couple of rehabilitation starts.

While there’s not much wrong with the Blue Jays right now, I’d suggest the team rents a stretch limo on Sep. 7 and bring a few Bisons to the big leagues… starting with

Matt Hague – the International League’s leading hitter at .349 with 86 RBI in 125 games could provide a good power bat on the bench for pinch hitting and could give Edwin Encarnacion a day or two off to fully recover from his bumps and injuries before playoff time. Although EE’s 24 game hitting streak and headline-grabbing game today suggests maybe he’s already done that…

Dalton Pompey – the Mississauga kid didn’t really make a go of it at the major league level in April but he’s hit a decent .290 in buffalo with 15 stolen bases in 22 attempts and only 2 errors in 61 outfield games. His time isn’t now, but he could provide a speedy pinch runner if Dioner Navarro represents the winning run in the 9th inning, for instance…

Munenori Kawasaki – not having a stellar season even by AAA standards, but the popular little infielder has big league experience and provides a decent back-up middle infielder . Having only Tulo, Pennington and Goins on the roster who could really even play an inning or two at second or shortstop makes me a bit nervous (by the way, for those wondering, it seems Steve Tolleson has retired even though he’s still listed as a Bison)…

and some added arms for the bullpen. The pen has been exceptional lately, but it’s always good to have a few more people there lest an 18 or 20 inning game occur, or have starters knocked out early a couple of days in a row. My top choices for that would include…

Ryan Tepera – Ryan looked decent earlier in his 21 games with Toronto, since then he’s been pretty outstanding in 20 games with Buffalo, going 3-1 with two saves and a miniscule 1.09 ERA, 37 K in about 33 innings. Power and durability to add to the pen…

Steve Delebar – another pitcher with enough big league experience to handle the pressure of a playoff run, he’s been good this year in the minors with a 27:7 strikeout to walk ratio…

Chad Jenkins – being switched to a reliever, jays fans are well familiar with Chad and between 9 starts and 30 relief appearances, he’s 8-4 with an ERA under 3, somewhat like the numbers for …

Jeff Francis – the Canadian lefty is no stranger to big September games and is 8-3, 2.46 in 13 starts, 5 relief appearances at AAA. He’s only walking about one batter per seven innings, so he might be the perfect guy to be able to not only get tough left-handed hitters out in the 10th inning or make a spot start.

Sorry Aaron Loup and Joba Chamberlain. Despite your extensive MLB experience, recent lack of success in majors as well as in Buffalo would make me give them an early winter break and not roll the dice on having them in Blue Jays unis come playoff time.

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I was lucky enough to go see our Jays on the road this past Tuesday, when they came from behind to top Texas 6-5. It was a great night and I was given no hassles by anybody for sporting my Jays cap proudly. I estimate I saw another 40 to 60 Toronto fans “supportin’” , with a number of Bautista jerseys in the crowd as well as a few EE ones, and even an old Brett Lawrie one, as well as a new Tulowitzki blue jersey.

Being a Mark Buehrle start, the game went by rather quickly and I was happy to see there’s now a countdown clock in the outfield which keeps the between inning breaks to the designated 2:30. Those extra 15 or 30 seconds every half inning do add up to a nicer, speedier pace. It’s not as obvious at home watching on TV as it is in the stands. Another thing baseball has got right in the last few years.

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Mark Buehrle speeds things up when he takes the mound!

Hoping Dismal Years Are Toast, the Jays Are the Toast of the Town

It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas… for Blue Jay fans, that is. Of course, the best Christmas gift for a ball fan would be a World Series to savor and while there’s still a long ways to go, there’s reason for optimism. With today’s win, Toronto become the first team in over 60 years to have two 11-game winning streaks in a single season. The last one to do so, the 1954 Indians, won the AL before losing the World Series. The Blue Jays will hold on to first place no matter what the Yankees do tonight against Cleveland and it’s the latest date on the calendar the Jays have been atop the division since 1993. Get the wrapping paper ready.

One might think this season is a lot like 1992, the first year Toronto won a World Championship. There are similarities. The crew of ’92 was coming off a decent season and went into spring with two big new acquisitions, the previous year’s World Series hero, Jack Morris and the big bat of Dave Winfield. Both were brought in as free agents with hopes that they’d not only produce but instill a winning attitude among the younger players.

This year’s Jays, coming off a decent but disappointing year, were also supplemented by two big acquisitions, Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin. Again, both were brought in in hopes of seeing them not only produce on field but inspire with their attitudes and track record of winning.

As we know, Morris went on to be Toronto’s first-ever 20-game winner in ’92 and Winfield fired up the crowd and drove in over 100 runs, upping the game of the team’s noteworthy power hitter (Joe Carter) as well. Carter’s 34 HR, 119 RBI that season were the catalyst for the team’s offense and were also the second-best in each category for his career. Compare that to this year and how Donaldson is having an MVP-type campaign and is helping Jose Bautista remain among the league’s best in HR and RBI despite the frequent absence of Edwin Encarnacion in the lineup.

Significantly as well, the same as this year, Jays didn’t stand pat mid-season in 1992. At the trade deadline, they reacquired durable reliever Mark Eichorn to boost the mediocre middle-relief. More importantly, Aug. 27 they looked ahead to the playoffs and boosted their rotation by getting an established front-line starter, David Cone. It’s worth noting that after that trade, they sailed along at a 24-11 pace.

This year of course, they were much more active at the July trade deadline but also supplemented their dismal middle-relief with LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe. But they also added a star infielder and got their front-line starter a month earlier. Since the two big trades, they’ve been cruising along, losing only once and gaining some 7 games on New York in the standings.

There are of course, significant differences between the two years. The ’92 team had lacklustre middle-relievers (Bob MacDonald for instance, and future Cy Young winner Pat Hentgen who sported a 5.36 ERA out of the ‘pen) much like this year’s edition. However, the ’92 bullpen was anchored by the best 1-2 tandem in the league in Henke and Ward. The latter was the “Set-up” guy and still saved 12 with a sub-2 ERA in 79 games. That’s a little more than we’re getting out of Roberto Osuna and Brett Cecil this year.

No worries though, this season’s regular lineup is better though. The Jays , 1992-style, were good hitting but hardly world-beaters. it was a team, after all, with Manny Lee and a slumping Kelly Gruber (.229, 11 homers) playing everyday and a centerfielder kept more for his outstanding D than his hitting (and as much as I didn’t think I’d ever be saying this, in that Kevin Pillar is much like Devon White.) They didn’t have the horsepower to rack up double-digit tallies almost any night at will.

While this year’s team has had the two 11-game win streaks, the ’92s “only” managed a streak of 8 wins in a row. Both teams dominated at home; this year’s .650 winning pct at Rogers’ Centre is almost identical to the 53-28 final record of the 1992. The difference though is on the road, where the championship team managed to be just over .500; this year’s version currently sits at 25-31 on the road. More than anything else, if the 2015 Jays are to compete, they’ll have to be significantly better on their final 25 away games than they were up to now.

Not to be negative though; the ’92s topped second-place Milwaukee (there’s a trip for younger readers- yep, the Brewers were AL East rivals at one time) by 4 games. They’d have had an easier time of it had they played better against Milwaukee, but they actually went just 5-8 head-to-head. Contrast that to this year’s games against second-place New York in which Toronto is 7-2 including five wins in six games in the Bronx. Taking 7 of the remaining 10 games against the Pinstripes should all but guarantee the division win.

In retrospect, the 1992 Blue Jays weren’t all that much like this year’s. But they were the same in the things that mattered: a winning attitude, management that filled holes mid-season and a couple of hundred RBI men in the middle of the lineup. most of all, an ability to electrify and excite the whole city. Most of all, just like the 1992 Blue Jays, this year’s are turning Toronto into a baseball city again. From the covers of the Toronto Star to excited tweets from TV talking head George Stroumbolulous to crowds of 46 000 turning out on a Thursday afternoon to watch them take on Oakland, the team is the toast of the town. If this year’s can duplicate the ’92 season 19-9 rrecord after August, they will be playing post-season ball and David Price, Josh Donaldson and “Joey Bats” are going to own the city in a way no athletes have since Alomar, Carter and Winfield.

Jays would win division… if all things were equal.

The playoffs might be two months away still, but tonight’s game at Yankee Stadium should have the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Game 1 of a championship series as our Blue Jays take on the Pinstripes. The three game series won’t decide the season one way or another, nor even topple New York from the divisional lead but it will go a long ways to figuring out how the AL East will play out. The series is of paramount importance for Toronto, as will be all of the incredible 13 games they have remaining against the Bronx. However, the real pressure may just be on the home team, seeing as how the Jays are the hottest team in baseball over the past ten days and trounced the Yankees in upgrading their team at the trade deadline.

I expect the Jays to have the best record in the division from here on in, but the question is whether that will be enough to catch, let alone overtake the suprising ol’ Yanks.

We know about what Toronto bats are doing this year, how Josh Donaldson leads the majors in RBI and has already set a career high for homers; how Jose Bautista is having a “down year” but still is on pace for 110 RBI ; the hot streak Edwin Encarnacion is on and so on. Likewise, we know about the Yankees who’ve found the Fountain of Youth apparently; A-Rod’s .281 average, 24 homers and .924 OPS; how Mark Teixeira’s 29 dingers are the most he’s hit in a season since ’11 and if he holds onto his .944 OPS, that will be his best in six years. We know about their acquisition of Dustin Ackley and the respectable year Brian McCann is having.

Likiewise, we know if the Yankees are going to be beaten, a team needs to get to them early on. The bullpen duo of Bettances and Miller are close to Davis and Holland in Kansas City and they, my blue-feathered friends, are every bit the equal of Henke and Ward back in the day. Collectively, the pair have allowed only 15 ER in 93 innings and are 31 for 34 in save opportunities. LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe make the Jays ‘pen better but still not in the same category as New York’s…

Which isn’t that bad, considering that there are usually seven innings before Bettances is trotted out for the Bombers. And Toronto’s starting rotation, dare I say it, blows the Yanks away. It was better even before the Detroit deal, now it’s night and day.

I’m amazed that in a year when Cueto, Price and Kazmir changed hands and all evidence suggested that Shields and Samardzjia were there for the taking that the Yankees decided to stand pat and look towards October with a rotation anchored by Nathan Eovaldi.

Eovaldi is the Big Apple’s Drew Hutchison- his 11-2 record looks dazzling, but dig deeper and his 4.30 ERA is only middling and deeper still, note that opponents are teeing off on his pitching with a .300 average and he doesn’t look too ace-like. Neither does big CC; Sabathia apparently didn’t dip his toe in A-Rod and Tex’s Time-reversing waters. The large lefty does lead the team in innings with 123, but too many of those have been rough ones, as shown by his 4-8 record, his 5.34 ERA and the two dozen homers he’s allowed. Tanaka and Pineda are better but marginally so; Ivan Nova could end up being their best but seven games is a pretty small sample to base it on.

Contrast that with the Jays. As surprises go, Toronto’s starting pitching of late is up there with Donald Trump saying something good about Mexicans. It’s unexpected!! But it has been very solid this summer. Mark Buehrle, Mr. Reliable is destined to increase his streak of double-digit win / 200-inning seasons. With 12 W, he’s already half way there, and he only needs 52 innings more over the remaining two months. In his last 6 outings, he’s 3-1 with a tidy 2.53 ERA…which is bested by RA Dickey!

The knuckleballer’s had to deal with his share of detractors this year, and a strange lack of run support from a team leading the world in runs. His 6-10, 4.06 ERA isn’t putting him in the discussion for another Cy Young but it’s decent. More importantly, of late he’s been in top form, lowering his ERA by almost a full run in his last five games. In that span he’s been 3-1 with only 5 earned runs given up in over 36 innings. Tonight he looks to make it three starts in a row without a run allowed.

Marco Estrada has rounded into form very nicely with a couple of near no-nos and more than two ER allowed in only one of his past 9 games; a 3.40 ERA and measly .216 opponents average are the results.

If the team lacked a true #1 Starter before, they have it now in David Price. What more can you say about him that his 10-4 record, 2.45 ERA and 149K to 31 BB, his 154 innings pitched already (third best in the league) don’t? Well, there’s always that throwing out a clunker of an outing on July 28, when he was doubtless packing up his locker and wondering which direction he’d be driving, and he’s had a 1.18 ERA since the beginning of July and is averaging almost 8 innings a start.

Which leaves Drew Hutchison. Preferably in Buffalo, if i had my way. After opening day, Drew’s never really had it together but of late he’s worse. In his last 6 starts, he hasn’t pitched past 6 innings at all, and has surrendered 43 hits in just under 30 innings. His ERA of 6.67 in that period would be even worse if some of the questionable errors called against the Jays didn’t mean 6 runs he’s given up in that period have been unearned. The good news for Toronto is that with seven off days left in the sched, they may be able to skip Hutch’s spot in the rotation several times.

What’s it all mean? Well, it means that all other things been equal, Toronto should be significantly better than NY down the stretch.

Unfortunately, all things are not equal. Both teams are much better at home than on the road; New York have 31 of their final 55 games in the Bronx. The Jays have only 24 of 52 games left in the Rogers Centre. Toronto have five interleague games left on the road, New York three. Five games with EE either out of the lineup, or playing first base, is significant. Both teams have a number of games left to play against lacklustre teams, but the Jays face the other pesky birds, the Orioles, 7 times compared to New York’s three. Bottom line- the schedule favors New York.

Schedule notwithstanding, the Jays can still win it all. They have the momentum, they have the post-trade euphoric confidence, they have better hitting and starting pitching than New York. But for that to happen, they will need to deliver a decisive message in the remaining bakers’ dozen games against NY.

If the Blue Jays “time is now”, the time to start proving it is now. The post season starts in two months. The real fun begins tonight.