Have the Blue Jays gotten your attention yet?
Maybe the coolest thing about this series is that the Blue Jays didn’t shy away from its importance. Even before they got to Yankee Stadium, they said it would be three of the most meaningful games for the franchise in recent memory. Translation: The Blue Jays haven’t made to the postseason since 1993 and were under .500 as recently as two weeks ago. To put it bluntly, not everyone is convinced how good they are.
Yankee fans were all over social media prior to the series pointing out they hadn’t been impressed by a four-game sweep of the Twins. What say you now, kids?
Professional athletes resist the labels those of us in the media put on certain games. What’s a “statement game” anyway? If the Blue Jays had been swept by the Yankees this weekend, they would still have 49 games remaining and be right back at it Tuesday night at home against the Athletics.
The Blue Jays and Yankees will play one another 10 more times, including three next weekend in Toronto. Whatever statement the Blue Jays managed to make this weekend would have a short shelf life.
Okay, we understand that. That said, it was a great three days for the Blue Jays. An important three days for the franchise. A validation of their transformation.
At the moment—and this is a key phrase—the Blue Jays appear to be the American League’s best team.
In beating the Yankees by scored of 2-1, 6-0 and 3-0, they answered three significant questions about themselves:
- Is their rotation good enough in the wake of David Price’s arrival in a Trade Deadline deal with Detroit? Three Toronto starters—R.A. Dickey, Marco Estrada and Price—allowed baseball’s second-highest scoring offense one earned runs in 20 1/3 innings.
(The Yankees hadn’t been shut out in consecutive games at home since May 12-13, 1999—a stretch of 2,665 games.)
Their pitching has been really good for awhile. In winning 11 of 12, the Blue Jays have trimmed their deficit in the American League East from eight games on July 28 to 1 1/2 today. Their starters are 10-0 with a 1.78 ERA in this stretch.
- Is their bullpen good enough?
This part of the roster has caused general manager Alex Antopolous one headed after another. He has used 27 pitchers in all. Six different Blue Jays have at least one save. Three different Blue Jays have at least four.
With a surplus of starting pitchers, the Blue Jays shifted one of baseball’s best arms, 22-year-old Aaron Sanchez, back to the bullpen. His presence in the bullpen and the deals for veterans Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins has transformed that part of the Blue Jays as much as Price deepened the rotation.
Since July 28th—that was the day the Blue Jays acquired shortstop Troy Tulowitzki from the Rockies and told the world they were in a “go for it” mode—Toronto’s bullpen has been baseball’s best.
They’ve got a 1.78 ERA since then, and in three games against the Yankees, Toronto relievers allowed no earned runs in 7 2/3 innings.
(Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran were a combined six for 33 with one extra base hit this weekend.)
- Would they blink?
Yankee Stadium can intimidate. There’s all that history. There are those thunderclap ovations. The Blue Jays handled it all. They won a one-game game in 10 innings on Friday. They were in a scoreless game on Saturday until Ivan Nova hung a breaking ball to Justin Smoak with the bases loaded in the sixth. On Sunday, they scored a run in the top of the first and never surrendered the lead. The Yankees left seven men on base and went zero for five with runners in scoring position as Estrada and three relievers tossed another shutout.
- Now what?
The Blue Jays will play one of the biggest home series in years next weekend when the Yankees come to Toronto. But that’s how pennant races are. The Blue Jays have gotten to within 1 1/5 games of first place, but that just means there’ll be more tests to pass, more big games to play.