TORONTO -- The Blue Jays didn't exactly make it look easy but they are going to the postseason once again after officially claiming the top American League Wild Card spot on Sunday afternoon.Toronto kept it entertaining until the very end by squeaking out a 2-1 victory over divison-rival Boston in
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays didn't exactly make it look easy but they are going to the postseason once again after officially claiming the top American League Wild Card spot on Sunday afternoon.
Toronto kept it entertaining until the very end by squeaking out a 2-1 victory over divison-rival Boston in the series finale. The Blue Jays took it all the way down to the final day of the regular season but the most relevant thing here is that they are in the postseason.
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The Blue Jays are set to host the Orioles in the AL Wild Card game at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday at Rogers Centre, which will be televised on Sportsnet (English) and RDS (French) in Canada and TBS in the United States. With such a small margin of error down the stretch, there were several big moments throughout the year that helped Toronto get to where it is today.
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Here's a look back at the Top 5 moments that changed the season:
Sanchez named to the rotation
Aaron Sanchez became such a valuable member of the starting rotation that it's easy to forget the move almost never happened. Sanchez arrived in camp without any guarantees and it wasn't until he blew through four weeks of competition that the club finally announced where he would begin the year. If Sanchez opened the season in the 'pen, he likely would have remained there and that would have cost Toronto his 192 quality innings as a starter. Without Sanchez's breakthrough season in the rotation, the Blue Jays would not be where they are today. If there was any lingering doubt about that, it ended on Sunday when Sanchez helped the Blue Jays secure the top Wild Card spot by taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning.
The mid-May turnaround
When the Blue Jays arrived in Minnesota on May 19, they were four games under .500 and seven games back in the AL East. The offense was struggling and the calls of it still being "early" were starting to ring hollow as the club slipped further back in the division. The Blue Jays ended up taking three of four from the Twins and they went on to win 11 of their next 14 to climb within 2 1/2 games of first place. The Minnesota series wasn't the sole reason behind this turnaround, but considering the tight race for the postseason, the club started playing up to its capabilities at just the right time.
The Grilli deal
When the Blue Jays acquired Jason Grilli from the Braves in exchange for Minor Leaguer Sean Ratcliffe on May 31, the move was not expected to have much of an impact. It was a low-risk deal for a team that was trying to solve its late-inning relief woes, but nobody could have predicted the deal would have worked out quite this well. Grilli did seem to show some signs of fatigue down the stretch, but from June 1-Aug. 28, he allowed just five runs over 31 2/3 innings. He was called a "savior" by manager John Gibbons and it's possible Toronto never would have found itself back in contention without his contributions.
The Blue Jays did not repeat last year's flurry of major moves at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, but general manager Ross Atkins did make a series of seemingly minor trades that ended up playing a big role down the stretch. Joaquin Benoit had the same kind of impact that Grilli made on the bullpen, lefty Francisco Liriano became a valuable member of the rotation in September and Melvin Upton Jr. played a lot more than anyone expected in August because of injuries to José Bautista and Kevin Pillar. Take away Liriano's four consecutive quality starts to end the year and who knows what would have happened to Toronto.
The final showdown
Toronto entered September with a two-game lead in the AL East but proceeded to go 11-16 over the final full month of the season. A lack of offense was the main culprit, and the end result was a pair of seemingly must-win games at Fenway Park. Toronto was in serious danger of either missing the postseason or being forced to win a tiebreaker in order to make the AL Wild Card Game. In the end, the Blue Jays did what they needed to do: Kevin Pillar drove in three runs and J.A. Happ tossed 6 1/3 strong innings on Saturday, while Troy Tulowitzki delivered the go-ahead RBI and Aaron Sanchez carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning on Sunday.
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.