With one quarter of the season complete, the Jays are in good shape in tough division
TORONTO — A .600 winning percentage would be good for a first-place position in two of the six divisions in Major League Baseball. It's not even close to top spot in the powerhouse American League East.
The Toronto Blue Jays took a solid 24-16 record into Monday's game against the New York Yankees but were closer to the division basement than first place.
"We're in a good spot but we haven't really fired on all cylinders pretty consistently," said Blue Jays manager John Schneider.
Toronto opened the campaign with a 6-4 road trip but the team has run hot and cold in recent weeks. A six-game winning streak in late April was followed by a five-game losing skid.
Toronto's last four series have been sweeps. The Blue Jays lost four straight in Boston, won three in Pittsburgh, lost a two-game miniseries in Philadelphia then returned home to win three against Atlanta.
"I feel very good about the position that we're in given how many games we've played on the road to date," said Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins. "I really feel like there's still some upside in our overall team performance but (we) have weathered a difficult stint thus far very well.
"I feel like we're in a strong position."
Toronto entered the opener of the four-game series against the visiting Yankees with a stellar 12-3 home record. The Blue Jays own a pedestrian 12-13 mark away from Rogers Centre.
If the season were to end Monday, the Blue Jays would have the second wild-card position in the American League.
"I think (we) like where we are and there's a lot of room for improvement still," Schneider said in a pre-game media availability. "I think just in terms of being consistent in all phases of the game.
"I think that individual performances are good and some guys individually are going to be a little bit better than they are now."
Matt Chapman was one of the team's early standout performers although he has cooled off of late. The third baseman was the American League player of the month for April after hitting .384 with five homers and 21 RBIs.
Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., have also been anchors while Whit Merrifield, Kevin Kiermaier and Yusei Kikuchi have also enjoyed strong starts.
George Springer, Alejandro Kirk, Alek Manoah and Danny Jansen have underperformed in the early going. Daulton Varsho and Brandon Belt appear to be on the upswing after an uneven opening quarter to the campaign.
"I think there's some individual aspects to our roster that I think is going to correct," Atkins said. "We've already seen some of that with Brandon Belt and Daulton Varsho. And then I think we're going to see things sync up better."
A balanced schedule was implemented this season around Major League Baseball. Every team will play the other 29 clubs at least once.
The good news for the Blue Jays is they have 24 fewer games against AL East opponents. The bad news is the rest of the East teams also get to play clubs from traditionally weaker divisions more often.
Entering Monday's games, Tampa Bay (31-11) and Baltimore (26-14) were 1-2 in the East and the overall standings.
Toronto (24-16) was two games up on New York (23-19) and 2 1/2 games up on Boston (22-19). The Red Sox are last in the East but their record would be good for second place in four of the other five divisions.
"It's a strong division, it always has been," Atkins said. "The balance aspect of it just makes it unique or different from how it has been in the past. But I think in the long run there are ways to benefit from it, albeit with some challenges."
Toronto's weeklong homestand will be capped by a three-game series against the Orioles. A third straight East opponent follows when the Blue Jays visit Tampa Bay next week for a four-game set.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 15, 2023.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press