Jose Bautista is at his fifth straight all-star game and each time the superstar right-fielder has been asked about the second-half prognosis for his Toronto Blue Jays.
This year they are 49-47, four games behind the AL East leading Baltimore Orioles, 2.5 games back of the Seattle Mariners for the second wild card.
How does their positioning for the post-season compare with the past four years?
“It’s the best it’s been, by far,” Bautista said Monday. “Not necessarily record-wise, but momentum and the division competition. I’ve been here and our team has been hovering around .500 but it seems like in the past the division leader has taken (off) with it. This time it’s not the case, we’re certainly within striking distance. Hopefully we come back with a different mindset like we were in the first two months, shake the fact that we have some injuries and we haven’t played all that great in the last couple of weeks, get on a roll and on a positive streak right from the get-go.”
The Blue Jays headed into the all-star break having dropped 23 of their past 34 outings, a slide that’s coincided with the losses of Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie to injury. That’s thinned out a lineup that on some nights resembles that of triple-A Buffalo.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos has worked the phones looking for position players as well as pitchers to help cover the gap, and a trade would be met with glee by the Blue Jays.
"Huge impact," said Bautista. "Any team that does a trade at the deadline in order to improve their club is going to benefit from that. Obviously that’s why you do it. We’ll see. We have capable guys though that we don’t necessarily need to go out there, but it would be a tremendous help to go out and get somebody. More importantly we need our guys who are hurt to come back into the lineup so we can have our real team come on the field all together."
That’s likely to require at least another two or three weeks. Lawrie is out with a broken finger, Encarnacion a quad strain and Lind a foot fracture and a return before August is unlikely.
Is a trade needed to cover the gap, before the Orioles are given a chance to run away with the division?
"Not necessarily but in the long-term we could benefit from it," said Bautista. "That’s why you would like to have some depth in your minor-league system and some capable guys to come in and replace somebody who gets hurt. There’s an opportunity for a lot of our guys to step up right now and make a name for themselves and contribute and help out with wins. Right now we’re going through the farm system but there are different methods of acquiring talent and if it’s working out a trade or whatever it is, the bottom line is there are opportunities on our team right now. How we get the players doesn’t really matter right now as long as the guys that come in step up."
Starter Brandon Morrow is also on the disabled list, Colby Rasmus and Brett Cecil recently returned from DL stints while Jose Reyes has been playing through shoulder soreness – and the attrition is reminiscent of the health woes in previous years.
At times it feels as if the Blue Jays are cursed.
"We joke about it but we don’t believe that, truly," said Bautista. "It’s unfortunate but it seems like us and the Rays, we all have to deal with more injuries than normal and playing banged up a little bit, maybe because of the turf. It’s the only two stadiums left with turf, even in football and other sports, you can see and you can tell that teams that play on turf get hurt more often than teams that play on natural grass.
"I don’t know if there’s a way to address it at Rogers Centre so we just have to deal with it and figure out a way to get deeper with our farm system and have guys that can step in and contribute right away if somebody gets hurt. We’ve got to get creative. Just like we’ve got to figure out how to win, we’ve got to figure out how to stay on the field or have capable guys to come in and replace (them). Some of these injuries aren’t caused by a lack of preparation or people not working, it’s just you get beat up more when you play on turf."