Blue Jays' fate should be determined over next 20 days
Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista. (Postmedia Network)
Twenty days to change a season.
That’s where the battered, frustrated, in need of a trade — or three — Blue Jays find themselves after the all-star break.
Somehow, in this season of so much injury, confusion and despair, there is still hope.
Somehow, the never available American League East is available.
But it needs to happen now. Over the next three weeks.
When the baseball schedule plays in their second-place favour. When the schedule offers the greatest possible challenge for the first-place Baltimore Orioles. When there are 17 games to make a run, a legitimate run, with so many key pieces missing.
This is the time.
This is the opportunity.
It has to happen now or this becomes just another footnote of a season gone wrong, a possibility lost in time.
Over the next 17 games, the Blue Jays play the worst pitching team in the American League, followed by the worst hitting team. That’s the first seven games, the first three against the last-place Texas Rangers at the Rogers Centre starting Friday night; the next four against the last-place Boston Red Sox, again at home.
The Jays need to be minimum 5-and-2 in those games. Minimum. The Rangers can’t pitch. The Red Sox, if you can believe this, can’t hit.
And then it’s off to three games in New York, where the Jays never win and the Yankees starting staff is on the disabled list. The Jays need a victory in the three-game series at Yankee Stadium. That would make them 7-4 in the first 11 games. And should they accomplish that much — which really isn’t too much to ask of a team that has a healthy Mark Buehrle, and a healthy R.A. Dickey.
How often is it that the Jays have the superior pitching in the Bronx? How often, if ever, has that ever been the case the past 21 years?
After that, it’s three games in Boston, four in Houston, finishing up against the Astros, who are 14th in the AL in pitching, 14th in hitting, (though improving with some young talent). But they also have the 14th best record in the league.
The bunching couldn’t be kinder to the Jays.
If they can go 4-3 in those seven road games — and 5-2 if you’re really greedy — they finish the 17 games that matter with either a 10-7 record or 11-6 mark.
They must do that.
Because Baltimore starts its second half with three games in Oakland against the best team in the AL, then three games in Anaheim against the best hitting team in the AL and then four games at Seattle, where the Mariners have a 3.16 team earned run average.
That’s 10 games on the road against the best of the West. Can they be better than 3-7 in those 10? Maybe 4-6?
Then the Orioles come home for a three-game series against the Angels, a three-game series against Seattle and a makeup game against Washington.
It is conceivable that all 17 of those games are against playoff teams. Going 7-10 might be as well as the competitive Orioles can be in the stretch of games.
So, if the O’s manage a 7-10 record and the Blue Jays end up 10-7 — both of which are enrtirely possible considering the circumstances — then, on Aug. 5, when the Jays return from for a three-game series against Baltimore, the two teams could — and maybe should be — one game apart.
And that’s right about the time Edwin Encarnacion should be back in full form. And Adam Lind should be back and playing. And we still don’t know when or where Brett Lawrie emerges.
This scenario is as much predicated on possibility as anything else. But the Jays need to perform now.
They need to get a little something out of the callups and fill-ins and also-rans who now checker their lineup.
But more than that, they need Buehrle and Dickey to be close to great. Same for Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera. They need Colby Rasmus to emerge from a season of slumber.
And they need it all now.
Bautista sounded like a frustrated fan at the all-star break, and really, who could blame him?
He doesn’t like playing on turf here. He doesn’t like the Jays injuries. He wants Alex Anthopoulous to make a trade. He wonders why there are no callups who can make a difference to the everyday lineup.
He wonders about all that knowing full well he turns 34 in October, knowing this is the fifth great season for him as a Blue Jay, but really the first, considering the conditions, in which the club realistically has an opportunity to be something, to do something.
This is the prime of Bautista’s career. It’s unlikely he’ll be better at 35 or 36 or 37. His biological baseball clock is ticking.
It isn’t often a schedule divides up between two teams the way it has divided between the Jays and the Orioles. Boston and Tampa Bay are out. The Yankees, barring some transaction magic, don’t have enough pitching to finish the year right.
This is a two-team race in the AL East.
And, with 20 days to determine if the race is down to one.