The second half of the MLB season officially gets underway tonight, as the Jays host the Indians at the dome. Coming out of the break, Toronto is 43-43, a game and a half back of Cleveland in the wild card chase, so a series win would be a great way to start.
There are 76 games left on Toronto’s schedule. Here are ten storylines to watch for on the way to October.
The Blue Jays haven’t played a postseason game since 1993. With the addition of a second wild card , the chance to end that skid is within reach. Toronto is only 2.5 games behind the Orioles for the second wild card, meaning one hot streak could propel them into the mix. Coming out of the All-Star break last year, the Jays trailed the Yankees by 10 games for the wild card, virtually rendering the entire second half useless. If Toronto can hang around, things could get very interesting come September.
2. Quest for 50
Jose Bautista is tied for first in the majors with 27 home runs. Edwin Encarnacion isn’t far behind with 23. At the current rate, Bau is on pace for 51 HR, Edwin for 43. Though it’s unlikely, there is a chance that both men could reach the 50 home run mark. If they make it, they will become only the second set of teammates in baseball history to hit 50 HR in the same season. The first? Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in 1961.
3. Return of the Injured
Brandon Morrow is throwing again, which is a good sign. Sergio Santos and Drew Hutchison are not. But there is a chance that Toronto could get all three guys back for the stretch run, which would obviously be a huge boost for their playoff chances. The biggest question is if they do return from injury, how effective will each player be? And what role will Santos fill, with the emergence of Casey Janssen as a lights out closer?
4. Trade Deadline
It’s no secret that Alex Anthopoulos is looking to make a deal. The Jays badly need pitching help, they have prospects they can move, and their best player is publicly pleading with the GM to make some moves. At last year’s deadline AA made the biggest splash of all when he acquired Colby Rasmus from the Cardinals. With names like Dempster, Garza, Hamels, and Greinke potentially being available, will Anthopoulos once again shock the world with a blockbuster?
5. WAR Hero
You can argue about the merits of the WAR statistic for hours and hours, but there’s no denying that it is a useful tool. Currently Brett Lawrie is leading all American League players in the baseball reference version of the stat with a 5.0 WAR. Only one Blue Jay has ever lead the AL in WAR after a full season – Roger Clemens with an 11.8 WAR in 1997. No position player has ever done it – not George Bell in his MVP season, not Jose Bautista in his 50 HR season, and not Roberto Alomar in his heyday. Can Lawrie hold on and be the first?
If you watched the Futures game last weekend, you likely saw Anthony Gose make a spectacular catch in CF. Depending on how the rest of the season goes, you might get a chance to see Gose make some catches for the Blue Jays in September. If Toronto falls out of the race (which they hopefully won’t), expect to see some September callups make their way North. Gose, Travis d’Arnaud, Adeiny Hechavarria, and maybe an arm or two (McGuire, Jenkins), might see some action as the Jays try to see what they have in the future.
7. The Snider Question
It’s hard to say which way it will go, but I would fully expect the Travis Snider situation to be resolved by the end of the season. Look for Travis to either be called up to the big leagues and take over in LF for good, or maybe be shipped out of town as part of a deal for a pitcher. I think we can all agree that AAA Vegas is no longer the place for Snider.
8. Can Ricky Romero Snap Out Of It?
In April, Ricky Romero looked like a Cy Young candidated, going 3-0 with a 3.18 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and a .193 opponents batting average. Then the wheels fell off. Since the calendar turned to May, Romero has gone 5-4, but with an ERA of 6.13, and a staggering 45 walks in only 76.1 IP. He now leads the American League in walks and is pitching with little to no confidence in losing his past three starts. However, he did look OK in his last turn against the White Sox (6 IP, 2 ER, 3 BB), so hopefully he is turning things around. The Jays need him on his “A” game if they have any hope of October baseball.
9. Vizquel Farewell
Toronto’s 45 year old bench player has made it known that he will retire at season’s end. Though he hasn’t spent much of his illustrious career in a Blue Jay uniform, Jays fans should still get out there and bid him adieu as he sails into the sunset.
10. The Rasmus Machine
Colby Rasmus was bad in April. He wasn’t much better in May. But then, suddenly, he took off. In June he hit .291 with a .878 OPS. In July so far he is hitting .286 with a 1.138 OPS. His HR total is rising by the day – it now stands at 17 – and with his move to the two-hole in the lineup, the sky’s the limit. It will be interesting to see just how high he goes in the second half, and consequently just how much of a steal he was from St. Louis.