By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Aug. 3) – The baseball pundits were unanimous in their appraisal of the Blue Jays coming out of the All-Star break.
Seventeen games against American League also-ran teams from July 18 to Aug. 3 would determine, they said and wrote, whether the Jays were a contender or pretender. It was time to make hay and expunge a four-game lead by Baltimore in the A.L. East. The Orioles were in tough with one series against Oakland; two each against Los Angeles Angels and Seattle. This was, quite simply, a golden opportunity.
Well, the Jays did cut into Baltimore’s lead. By half-a-game. Instead of trailing the Orioles by four, the Blue Jays are 3½ games out of first in their division. Not exactly what the pundits – or the club – had in mind.
HOUSTON ASTROS SLID PAST THE TORONTO BLUE JAYS IN THREE OF FOUR GAMES THIS WEEKEND AT MINUTE MADE PARK. HOUSTON CHRONICLE IMAGE
The Jays weren’t horrible, mind you. They went 11-6 in the 17 post-All-Star encounters and absolutely destroyed the defending world-champion Red Sox. But, their heads were handed to them on a platter by last-place Houston, which took three of four games this weekend at Minute Made Park. Embarrassing to say the least. Not to mention counter-productive. Much credit is due the Orioles, who compiled a 10-6 record against infinitely better competition than the Blue Jays faced.
This indicates the Orioles should pull away atop the division in the final two months of the season. Toronto will do well to hang onto the No. 2 Wild Card spot and finally end its 19-season playoff drought. It would earn the Jays a long trip for one-game showdown against the Angels in Anaheim – the survivor moving on to the League Divisional Series.
Since June 6, when the Blue Jays held a six-game lead over Baltimore, Toronto is 22-30. The Orioles are 32-19. In baseball, numbers rarely lie.
WEEKEND THOUGHTS: Should the standings hold and the Jays advance to a Wild Card game in Los Angeles, recent history will be on their side. The road team in the American League has won both games since baseball added a second Wild Card team per league. In 2012, Baltimore defeated Texas 5-1. And last year, it was Tampa Bay 4 at Cleveland 0… It will be interesting to see how the Blue Jays handle their outfield over the winter. Given his sub-par season, it is difficult to imagine the Jays re-signing free agent Colby Rasmus. Anthony Gose offers a lot more speed on the base-path and in the field. There is, however, minimal evidence that Gose can hit Major League pitching. Melky Cabrera is also a free agent and will be looking for a whack of dough. Can the Jays afford to retain him without passing around a sombrero in the clubhouse? This one is probably up to the Rogers ownership group… I’ve often wondered: Why is it that golfers need absolute quiet to hit a stationary ball while Major League players endure 40,000 voices in the process of trying to hit a ball coming toward them at 90-100 miles-per-hour? Can you imagine Jose Bautista dropping his bat and staring down a photographer for clicking his shutter at the wrong time?…
THE LOOK TIGER WOODS GIVES A GOLF FAN THAT BREATHES TOO HEAVILY.
Blue Jays TV analyst Pat Tabler has done a terrific – sometimes phenomenal – job this season of predicting events on the field, such as where pitchers will throw or batters will try to hit in a given situation. But, Tabler still undermines his work with silly fan-boy comments. On Saturday night night at Houston, in the bottom of the first inning, Chris Carter of the Astros began walking toward first base, thinking he’d been hit on the hand by an R.A. Dickey pitch. Home-plate umpire Jordan Baker called Carter back, ruling the ball had been fouled off. On the next pitch, Carter doubled to left-field, scoring Jose Altuve to tie the game 1-1. “Now I wish [Baker] would have called it a hit-by-pitch,” moaned Tabler. Wouldn’t it sound just a tad more professional for Tabler to say, “Now I’m sure the Blue Jays wish [Baker] would have called it a hit-by-pitch.” Perhaps a small detail to some, but not to my ears… Hard-throwing rookie Aaron Sanchez of the Blue Jays offers indication that he’ll be quite a force in baseball seasons to come. But, he looks younger than I did at my Bar Mitzvah… Given starting pitching, how on Earth will Oakland and Detroit not clash in the American League Championship Series this fall? The A’s top-four of Jon Lester, Jeff Smardzija, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir has a combined 38-16 record in the A.L. Detroit’s top-four of David Price, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez is 42-25. That includes Price’s 11-8 mark and 3.11 ERA with the last-place Tampa Bay Rays… Go figure: During a season in which the competitive imbalance between east and west in the Canadian Football League is embarrassing, the best game of the schedule so far was Thursday night in Hamilton when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat the Tiger-Cats, 27-26, on a Drew Willy touchdown pass with no time left. But, things were back to normal on Saturday in Ottawa, where Saskatchewan bolted to a 32-7 halftime lead and cruised home 38-14… Within two years, the best recent transaction by the Toronto Maple Leafs will be the signing of defenseman Jake Gardiner to a five-year, $20.25 million contract. Gardiner is the most gifted blue-liner on the team. He was the Leafs only good performer during the club’s late-season nosedive. With a bit of refinement and a lot of leeway from Randy Carlyle, Gardiner could easily develop into an all-star… My friend Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun suggested this weekend the Leafs will rein in defenseman Morgan Rielly as he meanders through his second NHL season – the theory being that young players often regress in their sophomore year. There is no arguing the latter point, but I’m not sure it applies to Rielly. As a 20-year-old rookie, he was deftly in control while on the ice. There was nothing at all spectacular about his performance, mainly because Rielly chose not to venture beyond his limits. As such, he doesn’t have a particularly tough act to follow. I don’t see the peril in allowing him to blossom at his own pace…
MAPLE LEAFS DEFENSEMAN MORGAN RIELLY WAS VERY MUCH IN CONTROL OF HIMSELF WHILE ON THE ICE AS A 20-YEAR-OLD ROOKIE LAST SEASON.
NHL players born on this date (Aug. 3): Marcel Dionne (now 63); Dominic Moore (34) and Sandis Ozolinsh (42)… NHL players born on Aug. 4: the late Maurice (Rocket) Richard, who would have been 93, and Wayne (Swoop) Carleton (68). Swoop is best-known for being the first player to jump on Boston teammate Bobby Orr after Orr scored his Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal in 1970.
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