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Post-Deadline, Jays swooping in on Wild Card race

CHICAGO -- Oh, well. Hanging onto Jeff Samardzija at the non-waiver Trade Deadline seemed like a good idea at the time.

Maybe not so much by mid-afternoon on Sunday, when the Yankees were pounding the Shark for nine runs en route to a 12-3 victory to win the series. It was a step in the wrong direction for the White Sox, in what has been a wide-open Wild Card race, lacking definition.

If there was a saving grace for Robin Ventura's guys, it was that they were playing the AL East leader, not one of the teams from the pack chasing the two Wild Cards. They'll get down to the nitty gritty on Monday, when the Rays arrive in town, and the reality is that both teams scoreboard-watching at U.S. Cellular should root for Minnesota to beat the Blue Jays in David Price's Toronto debut.

No team improved as much before last Friday's Trade Deadline than the Jays. Their collection of talent has been greater than their record all season, in part because they lacked a true No. 1 starter. But with Price and Troy Tulowitzki among the reinforcements, they've become one of the best 54-52 teams in Major League history.

And as we wake up on Monday, with nine weeks remaining in the regular season, it's clear that the Blue Jays are the team to beat in the American League Wild Card race.

Toronto's lineup was already the best in the Major Leagues when General Manager Alex Anthopoulos added Tulowitzki.

Colorado's D.J. LeMahieu predicted that his ex-teammate would be energized by the chance to play for a contender, and those words are ringing true. Tulowitzki's gone 6-for-17 in five games with the Blue Jays. More to the point, he's scored six runs and driven in five.

So, yeah, that part of the plan is working pretty well.

Rogers Centre figures to be jumping when Price faces the Twins' Ervin Santana. He's joining a rotation that ranks 10th in the league with a 4.33 ERA. Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey and Marco Estrada have been reliable but Price (9-4, 2.53) gives John Gibbons a difference-making arm to help get the Jays into a Wild Card playoff -- and hopefully start the win-or-go-home game.

Unless, of course, if the Blue Jays play well enough in the next couple of months to run down the Yankees and Orioles to win the division. That seems like a real possibility, if they keep hitting home runs and putting runs on the board. Their +106 run differential is the best in the AL.

Beyond the strength of the Jays, the AL's Wild Card picture is as unsettled as it has been all season.

Eight teams started the weekend within four games of a Wild Card spot. They were a combined 10-14, with only the Blue Jays, Orioles and Rangers winning series.

It's time to sound an alarm about the Angels, who had appeared to take control of the West before losing nine of ten. They have fallen behind the surging Astros, who got a lot better with their July additions: Carlos Gomez, Scott Kazmir and Mike Fiers.

When you've got Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, you'll never not have a chance. But the Angels have thrown themselves into the crowded waters of the Wild Card pool.

And the Twins?

They still might turn out to the best story in the Majors this season. But they're 5-10 since the All-Star break -- a big factor in allowing teams like the Rays and White Sox to keep the light on.

The Twins will play four games in Toronto. That's a whole lot of Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin and Tulowitzki.

We'll better be able to provide an extended forecast on the Twins when the series is over. These games count the same as the ones played in April and May, but they're starting to feel a lot more important.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for
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