Yankees-Blue Jays Begin Seven-Week Battle

Toronto Blue Jays

Two weeks ago I thought the Yankees would cruise to the ALDS and possibly earn the 1-seed in the AL. Now I’m writing this wondering if I have enough alcohol for to get me through this weekend’s series against the Blue Jays.

With the Yankees and Blue Jays meeting for the second time in a week, Tom Dakers of Bluebird Banter joined me to talk about the Blue Jays’ recent run and bandwagon in Toronto, David Price’s domination with the Blue Jays and if Blue Jays fans would now consider the wild card a disappointment.

Keefe: Two weeks ago, the Yankees were set. They had an eight-game lead in the AL East and their team was healthy and getting hot at the right time, proving they didn’t necessarily need to make a deadline move. Then Michael Pineda got hurt. The entire offense stopped hitting and the starting pitching and bullpen faltered. The Blue Jays on the other hand made their moves and haven’t lost since and might never lose again.

Last week you told me Toronto was going wild for the Blue Jays and since then they have moved into first. How much better has the mood gotten?

Dakers: Yeah, we are getting bandwagon fans by the thousands. Games are selling out weeks in advance. The team has opened up seating that has been covered for years and are talking about selling standing room only tickets. National news broadcasts are talking about the team. Everyone is talking about the team. When I’m walking around wearing my Jays cap, people will stop to talk about the team.

Baseball, of course, is game number 2 (at best) in Canada. Hockey is the big sport. To get the attention of the casual fan, the Jays have to really do something. It’s nice that they have the public’s attention again. There is a new song about the Jays by a Canadian band, The Isotopes, has the line “Let’s party like it’s 1993”. I’m hoping we do that.

Keefe: The Yankees needed to win once last weekend. Instead they didn’t win at all and scored two runs in three games. The Blue Jays swept them in the Bronx and put me into a depression I might not ever get over if the Yankees continue to spiral out of control.

Were you surprised with last weekend?

Dakers: Yeah I was, I was hoping for a series win, a sweep was too much to hope. And I didn’t expect our pitching to be that good. Holding the Yankees to one run over three games (and a run that needed a long replay timeout, at that) was better than my best dreams. The pitching has been the concern all season. For the first half of the season it was far worse than we had figured. This month has made up for that.

And manager John Gibbons has finally enough good arms in the bullpen to use it the way he would like. Earlier in the year, the only pitching he trusted was Roberto Osuna, and Roberto was pitching a lot and would go more than an inning to get a save at times. Now he has setup men he trusts. And, if Osuna needs a day off, he has guys he’s willing to put out there to get a save.

The offense is something we expect, the pitching has been the surprise. If they can keep pitching like this, we should be seeing playoff baseball in Toronto.

Keefe: I hope the David Price the Yankees embarrassed in April and last August shows up on Friday.

Price looks like he has kicked it into a gear on his new team in a playoff race. Does he seem and look better than expected?

Dakers: The big surprise, for me, is how well he’s fit in and how he seems to be saying and doing all the right things. He’s clearly enjoying his time in Toronto. He had a little scooter to make the short trip to Rogers Center for games, and some of his teammates asked him about it and he ordered scooters for any teammate who expressed any interest.

On the mound? Yeah, two games 15 innings, six hits, one earned, 18 strikeouts, yeah even though we had high hopes, he’s cleared that bar easily. He sure isn’t hurting his free agency value. I’m hoping he enjoys being in Toronto enough that he considers sticking around.

Keefe: At some point the Jays’ top four hitters have to go cold? Right? RIGHT?

I don’t know why teams still pitch to them rather than attack the bottom of the order, but it keeps happening and I guess there’s no way around it.

The scary part is the starting pitching just has to be decent for the Jays to keep winning. Quality starts are guaranteed wins.

Maybe if I keep talking positivity about them, a reverse jinx will kick in?

Dakers: You know that Josh Donaldson hasn’t been intentionally walked yet this season? Of course with Jose Bautista hitting behind him, it’s a touch choice on who you would rather face. As a team, we’ve only been handed six intentional walks, which seems very low, considering all the power hitters.

The great part is there is a new hero every day. No one guy has to carry the team on his shoulders. Heck, Ryan Goins hit a three-run homer yesterday, to give us a 4-2 win. R.A. Dickey, who has a 1.80 ERA for August, talked about how great it feels to know that you just have to do your job, that you don’t have to be the star every time out.

The Jays have gotten more out of the bottom of the order than I expected. They have been good at, at very least, getting on base enough to get us back to the top of the order again quickly.

Keefe: Last week you said there was enough time to win the division and boom it happened. Now that the Jays are in first will you be upset if they don’t win the East and play on the wild-card game?

Dakers: No, I wouldn’t be upset. I think we have the right guy for a 1-game playoff, I think Price would be tough to beat in that game.

There are enough games left that the team will likely have a couple of hot and cold stretches, but I am feeling pretty good about our chances. All season long the Jays have been underperforming their Pythagorean Record, we hoped that there would be a correction at some point.

The nice and more unnoticed part of the deals made at the deadline is the improvement in defense that the Jays have made. Troy Tulowitzki is hugely better than Jose Reyes was at the shortstop position. He has fair more range and doesn’t seem to have Reyes’ ability to make an error at the worst possible moment. And, as much as Chris Colabello is hitting far better than we had any right to hope, he played defense roughly as well I would in left. Ben Revere is at least average in left and makes all the catches you’d expect and the occasional excellent one. Now I don’t shutter every time a ball goes towards left field. We’ll gone from an average defensive team, with a couple of black holes. Now I think we have a good defensive team.

I’m hoping, going forward, that the Jays won’t be an offense only team, that they can win some games with pitching and defense.