With postseason ticket punched, Blue Jays eye division crown
With first playoff trip since 1993 guaranteed, Toronto hungers for more
TORONTO -- The longest drought in Major League Baseball is over, as the Blue Jays are officially heading to the postseason for the first time since 1993.
Toronto clinched a Wild Card spot late Friday night but waited until the following day to celebrate after a 10-8 victory over Tampa Bay. Taking one extra day didn't seem like a big deal, especially for an organization that hadn't experienced this type of moment in 22 years.
The Blue Jays have a bigger goal in mind with a four-game lead over the Yankees for first place in the American League East. Toronto's magic number to clinch the division is five -- and while that remains the focus, the Blue Jays didn't take any issue with putting the work on pause for just a little bit.
"The focus is on baseball, right now, but you look at all those fans in the stands, what's going on across Canada, the support," said Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who was soaking wet from a champagne shower during the clubhouse celebration.
"I think just the turnaround of the organization. I got here basically for 2004 ... with those awful black sparkly Jays jerseys, 1.5 million in the stands. Our uniforms are amazing, right now, our fan base is insane. None of those things were in place. That's not GM, that's not baseball operations, that's everyone pulling their weight from an organizational standpoint. To see how far we've come has been incredible."
The fact that the Blue Jays did end up celebrating their clinch day -- despite previous claims to the contrary -- is rather fitting for an organization that has so many players who had yet to experience this kind of moment. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion -- who are the longest-tenured players on the team, starting their time with Toronto in 2008 and 2009, respectively -- have both never appeared in the postseason.
The same could be said about some others on the team, like 40-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Then, there's the young group of impressive rookies that includes Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna. This was a first for so many inside the clubhouse walls that what started as a simple toast ended up becoming a huge celebration with cigars, booming music and countless bottles of champagne.
"You go around that room, Bautista, Dickey, Eddie, there's a bunch of them," manager John Gibbons said of the veteran postseason first-timers. "Guys that have had tremendous careers, the top players in baseball but they haven't experienced that yet. ... Some guys running around in the big leagues over the history of the game that were Hall of Fame players and never got there. Nobody ever wants that.
"There has been some tough years, some lean years here. They had done their part and there wasn't enough to get the team over the top. It will be very rewarding and will be a chance for the whole world to see what those guys are about."
Toronto was able to take one item off its checklist this weekend, but the overall mission is still ongoing. The next goal is to clinch the AL East, which could happen during a four-game series next week in Baltimore.
Then, there's also the fact that the Blue Jays remain in the hunt to finish with the best record in the AL. Toronto is tied with the Royals for the top spot, with home-field advantage throughout the postseason on the line. But based on their head-to-head record (4-3), the Blue Jays would be the No. 1 overall seed if the season ended today. The team with the best record will be matched up against the winner of the AL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser in the ALDS.
The Yankees and Astros currently occupy the top AL Wild Card spots, but the Angels and Twins also remain in the mix. Toronto recently completed its season series against the Yankees with a 13-6 record against its division rival. The Blue Jays haven't played Houston since before the All-Star break but lost the season set, 4-3.
"Everybody has been waiting for this, for a long, long time," said Bautista, who homered twice on Saturday afternoon. "We can't wait for it to start. It's exciting. Our goal is attainable, and most of the time it hasn't been, in the last [few] seasons that I've been here, and the last 22 years. We're all excited."
If the Blue Jays clinch the AL East but don't finish with the best-overall record, they likely will host Texas in the ALDS. The Rangers currently have a 3 1/2-game lead over Houston in the AL West and trail only Toronto for the best record since the All-Star break.
Facing the Rangers would be a difficult task, considering their recent success. But Texas does have four lefties in its starting rotation, and Toronto has the best OPS (.819) of any team in the league vs. southpaws.
No. 1 starter Cole Hamels won't make it easy, though, and right-hander Yovani Gallardo owns a career 1.33 ERA in three starts against the Blue Jays. But Toronto owns a 4-2 record against the Rangers this year. The anticipation for the postseason will continue to build over the final games of the season, but Toronto still has a lot of work to do.
"You just want to get there in the end," Anthopoulos said. "I think the fact that we know we're going to be in the postseason means a lot. We want to win the division -- and beyond that, it's a great moment, it's great to see these guys excited."