Blue Jays Entering Toughest Stretch of the Year

BY @CHRIS_TOMAN

It's August 11th and the Toronto Blue Jays are within striking distance of a playoff spot thanks to being seven games above .500 with a 63-56 record. How rare is the Blue Jays being seven games over .500, 119 games into the year? Very.

Toronto's best seasons since winning back-to-back World Series championships in 1992-93 are as follows: 1998 (88-74); 2006 (87-75); 2003 (86-76); 2008 (86-76); 2010 (85-77); and 1999 (84-78).

Below is what the club's record was after 119 games:

1998: 59-59

1999: 65-54

2003: 59-60

2006: 64-55

2008: 60-59

2010: 63-56

The only years since 1993 that the Blue Jays had a better record after 119 games than they do now was 1999 and 2006, while matching the 63-56 mark in 2010. In the majority of the other years since the glory days, they were already out of it at this point, and had a losing record at the 119-game mark in eight of those seasons.

For some perspective, Toronto was 70-49 at this point in 1992, and 68-51 in '93.

Entering play Monday, the Blue Jays were clumped up with a bunch of American League teams vying for the second wild card spot. The first wild card is, of course, still up for grabs, but the Los Angeles Angels should be able hold steady if they shake off the mediocre stretch they are currently going through.

Toronto is looking up to the Kansas City Royals -- the only team in baseball with a longer playoff drought -- for the last postseason spot. The Royals hold a 1.5 game lead on the Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners -- the pair begin a pivotal three-game set at Safeco Field on Monday night -- while Kansas City is 2.5 up on the New York Yankees. New York and the Baltimore Orioles play three games at Camden Yards starting Monday.

Things are heating up, to say the least.

The Blue Jays' recent six-game homestand was salvaged by two come-from-behind walk-off wins against the suddenly reeling Detroit Tigers. But playing .500 ball the rest of the way likely won't be good enough to snap a 20-year postseason drought. Sure, the Blue Jays faced some tough pitching over the weekend -- winning back-to-back contests in games started by two of baseball's best arms in Max Scherzer and David Price -- but they also lost two of three in the more important series against the Orioles, facing far less superior pitching. But, hey, that's baseball.

Good teams need to find a way to beat good pitching. And good teams need to take care of business at home. Yes, their recent series would be no easy task for any team but the upcoming eight-game road trip starting against the AL's Cy Young favorite in Felix Hernandez, before stops in Chicago to face the White Sox and Milwaukee to meet the National League central division-leading Brewers, is going to be no picnic, either.

Toronto is trailing Baltimore by five games in the AL East -- the Orioles' five-game lead is the biggest among any division leader. The Blue Jays still face Baltimore six more times this season -- all in September, including what could be a dramatic three-game set to end the year -- but for those games to matter, Toronto will have to go on a run until then to make up the ground. Those games could still very well matter for the Blue Jays in their quest for the second wild card, but winning the division and avoiding a sudden death one-game play-in is still goal No. 1 for this club.

It won't be easy, but it's not impossible.

There are a lot of good teams in the thick of things alongside Toronto. Each hiccup -- while not fatal -- will slowly start decreasing playoff odds. As the calender shifts to September, each game is going to feel that much more important.

After the eight-game road trip, Toronto's schedule looks like this (hint, it's not easy):

Nine at home vs. the Tampa Bay Rays (3), Boston Red Sox (3) and Yankees (3)

Six on the road vs. the Rays (3) and Red Sox (3)

Six at home vs. the Rays (3) and Chicago Cubs (3)

Seven on the road vs. the Orioles (3) and Yankees (4)

Seven at home vs. the Mariners (4) and Yankees (3)

That's it. And that final stretch is going to be wild, especially the seven games Toronto gets to close out at home. The Rogers Centre was rocking this past weekend, and it should be even crazier then.

Toronto drew 33,000-plus for each contest over the six-game homestand and a total of 232,203. The fans understand, and are embracing, the significance of this opportunity.

Enjoy it. We are just shy of mid-August with a lot of baseball to go, but meaningful Blue Jays games at this point in the season doesn't happen every year.

Adam Lind is on his way back and when Toronto returns Edwin Encarnacion from his rehab assignment -- even without the oft-injured Brett Lawrie -- the lineup is going to be potent. Manager John Gibbons will really be able to settle in on set platoons and have certain roles for his players as they enter the stretch run of the season. Will the pitching staff be able to live up to its end of the bargain? Only time will tell.

Buckle up, it should be a fun ride.