TORONTO – The Blue Jays entered their three-game series with the American League Central-leading Tigers losers of five of six, a slide that's dropped the club five games behind the Orioles for the division lead and a half-game behind the Royals in a cluttered race for the second wild card spot.
The team is battered, without Brett Lawrie (oblique) for most of the rest of the regular season while eagerly awaiting the returns of Adam Lind (foot) and Edwin Encarnacion (quadriceps). The Blue Jays dodged a bullet with Melky Cabrera, who played on Friday night despite being hit by a pitch on the right elbow in the first inning the night before.
Then there's the opponents' starting pitching, a veritable murderers' row of three consecutive Cy Young award winners. They are, in order: the Tigers' Max Scherzer (Detroit – 2013) and David Price (Tampa Bay – 2012), along with the Mariners' Felix Hernandez (Seattle – 2011).
Thanks a lot.
"We're just going to take it one game at a time," said shortstop Jose Reyes. "We know the next couple of games are going to be tough because we're going to face some good pitching but we have our plan, we have our approach. We're just going to go to home plate with the same mentality, looking for a good pitch and try to put the best swing on the ball and try to go from there because we know it's not going to be easy."
Missing one-third of their starting lineup, three of the most important bats and Lawrie's plus defence, Toronto is treading water in an increasing cluttered wild card race. The Jays entered Friday's action in a three-way tie with the Yankees and Mariners, nipping at the Royals' heels.
It's reached the point when the club can ill afford another protracted slide. As time passes by, it becomes less about the number of games by which you trail the wild card leader and more about how many teams there are between. A two or a three-game deficit can seem like a mountain when a club has to leapfrog multiple others.
Reyes has a better solution.
"We want to win the division," said Reyes. "Getting the second wild card is nothing. We want to win our division. That's the main goal for us. We know we're missing some key pieces in our lineup but we have to deal with what we have here. If everyone continues to contribute we're going to be fine."
Jose Reyes arrived at Rogers Centre on Friday afternoon and when he checked the lineup, he saw Melky Cabrera's name underneath his own.
He breathed a sigh of relief.
"There's no doubt we need Melky in the lineup if we want to continue to win," said Reyes. "Melky's been one of, if not the most consistent player in our lineup so we need him back."
Cabrera went 1-for-5 with a single and an RBI on Friday night. He tried wearing a bulky elbow protector during batting practice – think Barry Bonds – but opted for a less obstructive wrap.
Adam Lind wasn't in the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays' lineup on Friday afternoon.
He went 2-for-2 in his first minor league rehabilitation game on Thursday but felt tightness in his back.
Lind has a history of back issues. General manager Alex Anthopoulos said the expectation still is for Lind to return to the lineup sometime next week.