This week is going to have an incredible playoff feel about it. From Monday until mid-week there are five series - four in the American League and one in the National - with great head-to-head playoff implications.
Monday, the Tigers open a four-game series at Chicago against the White Sox. Detroit swept them three straight the last time they met, but is now on a slide that's seen them drop five out of six. The Tigers are tumbling out of the race for the second Wild Card spot at four-and-a-half out. However, they are only two games back of Chicago. Detroit must take three out of four.
Also on Monday, Oakland is visiting the Angels. The A's have won 12 of their last 15 and are holding down the first Wild Card spot. The Angels have reeled off 11 wins in their last 12 and are just one game back of Baltimore and that second Wild Card and two-and-a-half behind the A's.
In the National on Monday Pittsburgh is at Cincinnati. The Pirates are two-and-a-half back of St. Louis and the second Wild Card. The Reds pretty much have their division wrapped up, but are only two-and-a-half back of Washington in the race for best overall record in the National League.
On Tuesday, Tampa Bay is at Baltimore. The Rays are just one game back of the O's for the second Wild Card slot.
As a bonus on Tuesday the Yankees are at Boston to face the crumbling Red Sox. The Yanks are only one game up on Baltimore in the East and two up on Tampa Bay. The Bosox have dropped four in a row including three straight at home to the Blue Jays, but they are playing the Yankees with a chance to help knock their arch rivals out of the post-season.
The Blue Jays' goal at this point is to finish the season on an upbeat note and keep the Red Sox behind them in the cellar in the East. The Jays would have to go 17-6 to finish at .500, which looks like a stretch.
A couple of Jays have a shot at some individual glory over the last three-and-a-half weeks. Edwin Encarnacion, with 38 homers, still has a shot at the American League home run title, while Rajai Davis' 41 steals still may be able to take the stolen base crown.
Interesting quote from Jays GM Alex Anthopolous on Cybulski and Co. on TSN 1050 Radio last week. Anthopoulos said that even if he had a Justin Verlander on his staff right now, he would still go after a C.C. Sabathia if he became available. That would appear to make it clear that Anthopolous has the green light to go out and do whatever it takes to build a contending starting rotation in the off-season.
Way Back When
I know that they were different times, and relief pitchers are relied upon more than ever these days. But check these numbers out for the Blue Jays' first two seasons in the American League.
1977 Lefty Jerry Garvin, at age 22, pitched 244.2 innings
Righty Jesse Jefferson - 217 innings
Righty Dave Lemanczyk - 252 innings
1978 Righty Jim Clancy - 193.2 innings
Righty Jesse Jefferson - 211.2 innings
Lefty Tom Underwood - 197.2 innings
There is another explanation. The Jays were so bad in those first two years, pitchers had to be left in longer no matter how badly things were going so the bullpen wouldn't be destroyed by mid-season. Just the same, a lot of teams would kill to get that kind of inning production these days.
In 1977 according to Baseball Almanac, there were eight players on the roster who only made $19,000 for the season. In 1978, I got my first full-time job in this business and was making $12,000. How the times have changed!
I did a little checking and the oldest living former Blue Jay is Ron Fairly at 74. Ron played over 20 years in the Majors including stints with the Jays and the Expos and then went on to have some good years in broadcasting. First class gentleman all the way. I hope he is well.
Milwaukee is six games out of the second Wild Card spot in the National League and is generally having a mediocre season. But not Ryan Braun.
He has almost duplicated - if not surpassed - his MVP numbers of a year ago. Braun has 161 hits, 38 homers, 100 RBI's, a .313 average and 23 stolen bases.
Braun, you'll recall, was cleared of charges that he used performance-enhancing drugs thanks to a protocol error in the handling of his urine samples. I just wonder if that lingering cloud and the Brewers so-so season will deny him of any MVP votes this time around.
You could argue that Ryan Braun is the best player in baseball.