Final stretch of Jays’ ridiculous season begins

Edwin Encarnacion. (Darren Calabrese/CP)

With their win on Tuesday night in Boston — the seventh in the last eight games — the Toronto Blue Jays have completed two-thirds of their schedule and sit with 58 wins (an 87-win pace), holding the second wild card in the American League, two and a half games out of first place in the AL East.

It has been an absolute roller coaster of a season, with a relatively calm 8-6 start followed by a 5-11 dip, then a five-game win streak into a three-game losing streak that began a 20-4 launch that blasted them into a six-game division lead. An 11-24 freefall followed, which saw them teeter on the verge of falling back to .500. The Blue Jays have remarkably pulled out of that freefall with nine wins in their last eleven games.

Most teams have some ups and downs over the course of a season, but this is ridiculous.

The Blue Jays have spent more of the season being awful (16-35) than being unbelievable (29-6), but here they sit in a playoff spot with only one-third of the season remaining.

With the non-waiver trade deadline right around the corner, it’s easy to dream on the things the Blue Jays could be adding. David Price and Ben Zobrist would be perfect fits, but the Tampa Bay Rays have risen from the depths of worst-record-in-baseballdom to close to within one game of the break-even mark thanks to 11 wins in their last 12 games. They’re only 4 1/2 games out of a playoff spot and it’s difficult to imagine them pulling the plug on their season.

Jon Lester would look pretty good in a Blue Jays’ uniform, but it appears as though the Red Sox’ ace lefty is headed elsewhere. At least the Jays don’t have to face him in Wednesday’s series finale at Fenway, or in either of the two remaining series they play against the BoSox later this season.

The biggest bat being dangled on the open market? The underwhelming Marlon Byrd. And that’s where the Blue Jays have a huge advantage on their competition.

In the next two or three weeks, the Blue Jays will be repatriating Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind from the disabled list. There’s no team in baseball that will be adding that kind of firepower to their lineup.

Encarnacion was one home run shy of the major league lead when he blew a quadriceps muscle in Oakland on July 5, hitting .277/.368/.591 for the season. Lind actually has an OPS over 1.000 against right-handers this year, batting an astonishing .369/.434/.570 on the strong side of a platoon that he’ll share with Danny Valencia or Nolan Reimold when he comes back. Lawrie wasn’t setting the world on fire offensively when he was hit by a pitch that broke his finger back on June 22, with only a .299 on-base percentage, but his numbers were on the rise. Lawrie had a .770 OPS in May, .779 in June with an OBP of .333 in each month. His defensive value is through the roof, though, and something the Blue Jays have sorely missed with Juan Francisco and Munenori Kawasaki getting the bulk of the work at third base in Lawrie’s absence.

But the Blue Jays weren’t playing well at all when any of the three got hurt. In fact, all of them went down in the middle of that 11-24 freefall and the Jays have come out of it without them. This is true, and in fact, the Jays are now 11-6 since Lind, the last of the three to be shelved, went on the disabled list.

A contending team has to manage the downs and ride the ups. Tread water until it’s back to full strength. The Blue Jays have gone 16-15 since Lawrie got hurt, 11-8 since Encarnacion joined him on the sidelines and, as mentioned, 11-6 since the entire middle of the batting order found itself on the disabled list. That’s doing a lot better than just treading water and, again, remarkable since it appeared as though the bottom was falling out with the 2-8 road trip into the all-star break.

So does this mean that Alex Anthopoulos need not look for more reinforcements as trading season hits a fever pitch? It does not. The Blue Jays could certainly use another big arm in the bullpen, since relying on Dustin McGowan and Aaron Sanchez to be the right-handed bridge to Casey Janssen seems a rather large risk; and they could absolutely stand to add a Price- or Lester-type ace at the top of the rotation.

But whether they do that or not, they will be adding three very significant pieces over the coming weeks, more than any other team will be able to do.

The Blue Jays spent the first third of the season building a big lead and the second third giving it back, but hanging on to a post-season spot. The final third begins on Wednesday night, and it looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun – just make sure you’re strapped in.

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