Not any more

Baseball fever hits Toronto

In Canada on August 11, 2010 at 08:56

The exploits of the Toronto Blue Jays this past weekend have created quite the stir throughout the city, so now is as good a time as any to pull on a pair of rose-coloured glasses and try to discern the future.

The Blue Jays have been one of the best teams in the major leagues since the all-star break, their .682 winning percentage (15-7) heading into Tuesday’s game against the Boston Red Sox second only to the .708 clip (17-7) of the Minnesota Twins.

Despite their solid play of late, through 111 games the Blue Jays still find themselves among the bottom feeders in the race for the American League wild-card playoff spot – in fifth place, 8 1/2 games in arrears of the front-running Tampa Bay Rays.

Back in 1989, when the Blue Jays mounted a stirring surge under a rookie manager by the name of Cito Gaston to win the AL East by a couple of games, the Blue Jays were in third place at this same juncture of the regular season, just three games out of top spot.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the keeper of the stats for Major League Baseball, Toronto’s task this season is formidable.

Elias reports that since 1969, teams to make the postseason after being at least 8 1/2 games out of a playoff spot some time in August number four: the 1969 New York Mets (10 games out); the 1973 Mets (11 1/2); the 1978 New York Yankees (nine); and the 1992 Atlanta Braves (9 1/2).

But imagine if you will – and this is where those glasses will come in handy – that the Rays continue their recent downhill slide and are effectively taken out of the wild-card playoff race equation.

Granted, that’s a pretty big if.

But after getting swept in three games over the weekend by the Blue Jays, the Rays looked very ordinary. Before rebounding to beat the Detroit Tigers 6-3 on Monday, Tampa’s losing skid had grown to five games.

With Tampa out of the picture, the Red Sox would be the team to catch for the wild-card and the gap between Toronto and Boston was only 4 1/2 games prior to Tuesday’s tilt.

Regardless of how you might want to look at it, Blue Jays centre fielder Vernon Wells said the team has the makeup to make things interesting over the remaining two months.

“I think we have that confidence, that arrogance about ourselves that we think we can play with anybody,” Wells said.

Wells, who was kept out of Tuesday’s game to give his big right toe an extra day of rest (he dislocated the toe in a 1-0 win over the Rays on Sunday), said he has noticed the Blue Jays have started to become somewhat of a conversation piece in Toronto again.

He said the weekend obviously helped, when rookie J.P. Arencibia made his big splash with two home runs and four hits in his debut on Saturday followed by pitcher Brandon Morrow’s flirtation with a no-hitter on Sunday.

“You walk around and a lot more people are paying attention to what’s going on, which is obviously a little different than it has been the last few years,” Wells said. “As I’ve said all along, it’s our jobs to get the fans back interested in what we’re doing. We continue to play like this and that will happen.”

Gaston said a strong finish is important as it will help will drive up attendance and allow the Blue Jays the financial means to continue to field a competitive team.

“When I first joined this organization we were pretty much sold out at the old ballpark all the time and came here and did the same thing,” Gaston said. “And it gave us a chance to keep our players unlike Montreal who were unable to keep their players. And it also gave us a chance to go out and get some players.”


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