On July 28, there were three teams ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays … in their own division.
The Blue Jays were a 50-51, fourth-place baseball club. Their leading lefty that day was Felix Doubront.
For three of the first four months of the season, Toronto produced a losing record.
How did that happen?
The Blue Jays’ opponents Thursday, the Texas Rangers, staged a remarkable turn-around season. But Toronto took a similar rocky path.
Once manager John Gibbons’ team rocketed past the New York Yankees on Aug. 23, there was no looking back.
“They’re a great group of hitters,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said on the eve of the best-of-five series opener. “You’ve got to give them credit.
“You look at their numbers and what they’ve done, they speak for themselves.”
Banister is right. The numbers suggest an ALDS mismatch.
The Toronto roster includes seven players with 12 or more home runs. Three with 100 or more RBIs. The Blue Jays outscored the Rangers during the regular season, 891 runs to 751.
The mighty 1927 Yankees slugged 158 home runs. The Blue Jays hit 232.
Banister is right. The numbers are enough to make an opponent wince.
Acquiring lefty ace David Price at the July 31 trade deadline shook the entire American League. But the Blue Jays were a feared and formidable bunch even before that.
Las Vegas likes Toronto to win it all. Sports Illustrated put the Blue Jays on its cover.
Indeed, when Banister was asked about his ballclub Wednesday, he correctly observed, “They’re the ones that aren’t being given a chance.”
Banister, I suspect, likes the fact that his AL West champs are being overlooked. The Rangers spent five months of the season under the radar.
To hear the network TV analysts talk — the ones who don’t get out to the ballpark much — the Rangers still boast a free-swinging, Prince-or-bust lineup that rides the nightly good zephyrs of the so-called “jetstream to right.”
But that’s the old narrative. In truth, those zephyrs were muted by ballpark renovations — and global warming? — several seasons ago.
Unlike their adversaries this week, the Rangers don’t march by the three-run homer. Rather, they have literally and figuratively shortened their stroke, with Prince Fielder being the best example.
Banister was asked Wednesday about the way his lineup has become a group of pitcher-wearying grinders.
“We knew what our approach wanted to be earlier,” he said. “We just had to match our want-to with our how-to and just stay stubborn with it.
“It takes a little while. It’s a different mindset for a group of guys. But I believe that they understand the process and have seen the benefits of it.
“I think that’s the growth of this ballclub.”
Adding patient hitters such as Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo has had a ripple effect on the rest of the lineup. Banister and general manager Jon Daniels have given the lineup the equivalent of a personality makeover.
Could it play in October, especially against a big-swinging team such as the Blue Jays?
Absolutely, history tells us. Postseason baseball is rife with shut-down pitchers. The winning lineup tends to be the one that pieces together its own runs. Pennants have been lost waiting for three-run homers.
The Blue Jays’ numbers, meanwhile, speak for themselves.
But don’t let the roar of the “Jetstream” keep you from hearing the Rangers.