Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)
With the Jays having an "Up & Down" type of June, the main topic of discussion amongst the fanbase is when the team will finally reach the .500 mark. As it currently stands, the Jays are 2 games below the goal, sitting at 33-35 (.485) and have failed to take advantage of games that we have otherwise felt were winnable (i.e. the series against Chicago). Moreover, the Jays have found themselves swapping players on the roster for those coming back from the DL, hindering their depth and forcing the need to bring up players from the minors that would otherwise still be in development. By doing so, it makes it increasingly more difficult for the Jays to reach the .500 mark. But it should also be noted that, with a week full of games ahead, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that the Jays can both attain and eclipse the goal, changing the description of their month of June from "Up & Down" to "Solid."
This was a strong discussion point in the conversation I had with Ryan of Jays Droppings on the first episode of The Weekend Hangover Podcast (even though my math was severely flawed, initially) as we looked at the schedule ahead. If we're taking it series by series, in order for the Jays to reach the .500 mark, they would need to take three out of the four games against the Rangers in Texas. This is obviously no easy feat, as the Rangers are currently sitting at .500 (34-34) and have won 7 of their last 10 games; two of those wins were against the red-hot Houston Astros in Houston. Although our gut-reaction is to scoff off the Rangers due to the history they have with the Jays and regard them as chokers (which... ya know, they pretty much are...), it shouldn't be discounted how important this series is and also shouldn't be taken lightly.
If you want to look at the positives, what immediately stands out is that the Jays will avoid facing Yu Darvish, and will also close out the series facing Martin Perez, who has been having a June I'm sure he'd like to forget (7.07 ERA, 21 hits, 11 earned runs, 6 walks, & 12 strikeouts over 14 innings). On the flip side, the Jays will have Estrada, Liriano, Biagini, and Stroman - respectively - on the hill during the season, which offers reason for optimism, despite Biagini's most recent outing (I don't want to talk about it... and I'm sure you don't either). Of the 4 starters for the Jays that are scheduled to face Texas, only two have faced them previously this year; Estrada and Biagini. Earlier in May, Estrada had a strong outing, pitching 6 innings giving up only 4 hits, 1 earned run, 1 walk, and 8 strikeouts and picking up the win. Biagini's outing was also pretty good, even though it unfortunately resulted in a loss - 6 innings, 7 hits, 2 earned runs, 1 walk, and 7 strikeouts. Given that Liriano has been pitching strong as of late, and also finding it hard to not trust Stroman, there's a lot of room for optimism in believing that the Jays could finally reach the .500 clip during this series. Given the history of the two teams, along with the... um.... "incident" that occurred in Texas last year, there's certainly no love-loss between these two teams, and hopefully the Jays can use this as motivation to reach their goal (what can I say - I'm a fan of intangibles. Judge me!).
However, immediately following the series in Texas, the Jays travel to Kansas City to face the Royals for three games over the weekend. With no off days coupled with the woe of traveling, this series may be a bit more challenging than the aforementioned one against Texas in terms of fatigue. Coincidentally, the Jays and Roayls currently have the exact same record in a division that looks eerily similar to the AL East in terms of how close of a race it is. During this series, the Jays are scheduled to face Jake Junis, Jason Vargas, and Jason Hammel respectively. Junis has been struggling during the month of June, holding an ERA of 6.75 while giving up 22 hits, 15 runs (12 of which were earned), 4 walks, and 13 strikeouts over the course of 16 innings. Given the fact that the Jays face Vargas - who has been having himself quite the year thus far - the following day, they would have to capitalize on Junis' struggles in order to take the series. Now, I'm not saying that the game against Vargas ought to be regarded as an inevitable loss for the Jays; afterall, this is baseball. However, I'd be hard pressed to regard Vargas as a non-factor. He's certainly going to be a challenge. Closing out the series for the Royals, however, is Jason Hammel who, despite having regular season numbers that would are easy to brush off, his June numbers are telling quite a different story. During the month of June, Hammel has an ERA of 2.21 giving up 17 hits, 5 earned runs, 1 walk, and 15 strikeouts over 20.1 innings. Given the Jays recent struggles, this series against Kansas City will be regarded as a test for the team that they can hopefully overcome.
It should be noted, though, that the Jays will have Happ, Estrada, & Liriano - respectively - to combat the Royals during the series, so it shouldn't be viewed as an insurmountable obstacle. If the Jays can take the series in Texas and ride that momentum in Kansas City, the optics of the team will certainly shift from middle of the pack to a team that can certainly compete for at least a Wild Card spot.
Currently, the Jays are only 2 games back from said spot, and it's not at all beyond the realm of possibility that they can make up enough ground to claim one of the Wild Card positions. Further, with Aaron Sanchez continuing his rehab process, throwing a bullpen session this past Friday, the Jays may find themselves in a better position to not only claim a Wild Card spot but also hold on to it. I know after a series against a team the Jays should have beaten (White Sox) it's hard to feel positive about them facing teams that are much more challenging, but we've seen the Jays work their magic before. For now, the goal is to keep chipping away towards .500, then towards a Wild Card spot, and then, who knows?! Maybe even the Division!!
OK, let's not get too crazy (yet).
Follow South of the 6ix on Twitter (@SouthOfThe6ix)