The Blue Jays have a 24-day run up until the All-Star break that should tell us everything we need to know about whether they can make the post-season, even as the second Wild Card. Over that span, they have just one off day, and 20 of the 23 games on the slate are against teams that are currently ahead of them in the standings.
John Gibbons and company are riding an eight-game win streak and open a crucial three-game set with Baltimore at the Rogers Centre. The Orioles are holding down the first Wild Card spot in the American League, six games ahead of the Blue Jays, but they are also just one game back of division-leading Boston. The Jays are 3-4 so far this season against the O's and 12-20 against the AL East.
After that series, the Jays hit the road for three in Tampa Bay and four at Fenway Park in Boston. After that grind, they are back home for four games against Central-leading Detroit and three against the only team behind them at this point, Minnesota. Then it's back on the road for three against Cleveland and finally three at Baltimore before the break. The Jays have to maintain a winning record over than span, something like 15-8 or 16-7 to pass a couple of teams and stay right in the thick of the Wild Card race at the very least.
The two teams - outside of their own division - that the Blue Jays really have to be concerned about are Texas and Oakland. Last year's Cinderella kids, the A's lead the West by a game on the Rangers. One of these teams will definitely be in the playoffs, quite possibly both. That's where the Houston Astros come in. Though playing better lately, having won six of their last eight, the Astros still have the worst record in the American League at 28-46.
Thanks to the unbalanced schedule, Oakland and Texas have plenty of games left against Houston over the second half to pad their record. Oakland is already 9-0 against the Astros, and still play them 10 more times. Texas, meanwhile, has 13 left with Houston of its remaining 89 games. The Rangers are already 5-1 against the Astros.
To be fair, the Blue Jays also have seven dates with Houston. But the Jays still have the decidedly most difficult schedule. They've also finished their season series with Texas, going 6-1, their best record against any team so far this season.
If Oakland and Texas qualify for the Playoffs, then the Jays will have to finish above three teams in their own division, which right now would be Tampa Bay, the Yankees and Baltimore or Boston to make it to the post-season for the first time in 20 years.
It sounds cliche, but the only thing the Blue Jays can really worry about now is their own performance. They have just got to ignore the Houston factor and start to beat up on the teams in their own division.
The Blue Jays have one more Interleague series at Rogers Centre this season. Normally it wouldn't be that big a deal with the lowly Dodgers coming to town. But it will be the first time that Blue Jays fans will get an up-close look at rookie sensation Yasiel Puig. The way Interleague match-ups rotate yearly, he may not be back for a few years.
Puig, the Cuban defector, has put together some incredible numbers in just 16 games. He's hitting .452 with a .477 on-base percentage, and this with just one walk. He has six home runs and 12 runs batted in, and had made a couple of incredible throws from the outfield.
The only Dodgers player who has more home runs than Puig has in just 16 games is Adrian Gonzalez who only has eight in a full season. Let's hope Puig is healthy and still with the big club by the time the Dodgers hit town from July 22-24. It's part of Toronto's 10-game homestand right after the All-Star break where they also host the Rays and Astros.
Doing It All
Cardinals star catcher Yadier Molina has a chance to join some very select company this season. Granted there is just over half a season to go, but Molina is batting .366 and is leading the National League and the entire Majors in batting average.
Buster Posey of the Giants broke a long draught for catchers by winning the NL batting title last year. Prior to that it was the Reds' Ernie Lombardi, 71 years ago in 1942. He also did it in 1938. Before him the only other National League catcher to win a batting title was Eugene "Bubbles" Hargrave of the Reds in 1926.
Only one American League catcher has ever accomplished the feat - Minnesota's Joe Mauer won three crowns in 2006, 2008, and 2009. To win a batting title while playing the most demanding defensive position in simply phenomenal.