The Toronto Blue Jays got out of the gate with a dismal 10-17 record last season and dug themselves a hole they could never really get out of. It's a scenario they really can't afford to repeat in 2014.
Prior to last season, 39 of the last 60 teams that were in first place in their division on June 1 went on to make the post-season. If you look at last year's races division by division, there were only two teams that weren't in first or second in June who went on to make the playoffs.
In the American League West, Texas was in first through April and May with a 34-21 - two games ahead of Oakland. The A's went on a 63-32 tear the rest of the way and won the division by five games over the Rangers, who played and lost a sudden death tie-breaker.
In the Central, Detroit and Cleveland hit June 1firsy and second in the division with the Tigers leading by a half-game. Detroit wound up taking the division by one game over the Indians.
In the East, Boston was on top at 34-23. This is one division where there was a slight exception. Tampa Bay was actually in 4th place heading into the games of June 1 at 30-25. But the Rays were only a half-game back of Baltimore and one game behind the second place Yankees. The Rays finished 61-46 to take second place. The Blue Jays were 23-33 through the first two months and never really came close to getting back in the race, even with that 11 game win streak.
In the National League East, Atlanta was 33-22 through April and May and won the division easily with a 96-66 mark. Washington, a pre-season favourite, was 28-28 and missed the playoffs altogether.
In the Central, St. Louis got off to a 37-18 start and led the division wire-to-wire on the way to a Major League best 97-65 record. Pittsburgh was third two months in, but overhauled Cincinnati for second place, though both teams won 90 or more and both made the post season.
The National League West was the one division where all bets were off after two months. Arizona was on top at 31-24 with a two-and-a-half game lead on the Giants and Rockies. The Dodgers were seven-and-a-half games out through April and May at 23-31. The division practically turned upside down the rest of the way. The D-Backs faded and finished at 81-81 for the second year in a row. San Francisco and Colorado collapsed and both finished 10 or more games below .500. The Dodgers, though, inspired in large part by the arrival of Yasiel Puig went a scorching 69-39 down the stretch and won the division with a 92-70 mark.
So it pretty much goes without saying, the Blue Jays need to be at least slightly above .500 through April and May to have any hope of competing in the tough American League East. Their schedule is, by no means, easy with 22 of their 57 games through the first two months against the A.L East, including six against Boston and seven versus Tampa Bay - the two playoff favourites in the division.
The Jays only have 10 games over April and May against "lesser" opponents, with three against Houston, three versus Minnesota and a four-game interleague series against Philadelphia. 25 of the 57 are against teams that either made the playoffs last season or were involved in tie-breakers. The Jays also have just one day off in the month of May; a real test of the pitching staff.
No team will ever admit they're out of it after just two months. The Blue Jays didn't a year ago. But in five of the six divisions last season, the two-month mark painted a pretty vivid picture of where teams are really at.
The other day I was reading about the new head of the Players' Association, Tony Clark, when another name in the article caught my name. It was Steve Rogers, who also works for the Association as a liaison to the players among his many duties. I actually had to double check that it was the same Steve Rogers who once pitched for the Expos. It was.
If you get into a conversation with anyone as to who the greatest pitcher in Expos history was, some might suggest Pedro Martinez, who went 55-33 in his four seasons in Montreal. Others might say Dennis Martinez for his perfect game, maybe Bill Stoneman for his two no-hitters or Ross Grimsley for being the Expos' first 20-game winner.
In my mind, though, it was Steve Rogers. I was surprised to see his career record was only 158-152, but it's his other numbers that blow you away. Over 13 seasons, all with Montreal, he pitched over 200 innings in nine of them. Six times he was over 250 innings, four times over 270 and in 1977 when he won 17 games he pitched an incredible 300.2 innings. He actually pitched more innings per season than Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax and had a better career ERA at 3.17 than another Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan. Rogers was a five-time all-star and finished second in the rookie of the year voting and one year was second in the Cy Young balloting.
It was a different era, but compare Rogers' numbers to one of the Blue Jays all-time greats Roy Halladay in a couple of categories. Rogers had 129 complete games and 37 shutouts and Halladay had 67 complete games and 20 shutouts.
Rogers, 64 now, had to retire at 35 when his shoulder essentially gave out on him. He is a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame at St, Mary's and tries to get back for the Induction Ceremonies every year. He concedes he might even have had a shot at Cooperstown if he had been able to pitch another 5-7 years and could have won another 70 games.
The Expos only made the playoffs once in their history - 1981. Steve Rogers beat Phillies legend Steve Carlton twice in the division series and then defeated the Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLCS. But say his name today and many will only remember his relief appearance on "Blue Monday" at the Big "0," when he gave up the series deciding homer to the Dodgers' Rick Monday. If you look at the numbers and the character of the man, Steve Rogers should be remembered for much more than that.