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Ferguson: Division battles the key to Jays' playoff hopes

Scott Ferguson
7/21/2014 2:00:17 PM
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The Blue Jays are still hanging in there in the American League East.

With 63 games left to play, they're tied with the Yankees at three full games back of Baltimore. They're also just 1 1/2 games back of Seattle for the second Wild Card spot.

So essentially, the Jays' season is down to this. Forty-one of their remaining 63 games are against their own division. Over the last few years, their record against the AL East has turned them into also-rans down the stretch when the schedule toughens up.

In three of the past four seasons, their mark at this point was almost identical. In 2012, they were 51-49. In 2011, they were 50-49 and in 2010 they were 50-48-1, with the one being a suspended game. Right now in 2014, they are 51-48. The only exception was last year, when they were actually a little worse at 45-54 on July 23.

Of the four previous seasons, with Alex Anthopoulos as GM, the Jays had a winning record after 99 games just once. In 2010, the Jays went (35-29) to finish at 85-77-1. If the Jays can win 35 of their final 63 games this time around, their 86 victories may or may not put them into the postseason.

The Blue Jays' next 10 games are against the East's traditional powers - Boston and the Yankees - with both having off-seasons by their standards. The Jays kick off this stretch with four at home beginning Monday night at Rogers Centre against the BoSox. Then it's on to New York for three and then to Fenway for three more. Considering they probably won't have Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie for at least seven of those 10 games - and perhaps all 10 - it's going to be a daunting task indeed.

Over the past four seasons, the Blue Jays' cumulative record against Boston is only 37-42. They've also had a losing record against the Red Sox in three of those four seasons. The only exception being the 2012 season, when the Jays held an (11-7) edge in the year of the Bobby Valentine managerial fiasco.

The Jays' record against the Yankees over that four year span has been even worse. They're 32-50 in all, with 2010 being the only season they had a winning edge at 10-8 and remember the Jays have also dropped 16 in a row at Yankee Stadium.

The Jays desperately need to go at least 6-4 or better over the next 10 to tide them over until everyone gets healthy. Then and only then, will John Gibbons and company have a chance at staying in the race for first in the AL East until the end.

For the record, the Jays are 18-17 this season against the East, including 4-2 against Boston and 3-6 versus the Yankees. They have 13 left against Boston and 10 with the Yankees. That's more than a third of their remaining games and they likely hold the key to having any chance of winning the division.

Grabbing the second Wild Card slot ahead of Seattle is the emergency safety hatch. The Jays still have seven games left with the M's - three on the road and four at home. But taking the second Wild Card would likely mean a one game playoff with the A's or the Angels out on the West Coast - not exactly the most desirable situation.

The Blue Jays' Triple 'A' affiliate in Buffalo has lost seven games in a row and is having almost as much trouble most nights scoring runs as the Jays. Just the same, Kevin Pillar - who spent 26 games up with the big club this season - has been on fire. He's tied for the International League lead in doubles with 27, which would have been the team high for the entire season a year ago.

He also leads the Bisons in hits with 87, triples (with three) and is tied for the team lead in stolen bases (15).

On the flip side, righty reliever Steve Delabar still hasn't rediscovered his 'A' game. In eight appearances over 10 innings, he is 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA with nine strikeouts and six walks.

I got asked the other day if I could remember the last Major League player to play at all nine positions in one game. Off the top of my head I could only remember the first two - Bert Campaneris, who turned the trick for the Kansas City A's on Sept. 8, 1965, and Cesar Tovar of the Minnesota Twins who accomplished the feat on Sept. 22, 1968 - against (go figure) Campaneris and the A's.

Playing all nine positions in a game is more of a novelty event, used by teams who are basically playing in nothing games near the end of the season. It's only happened two other times in Major League history, the two I couldn't remember and both happened in 2000.

Scott Sheldon and the Texas Rangers were playing at Comiskey and the White Sox blew out to a big lead early and went on to hammer Texas 13-1. Sheldon actually didn't get into the game for the Rangers until the fourth inning, but still managed to play all nine spots on the diamond. That was on Sept. 6.

About three weeks later, with the Twins playing Detroit on Oct. 1 - the final day of the regular season - Shane Halter of the Tigers became the most recent Major Leaguer to play all nine positions in one game. Not only that, he went 4-for-5 with four runs batted in.

But the two earlier games each had something unique about them - which may be why I remember them so well. When Campaneris pitched in 1965, he pitched lefty-to-lefty hitters and then switched to righty-to-righty hitters. Cesar Tovar actually was the starting pitcher for the Twins in his game in 1968.

Will it ever happen again? Maybe not, but I guess we can never say never. If I had to bet on a Blue Jay doing it, it would probably be Steve Tolleson.




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