The unfortunate aspect of Toronto’s position in the AL East: The Blue Jays (45-46) have three teams in front of them and they are six games behind in the loss column to New York (48-40).
They have little room for error. With 71 games remaining, a win total of 90 games might be what Toronto needs to win the division. That means the Blue Jays must match their win total now and achieve a record of at least 45-26 after the All-Star break.
Toronto has the production at the plate to threaten the Yankees and the tight group overall in the AL East. First through last in the five-team division is separated by only 6 1/2 games.
The Blue Jays enter the All-Star break leading the American League in runs scored (486) and RBI (468). The next highest in RBI is New York with an incredible 79 less at 389. Toronto also has the third-best team batting average at .264.
Josh Donaldson has established himself as one of the best third basemen in the American League leading the Blue Jays in batting average (.293), home runs (21) and RBI (60). He is supported by four regulars who are batting at least .283, including left fielder Chris Colabello (.325 with eight home runs and 32 RBI).
Graphic via tipofthetower
The pop in the lineup other than Donaldson is coming from veterans Edwin Encarnacion (18 home runs and 54 RBI) and Jose Bautista (17 home runs and 60 RBI) but they are batting only .233 and .239, respectively.
Toronto manager John Gibbons will be put in a tough spot after the All-Star break by sacrificing his productive hitting with better defense in late-game situations. The Blue Jays rank No. 11 out of 15 American League teams in errors with 54.
Two players have drawn most of the criticism for defensive concerns – Colabello and shortstop Jose Reyes.
Some analyst question Colabello’s comfort level in left field, where he at times looks nervous. He has the dubious lead of four errors among Toronto’s outfielders. Reyes has not been a calming influence at shortstop tying Donaldson for the team lead with 10 errors.
That means Toronto’s left side of the infield defense is unsettling to Gibbons. He can’t remove Donaldson late in the game because of Donaldson’s potent bat.
Reyes is batting .283 after achieving a .370 mark in the week leading up to the All-Star break. His defense, or lack thereof at times, puts Gibbons in a spot to try others at shortstop, including Ryan Goins, in tight situations in the late innings. Goins, Jonathon Diaz and Steve Tolleson have combined for only three errors in 31 starts at shortstop.
Another focus for Gibbons and Co. will be improving Toronto’s base-running blunders. Many rallies have ended with poor decisions on the base paths.
The Blue Jays have told reporters that the mistakes are a result of being aggressive, an issue that Gibbons does not have a problem with. Still, Toronto can ill-afford to lose games down the stretch because of what they wasted on the base paths.
The most significant concern for Gibbons is Toronto’s pitching. The Blue Jays are in need of a reliable starter and a shutdown late-inning reliever. They rank last in the American League with only 14 saves.
Toronto’s team ERA of 4.18 ranks No. 12 in the American League. It is among the bottom five of the league in quality starts with 41 out of the 91 games before the All-Star break.
Gibbons needs rookie starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez, who is 5-4 with a 3.55 ERA, to get healthy over the last two months of the season. Sanchez (strained lat muscle) is scheduled to start with Triple-A Buffalo on a rehab assignment Thursday. He could be back in the major leagues after a couple of starts in the minors.
His presence will bolster Toronto’s rotation which includes ace Mark Buehrle (10-5 and 3.34 ERA), Marco Estrada (6-5, 3.52), veteran R.A. Dickey (3-10, 4.87) and Drew Hutchison (8-2 but with a 5.33 ERA).
Toronto will likely try to acquire a closer by the July 31 trading deadline, especially if the Blue Jays challenge the Yankees for the top spot in the AL East in the weeks leading up to the end of the month.
They have an eye on Miami’s Steve Cishek, who is no longer the Marlins’ assigned closer but could be effective in a change of scenery for a contending team.
If Toronto is still in the AL East race come September, the Blue Jays can have a significant impact on what happens down the stretch. They play only division opponents after Sept. 3 other than a three-game series at Atlanta from Sept. 15-17.
Six games against New York will be very important in August. The first-place Yankees are the only division opponent Toronto will face that month.
Graphic via bluejayhunter