The Most Important Game of the Year

Important

It’s over.

With a 4-1 loss to the Rays in dreaded Tropicana Field, the Jays franchise record tying 11-game winning streak came to an end last night.

We all knew it would end.  It had to at some point.  As much as every fan in Toronto wanted the Jays to stretch it to 110 straight  – which would entail finishing the season 126 – 36 with a perfect 11-0 romp through the playoffs –  it wasn’t going to happen.

The big question now becomes: what next?

Teams can go on winning streaks.  They happen.  Even the Astros or Marlins may be able to rip off a 10-game streak this summer.  But once they lose, once the streak is over, they will go back to being the Astros or the Marlins, a 100-loss team at the bottom of the standings.

The Jays just spent the last 11 games proving to all of baseball that they are indeed a contender, that they are indeed the team that they set out to construct in the offseason.  They just spent the past 11 games dispelling the notion that they were a bunch of overrated, underperforming players destined to make 2013 one of the most disappointing seasons in Blue Jays history.

Which is why tonight’s game, Toronto at Tampa Bay, Mark Buehrle vs Matt Moore, just might be the most important game of the season.  It is essential that the club put an end to any losing streak, even one of only a single game.  It is essential that they start winning again right away, if only to prevent the doubt that plagued the team in April and May from slowly sinking back in to both players and fans.

There is precedent within Toronto’s history of how not to handle the end of a winning streak.  In 1987, the club won 11 straight games from June 2 to June 13.  The streak ended with an 8-5 loss to Baltimore, and the Jays the promptly lost a second straight game, and then 13 of the next 19.  After the 11th consecutive win they had a three game lead in the division, but ended up falling five back post-streak.  They missed the playoffs by two games.

In 1998, the Jays ran off another 11-game streak from August 27 to September 7, moving them from 12.5 games behind Boston for the AL Wild Card, to only five back.  However, just like in ’87, they struggled after the streak was snapped, losing two straight and 7 of the next 11.  The ’98 Jays finished 88-74, four games back of the Wild Card.

So what will happen in 2013?  After Sunday’s big win over Baltimore, Toronto was only five back of the Red Sox for the divison lead, and three back of a Wild Card slot.  There is still a lot of baseball left to be played, but history has shown that any slip up after a big streak could prove fatal. 

With Jose Reyes due back tomorrow, reinforcements are coming.

But tomorrow is still a day away.  

A win tonight is almost mandatory.

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