Blue Jays win first AL East title since 1993
Offense leads the way during second-half surge
BALTIMORE -- The Blue Jays are not only going back to the postseason for the first time since 1993 but they're going in as the American League East champions.
Toronto clinched the division crown with a 15-2 victory over the Orioles on Wednesday in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Camden Yards. The Blue Jays are guaranteed to have home-field advantage in the American League Division Series, but their opponent has yet to be determined.
After dropping Game 2, the Blue Jays have a one-game lead over the Royals for the top record in the AL, which would secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Toronto owns the tiebreaker between the two teams and would clinch the top spot even if both clubs finish with the same record.
The scene at Oriole Park at Camden Yards was almost surreal as a large group of Blue Jays fans made the trip to Baltimore to see the team clinch. General manager Alex Anthopoulos was sitting behind his team's dugout and was surrounded by a sea of blue that broke into a "Thank you Alex" chant in the last few minutes of the game.
"When it comes to the Blue Jays, we've been around a long time, we've been the only Canadian team now for quite a while and I just think our fan base is amazing to see," a visibly emotional Anthopoulos said. "I still get blown away when we go on the road and we're going all over the place. The turnout of the fans the last three years has been amazing to see, it really has.
"You're definitely grateful. It's a little odd, you're not a player and you certainly don't expect that, but their support has been great. I can't say enough about that."
If Toronto finishes with the best record, it would face the winner of the AL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser that will take place on Tuesday. The Yankees are currently the AL Wild Card leaders, with the Astros in the second spot, the Angels a half-game behind them, and the Twins also in the mix with four days remaining in the regular season. Toronto won its season series against New York 13-6, went 3-4 against Houston and went 5-2 against both the Angels and the Twins.
With the tiebreaker -- a 4-3 edge in the season series against Kansas City -- in their favor, the Blue Jays' magic number to clinch the top spot is three. If Toronto misses out on that opportunity, it would face the winner of the AL West. Texas is holding onto first place in that division over the Astros and Angels. Toronto has a 4-2 record against the Rangers this season.
The playoff matchups have yet to be determined, but the celebrations have already begun for a franchise that went 22 years between postseason appearances. That was the longest drought by any team in the major North American sports leagues.
"It's the ultimate right now," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "To be honest, we think we have more ahead of us, we really do, but it was a big hurdle to get over, it had been so long. But I'm proud of our guys. From Day 1, they just competed, and that's all we ask, and that's what happens when you throw a lot of talent together and they get after it every night. Good things happen."
The Blue Jays' postseason berth is even more remarkable considering they were 50-51 on July 28 and a distant eight games back in the AL East. Their luck changed that very same week thanks to a series of major moves pulled off by Anthopoulos.
The transformation of Toronto's roster began after a blockbuster deal with Colorado that saw Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins join the Blue Jays in exchange for Jose Reyes and a package of prospects. On July 30, the biggest trade of all happened when the Blue Jays acquired No. 1 starter David Price while left fielder Ben Revere and right-hander Mark Lowe provided even more depth in separate deals on July 31.
The moves sparked a complete turnaround that saw the Blue Jays almost instantly become the best team in the American League. Toronto has posted the best record in baseball since July 29 at 42-15, which equates to a stunning .737 winning percentage.
"We felt like we had a really good team that has underachieved to this point," Anthopoulos said in thinking back to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. "Our one-run games, our of our analytic guys, we talked about it internally, we felt that was going to turn and we knew were playing New York a lot, we were playing the Twins, we were playing the Rangers, we were playing the Orioles.
"So our last two months we were playing really good teams that we were going to chase, so we thought we had a shot, no doubt about it. I can't tell you if we didn't play New York so many times maybe things wouldn't have been the same, but we felt that was a lot of games remaining because of who we faced."