By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (July 27) — Four days. Ninety–six hours.
That’s all we have left to determine whether the Toronto Blue Jays will maintain a bright future beyond the current Major League season. The earmark for potential calamity is very much in play as we speed toward the July 31 non–waiver trade deadline; for beleaguered general manager Alex Anthopoulos to convince himself that even one pricey add–on can position his team favorably to win a best–of–seven playoff round this autumn. Because in baseball, it’s no longer about just making the playoffs. Any team can prevail in a one–game Wild Card scenario. Far fewer can win four of seven games at a time when pitching nearly always trumps hitting. In the League Championship and World Series.
The Blue Jays may be built for a one–night showdown.
They are not modeled to contend over the course of an October week.
THE SEATTLE MARINERS — WEARING THROW–BACK UNIFORMS — WALKED OFF THE TORONTO BLUE JAYS, 6–5, SUNDAY AFTERNOON AT SAFECO FIELD ON A SOLO HOMER IN THE BOTTOM OF THE 10th INNING BY FRANKLIN GUTIERREZ. SEATTLE TIMES PHOTO
The Jays’ most ardent advocate — Sportsnet TV color–man Pat Tabler — nailed it when talking about the Kansas City Royals. “A baseball team has to make moves [at the trade deadline] with the intent of winning a championship,” said Tabler from Oakland this week. “The Royals were 90 feet away from tying Game 7 of the World Series last year. They are showing the ability to stay at that level.” As such, the acquisition, on Sunday, of ace starter Johnny Cueto from Cincinnati to augment the deepest and most consistent bullpen in the American League. The defending A.L. champion — sitting 21 games over .500 and with the widest division lead in baseball, 7½ games on Minnesota — will go into the playoffs no worse than even–money to win its first title since 1985.
Toronto, by comparison, cannot escape middle ground. It is a .500 team (50–50) playing .500 ball in its past 10 games and coming off a .500 road trip to Oakland and Seattle — situated now 6½ lengths behind the New York Yankees in the American League East. To achieve the usual playoff standard of 90 wins, Toronto must compile a 40–22 record (.645 win percentage) in its final 62 starts. There is no reason to envy Anthopoulos. He can gaze wondrously at a mere three–game deficit in the A.L. Wild Card race and relinquish more youthful assets in an attempt to achieve the minimal playoff requirement. Conversely, he could hang on to his promising, young arms (Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Jeff Hoffman); work on enhancing his leaky bullpen in the winter, and come back with a more legitimate hope of contending for something bigger. Either way, he’ll be criticized and neither way guarantees Anthopoulos employment beyond this season.
Another tack for the GM is to gamble that the Blue Jays will continue to play effectively at Rogers Centre, where they own a 28–19 record. Sadly for Anthopoulos, Friday’s trade deadline arrives well before the next 19 games can be determined — 16 of which are at home. With 13 remaining shots at New York, the Jays could theoretically overcome the Yankees and win the division. It could also snow here in Toronto this week. Given the indisputable pattern of professional teams in our city, the Jays are more likely to fade (a nicer word than “collapse”) down the stretch and bitterly disappoint fans in the up–coming glut of home games. Which would also repeat the August pattern of numerous summers since 1993.
It just isn’t the right time to go for broke.
VETERAN MARK BUEHRLE HAS BEEN THE BLUE JAYS LONE ROCK IN THE ROTATION THIS YEAR WITH AN 11–5 WIN–LOSS RECORD AND 3.29 EARNED–RUN AVERAGE.
Yes, the Jays have proven a remarkable tease this year. And, remarkably entertaining to watch — a credit to Anthopoulos. Any club that averages more than five runs per game should contend for a division title. Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, they have to score five, six and seven runs to win most of the time. And, that won’t happen in the playoffs against such contenders as Kansas City, Los Angeles Angels and Houston — all of which permit half–a–run less per outing than Toronto. Good pitching almost always overcomes good hitting in September and October. The Blue Jays aren’t deep enough on the mound to win a best–of–seven series… or to jettison young arms for the future. That’s why a conservative approach this summer — though not nearly as appealing to playoff–hungry fans — is more strategically sound.
We’ll have our answer soon.
In four days. Ninety–six hours.
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