Blue Jays thriving and up for the challenge of meaningful September baseball — Toronto Sun

Rob Longley Publishing date:Sep 14, 2020  •

BUFFALO — How does it feel to be a Blue Jays fan and an avid daily observer of the Major League Baseball standings? Read More

Blue Jays thriving and up for the challenge of meaningful September baseball — Toronto Sun

BUFFALO — How does it feel to be a Blue Jays fan and an avid daily observer of the Major League Baseball standings?

It has been a while, but it’s a thing.

Blue Jays thriving and up for the challenge of meaningful September baseball

With their final off-day of the 60-game season spent here in Buffalo on Monday and then on an afternoon flight to New York for a three-game series against the Yankees beginning on Tuesday, the excitement of September baseball is catching on.

You can hear it in manager Charlie Montoyo’s voice, even though he quite wisely is focusing on the immediate daily challenges rather than getting distracted by the long view. And it definitely has become a topic of conversation in the clubhouse among a group that boldly talked of big expectations of itself from the start.{%27relatedChannels%27:%20[],%27autonav%27:true}&autoplay=0&playsinline=1

“We have (14) games to play and if we can win as many games as possible, it puts us in a better spot,” utility infielder Joe Panik said on a Zoom call this past weekend. “I’m not saying we want to be a specific seed, but we want to be in front of as many teams as possible to set ourselves up for the best matchup possible.

“The goal is to make the playoffs, but if we can have some sort of momentum going into the playoffs, that’s where we want to be.”

The Jays are being careful not to get too far ahead of themselves, which is always wise. There is enough business to take care of over the final two weeks and the post-season permutations are likely to fluctuate daily. First up there are 10 consecutive games against teams in playoff spots, beginning with three in the Bronx.

The pending series against the Yankees figures to be a stouter challenge than the one last week at Sahlen Field in which the Jays took two of three. The Yankees have reeled off five wins in a row and have starters Delvi Garcia (who stymied the Jays last week), ace Gerrit Cole (who returned to form with a seven-inning shutout of the Orioles on Friday) and another tough test with Masahiro Tanaka getting the ball on Thursday.

The Jays will counter with Taijuan Walker followed by Tanner Roark and a starter to be named later for the third game.

The two teams will enter the series with the Jays holding a narrow half-game lead for second in the division and with it the No. 5 seed among the eight available in the AL. As it stands, that spot gets you a first-round series against Josh Donaldson and the Minnesota Twins.

The best-of-three opening round will have a crapshoot element to it and not much is to be gained about obsessing over the opponent, but from a fan and player perspective, it is in some ways irresistible.

“We’re not looking behind us, we’re not looking in front of us,” Panik said. “We’re looking to win every day and if we take care of business every day, we will be where we want to be. If we could set us up for the best possible matchup for the wild-card round, that would be ideal.”

Speaking of business, there is enough on the agenda as the Jays look to not only secure a spot (and with a 5.5 game margin over those outside of the top eight prior to Monday’s action) the odds are certainly piled high in their favour.{%27relatedChannels%27:%20[],%27autonav%27:true}&autoplay=0&playsinline=1

Over the coming days, Montoyo and pitching coach Pete Walker will devise a plan to maximize their pitching options, tailoring it to suit a best-of-three wild-card round series. Assuming he continues the form he showed in Sunday’s six-inning, seven strikeout, one-run allowed outing, Hyun-Jin Ryu will carry his ace status into either the first or second game.

Walker would be expected to get whichever of those assignments Ryu does not, but the remainder is up in the air. All season, the Jays coaching staff has been creative with starting assignments and bullpen days and with pitchers returning from injury, there will be options.

And yes, there is also the business of those on the mend. Teoscar Hernandez, who still leads the Jays in RBI despite missing the past seven games with a mild oblique strain, is progressing nicely. Hernandez hit off a tee and ran in the outfield on Saturday and on Sunday had a limited batting practice session, an extremely encouraging development.

The Jays won’t rush Hernandez back, but if he can see action during the final week of the season, it could be a massive addition to the team’s attack over the final weekend and into the opening round.

Pitching wise, closer Ken Giles has already been activated after missing 40 games. The right-hander acknowledged it’s going to take a number of outings to reach shut-down form but felt confident that the final two weeks of the season will be enough to do so.

Matt Shoemaker and Nate Pearson are both nearing a return and likely to fill bullpen roles in some form. But as they have done throughout his challenging of seasons expect Montoyo and Walker to be creative in their approach in their plan to get 27 outs a night.

Barring an epic collapse over the remaining 14 contests, in two weeks the Blue Jays will be in the playoffs with meaningful September baseball potentially transitioning into October.

“Once we start winning, it feels like we can win on any night,” Ryu said on Sunday through interpreter Bryan Lee. “Getting confidence least to good results well. It’s a great cycle to be in so we’re definitely in a good spot right now.”

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