TORONTO — You’d think this would be a pretty fun time to work at the Rogers Centre, with the ball club on its longest winning streak since before Barack Obama was elected and more than 27,000 fans filling the stands for a midweek game against the lowly Colorado Rockies.
But as Toronto Blue Jays president Paul Beeston pulled a long, brown cigar from a wooden box in his office early Friday morning, he refused to admit the team’s recent run of good fortune had affected him in the slightest. Quite the contrary, actually.
"It’s just another day – same as yesterday, same as tomorrow," Beeston says, fetching his cigar cutter and slicing off the end of the stogie. "I’ve been in this game too long to be getting too high or too low. I’ve seen a lot of streaks."
Fair enough. It’s been more than 35 years since Beeston first got involved with this maddening game and he’s ridden the rollercoaster enough times to know that the Blue Jays’ current nine-game winning-streak is nothing more than a fortunate confluence of events.
It’s the baseball planets aligning just right - good pitching, timely hitting, slumping opposition, etcetera. The teams play 162 times because there is so much randomness and so much left to chance in this game that it simply takes that long to sort it all out. And the Blue Jays haven’t even reached the midpoint of the process.
"It’s put us back in a position where we can chip away," Beeston said, chewing on the cigar. "If we play good baseball from here on in we can be where we want to be. But it’s not even halfway through the season."
Still, the team has done yeoman’s work over the past week and a half to at least give itself a chance to salvage what was quickly looking like a lost season.
After an awful April that saw the team go 10-17 with a minus-33 run differential, the Blue Jays reached their lowest point on May 10 when a 5-0 shutout in Boston dropped their record to 13-24. But since then, the Blue Jays have gone 22-12 (the second best winning percentage in the American League after Oakland) and now sit on the precipice of reaching .500 for the first time this season with a win Friday night.
It puts the organization in an interesting position as they approach the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Conventionally, teams will either stand pat at the deadline, acquire pieces they think can contribute to a playoff run or sell off expiring contracts and veterans to contending teams for assets that will help in the future.
So, has this recent run of success had any bearing on the club’s thought process heading towards the deadline?
"I don’t know about that," Beeston said. "Alex [Anthopoulos] is always trying to improve the ballclub. Whether we’re winning, losing or status quo. If there’s an opportunity to improve, he’s going to take it."
Of course, the Blue Jays are already in a position to improve merely from within the organization. There is the impending return of Jose Reyes (sooner) and Brett Lawrie (later) which should shore up the left side of the infield, as well as starting pitchers Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek, who are all working their way back from injury in Dunedin.
But working against the Blue Jays is the sheer strength of their division and the amount of teams hanging on in the wild card race. Standings-watching in June is a lot like trying to accurately predict next month’s weather, but it’s hard to ignore the seven American League teams bunched between 33 and 39 wins, a group the Blue Jays find themselves smack in the middle of.
To make the post-season, Toronto won’t just have to continue their run of good play—they’ll need other teams to falter as well.
"You worry about how many teams are ahead of you," Beeston conceded. "If you have one team ahead of you it’s easy to catch up to them. But we’ve got a bunch of teams ahead of us."
With the Red Sox continuing to play well and every other team in the American League East above .500, the division is likely lost. That means the do-or-die wild card play-in game is Toronto’s most realistic route of reaching the post-season.
In order to crack 90 wins the Blue Jays will have to go 55-36 over their final 91 contests, a .600 winning percentage. Of course, last season it took 93 wins to reach the play-in game.
"Can we expect this team to go 60-30? Probably not," Beeston said. "But there’s plenty of examples of teams that start poorly and end fast. Look at Oakland last year. Look at the Blue Jays in ’89."
It’s true, both of those teams struggled in the season’s early months before catching fire and tearing the league apart on their way to the playoffs. And both of those teams relied on extended winning streaks to turn their seasons around, much like the one the Blue Jays are building at the moment.
It’s just the randomness and serendipity of the baseball season—same as the last one and same as the next one. And it’s why Beeston, looking out over Bremner Blvd. from his Rogers Centre office, refuses to take this streak for more than what it is: a nice chapter in a very long book.
"We’re in control now," Beeston said, tapping the cigar on the armrest of his chair. "We’ve still gotta play well, and we’ve still gotta win. But we’re in control."