|Hat tip to @GrubersMullet and /u/MrCwark|
To be the best, you have to beat the best.
It isn’t just an idiom; it’s a reality for the Toronto Blue Jays. If they want to vault ahead of the New York Yankees in the standings, they’re going to have to beat them. And it all begins tonight.
The Blue Jays and Yankees prepare to battle in the Bronx for what will be the biggest series of the season thus far for both teams. With the surging Blue Jays just four games behind the Yankees, Toronto can make up some ground on their division rivals.
The anticipation for this series in particular has been unparalleled this year. There were a few series between the Orioles and Blue jays earlier this season which were fun to watch; mostly because of Jose Bautista’s escalating feud with certain Orioles players.
But this Jays/Yankees series during the stretch run of August baseball has much bigger implications. Both teams have a lot riding on this three game set at Yankee Stadium.
For the Blue Jays, their timing could not be more perfect; they’re one of the hottest teams in baseball right now, winners of five straight and eight of their last nine. Judging by the way the Blue Jays dismantled the Royals and Twins, they’re ready to take on the Yankees.
But the Yankees themselves should not be underestimated. This is a lesson I’ve learned after watching them year after year; the Yankees always somehow find a way to win, even when everything indicates they shouldn’t.
The “old” Yankees are enjoying renaissance seasons out of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, while owning one of the best bullpens in all of baseball. These are aspects of the Yankees which should not be taken lightly.
But the Blue Jays themselves are a veritable powder keg of offense; capable of exploding for a bucket of runs at any given moment. And with the addition of Troy Tulowitzki and Ben Revere, their lineup is even more potent than before.
On paper, I think the Blue Jays look like a much more formidable foe than the Yankees. Especially with the addition of David Price, the Blue Jays starting pitching has suddenly turned the corner (save for Drew Hutchison) and looks to be good enough to keep the team in games.
But again, for whatever reason, the New York Yankees always have this magical way of whittling away at a team like the Blue Jays. And in recent years, the Yankees have been merciless towards the Jays at Yankee Stadium.
Remember, the Blue Jays lost 17 straight games at Yankee Stadium until finally breaking the curse by winning a game (and a series) in late July. The Jays’ overall record at Yankee Stadium since 2009 is a measly 14-42.
In previous years, it always felt going into the Bronx to play the Yankees was a dangerous proposition for the Blue Jays. Minimize the damage, don’t get hurt, and get out of town as quickly as possible.
For the past six years, the Yankees have feasted upon the soft underbelly of the Toronto Blue Jays.
That’s suddenly changed. This Toronto Blue Jays team not only believes it can win, it now expects to win (much like the Yankees themselves). And it doesn’t seem to matter that their next foe is the one standing atop the American League East standings.
As Mark Buehrle said in best in his post-game comments yesterday:
“You’ve got that feel of every day you come on the field and ‘who’s next?’ No matter if it’s a rookie pitching or guy who’s been around awhile. We’ve got that feel of ‘who’s butt are we going to kick today?'”
By no means is this a make-or-break series for either the Blue Jays or Yankees. Toronto could certainly make up a lot of ground on New York if they sweep, potentially closing the AL East gap to only 1.5 games by Sunday.
Even if the Blue Jays emerged from the Bronx with two of three from the Yankees, I think most would view that as a very successful weekend. Alternatively, if the Jays lose two or three or get swept, all will not be lost.
But this Blue Jays/Yankees series could be strong indicator as to what to expect down the stretch from this Toronto Blue Jays team.
They elevated their game against the best team in the American League, the Kansas City Royals. They annihilated a team they were chasing in the Wild Card hunt, the Minnesota Twins. Could the New York Yankees be next on the Blue Jays hit list?
We shall soon find out.