TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays are in control of their own destiny in the American League East. They are the favourites to win the division title and are a virtual lock to make their first playoff appearance in 22 years.
Here are five things to watch as the regular season winds down:
The Blue Jays acquired ace David Price at the trade deadline to handle big games — especially against the New York Yankees — over the playoff push in the second half. With an 8-1 record and 1.95 earned-run average since joining Toronto, he has come as advertised.
His next start is scheduled for Saturday against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays and he’ll get another start next week in Baltimore.
If the Blue Jays fall into a wild-card position, Price could be used in the Oct. 6 game on five days rest. But it’s much more likely they’ll take the East title and start him in the American League Division Series opener on Oct. 8.
Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey will start against the Rays on Friday night and veteran southpaw Mark Buehrle will close out the homestand on Sunday.
It has been an American League East-heavy schedule for the first-place Blue Jays of late and they’ll continue that trend for the remaining 10 games.
After the home schedule is completed Sunday against the Rays, it’s on to Baltimore for four games before wrapping the campaign with three games at Tampa Bay.
The second-place Yankees, who enter play Thursday 3 1/2 games behind the Blue Jays, are home for four-game sets against the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox before closing their season with a three-game series in Baltimore.
The 162-game regular season is a long one and any time off around this time of year is precious.
The Yankees have games scheduled every day until their finale Oct. 4. The Blue Jays, who have played one more game than New York, get a break before kicking off their last home series against Tampa Bay on Friday night.
“That’s got to help us, everybody is gassed this time of year,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “So much intensity too, that wears on them.”
Toronto’s offence has cooled a bit of late but the team should still finish first in several offensive categories this season.
The Blue Jays lead the major leagues in runs scored, home runs, slugging percentage and OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging). Toronto also has three players — Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion — who have reached the 35-homer and 100-RBI plateau.
It’s only the second time in franchise history that three players have accomplished the feat in the same year.
The 1998 Blue Jays boasted a power trio that included Jose Canseco (46 homers, 107 RBIs), Carlos Delgado (38-115) and Shawn Green (35-100).
Donaldson leads the way this year with 39 homers and 120 RBIs. Bautista has 36 homers — one more than Encarnacion — and both have 105 RBIs.
The Blue Jays have an idea of the rotation they’d like to use in the best-of-five ALDS, but they don’t want to get too far ahead of themselves.
If they win the division, expect Price to work two games with Dickey and Marcus Stroman likely to get starts as well. If that happens, the Blue Jays would then have to decide whether to go with Marco Estrada or Buehrle for the remaining nod.
The ALDS is a best-of-five affair from Oct. 8-14. The American League Championship Series is set for Oct. 16-24 and the World Series — also a best-of-seven series — goes Oct. 27-Nov. 4.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press