The "second half" of the regular season officially gets underway tonight as the Texas Rangers visit the Rogers Centre for a three-game weekend series that both teams will be wanting to win to kickstart their stretch runs. With the Blue Jays (49-47) sitting second, four games back of the Orioles in the American League East, these next few months may determine the whole future of the organization and who gets to keep their job at the end of the year.
As mentioned, the Blue Jays are in pretty good shape heading into the second half of July with only the Orioles and Yankees providing any competition for the division crown. It's beginning to look unlikely that the Rays or Red Sox will be able to mount much of a second half comeback, but stranger things have happened. On the Wild Card side of things, the AL West is tearing it up and has a good chance to take both of the playoff berths for teams who fail to win the division. Currently, the Angels have a huge lead for the first Wild Card spot while the Mariners are holding onto the second berth by 2.5 games over the Royals and the Blue Jays. It would certainly make things easier for the Blue Jays if they could snatch the division crown away from Baltimore instead of trying to beat out the plethora of competition for a place in the Wild Card game.
The remaining 66 games for the Blue Jays are certainly not that daunting as they are scheduled to play the Red Sox 13 more times, who they are 4-2 against so far this season, as well as nine more games against the Rays, who Toronto is 6-4 against this year. The schedule also provides an opportunity for the Blue Jays to beat teams they are competing against for playoff berths including 10 more games against the Yankees, 9 more games against the Orioles, and 6 against the Mariners.
The important stretches remaining include a 10-game road trip starting on July 25th, that sees the Blue Jays play the Yankees, Red Sox, and Astros. The outcome of that road trip will likely decide how Alex Anthopoulos approaches the rest of the season in terms of trades and prospect call-ups. Other key stretches include a nine-game homestand in late August with massive games against division rivals Tampa Bay, Boston, and New York, as well as a season-defining seven-game road trip in late September against Baltimore and New York.
The playoff berths this season may be decided by who is healthiest heading down the stretch, which is what always seems to happen. For the Blue Jays, Brandon Morrow has started throwing and should be back around the beginning of September, while infielders Brett Lawrie and Edwin Encarnacion should return sometime between the last week of July and beginning of August. No one seems to know when Adam Lind will return, but thankfully it won't be the 6-8 week timetable that was initially talked about. The new Blue Jays in Nolan Reimold and Cole Gillespie will be back sometime before early August, although it's tough to say if they'll even be a spot for them when they return.
The possible trades that the Blue Jays could make have been talked about around these parts ad nauseam, but the prospect of landing David Price, Aaron Hill, Martin Prado, Chase Headley or someone else is still relatively high before the trade deadline. On the prospect side of things, there's still a chance that a highly regarded player like Daniel Norris or Aaron Sanchez is promoted to the Blue Jays bullpen to give a final jolt to the team down the stretch. With it being so late in the season, it's unlikely that the promotion would have a major impact on service time, which the Blue Jays say doesn't factor into their decisions anyway (yeah right).
So hopefully y'all are as excited about the second half of the season as I am! It's tough to predict, but what I do know is that it would be mighty sweet if this was the season that the Blue Jays broke their playoff curse.