Once again, the American League East is the toughest division in baseball.
The National League Central currently holds the rights to being called the best division in baseball, since St. Louis has the best record in the majors and the third-place Chicago Cubs are 10 games back despite being five games over .500. (Note: the Cubbies can’t catch no breaks.)
But back in the AL East, four teams are all within one game of first place, with only the Boston Red Sox sitting below .500. Just a couple weeks removed from an 11-game winning streak and having won four of six last week currently sit in fourth place, a half-game back of the New York Yankees, who are in turn a full game behind Tampa Bay and Baltimore, who sit tied atop the division.
The Dog Days of Summer have yet to arrive and already every inter-divisional series is of dire importance, which is why the clock is ticking on Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos to either make a deal that gives his club a better chance of separating themselves from the pack or telling the started-to-get-excited fans that the Blue Jays are going to play the hand they’ve been dealt, hope for some better health in the second half and see where it gets them.
It feels like Toronto has gotten to this point each of the last couple years; they look good and they’re in the hunt right up until that make-or-break point when the summer days are long and hot and the divisional race really picks up.
Last year, the Blue Jays didn’t make any significant moves at the deadline and the team stumbled down the stretch. The playoff drought continued for another year. The we-were-getting-excited audience was forced to come to the realization that once again, this year isn’t our year.
With the trade deadline a month away, it’s getting to be that time once again and something has got to give.
Anthopoulos could make a case that this team, once at full strength, should be able to pull away without a major deal. Devon Travis was tearing it up before he got hurt, Michael Saunders will eventually rejoin the team and the starters have been fairly consistent over the last month. With a little more health and a couple better outings out of the bullpen, this group as currently assembled has the potential to pull even with the Orioles and Rays and Yankees and maybe even pass them.
Which is why it feels like Toronto has to make a trade and not just a deal where they add a veteran bat off the bench or another sixth or seventh inning arm for the ‘pen. If this group is good enough to be where they are now, you would expect them to be even better if they added a Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto to the rotation or a legitimate, lights out closer for the ninth inning.
And Toronto should be dealing from a position of strength in these situations; they don’t need to make a move and they don’t need to give up a big name bat or young pitcher if the right deal isn’t there, but they have the depth in both places to pull the trigger if something worthwhile materializes.
It’s just a matter of whether or not this team continues to stay in the race and Anthopoulos looks to give this team an even better chance of making the playoffs than they already have.
Hopefully to months from now we’re not having another “Guess this year isn’t our year” conversation. Those are getting pretty old and tiresome.