Toronto’s Late To The Game, But In The Thick All The Same

It’s time for rapper Common to make an appearance in Toronto, because around the same time he dropped “Resurrection” (you remember, he was spitting crazy with the scully on, rolling deep in the streets and on the trains of Chi-Town), Toronto was still riding the high of back-to-back World Series titles in ’92-’93 when Joe Carter was slugging historical walk-offs and Hall of Fame-vets like Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson and Roberto Alomar made the Blue Jays a popping team. When’s the last time you saw a cat rocking a Blue Jays cap in the hood? It used to happen.

Actually, that’s the last time Toronto put any serious dents in the AL East. As Common’s career took off like a comet, the Blue Jays franchise fell into a 20-year funk, compounded by a Yankees Dynasty and some official Boston Red Sox clubs.  

A wild offseason spending spree was supposed to change all of that, but on May 11th, the Toronto Blue Jays were 10-21, the injury bug was biting at their heels, and the baseball community had cast them off as suckers and victims of the hype machine, which is often associated with losing teams who try to short-cut their way to a championship.

In 2012, Toronto was 23rd out of 30 MLB teams in payroll at about $75.5 million. By the time ’13 began, Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos was controlling the 10- highest MLB payroll at $188,244,039. Problem was, the high-paid product was coming up short.

Luckily for Toronto, the marathon that is baseball has swung its slow-grinding pendulum of fortune north of the border. After running off a team record-tying 11 wins in a row in June, the Jays (40-41) are still in last place but just six games back  in the Wild Card race and showing signs of returning from the dead. The streak was Toronto’s longest in almost 15 years and the longest by any big league team since Detroit won 12 in a row back in 2011.

Back in February, the Blue Jays were riding high, stockpiling veteran talent and cutting checks with no conscience. After finishing last in the division for the fourth straight year, Jays’ brass moved all their chips to the center of the table.

They already had serious batters in outfielder Jose “Bats” Bautista (19 homers) and infielders Edwin Encarnacion (21 homers) and Adam Lind (.327 BA). Then, after trading for Cy Young winner RA Dickey, signing San Francisco outfielder Melky Cabrera, and assisting the Marlins in their clearinghouse sweepstakes by bagging pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle and All-Star shortstop  Jose Reyes, the Jays even had Vegas touting them as preseason World Series favorites.

Reyes, a three-time stolen base king, immediately got busier than Swizz Beatz at a mixing board, hitting .395 with a.991 OPS over the first two weeks of the season. Then, the injury-prone, game-changer sprained his ankle sliding into second against the Royals and missed two months of the season. Reyes’ loss combined with super-shoddy pitching had the Jays in a bad spot.

“Losing him hurt, no question, but we’ve still got a pretty good team surrounding him,” Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons told the Boston Herald. “That wasn’t why we got off to a slow start. It didn’t help, but we just didn’t play good enough baseball, pitching, defense, things like that. Guys get hurt all the time in this business and you’ve got to deal with it, but that was

a tough one.”

Dickey, Buehrle and Johnson were expected to be a nasty 1-2-3 punch. Instead, Johnson has missed 31 games with a right triceps injury and the other two jokers are a combined 11-13 with a 4.77 ERA. To their credit, they’ve been slinging peas as of late. But they’re now armed with the unenviable task of leading Toronto’s second-half surge out of the cellar. 

You can’t blame folks for having written Toronto off. In the past 10 seasons, only the ’09 Rockies, the ’05 Astros and the ’03 Marlins have come back from 10 games out to earn a playoff berth.

The Blue Jays slow start is regrettable and a formidable playoff–run lies ahead, but their recent burst and the return of Reyes allows them to enter the All-Star break with optimism about what lies ahead. Climbing over three brolic AL East squads is going to be a dogfight, but it’s not impossible.


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