After Trade Deadline improvements, Toronto appears ready for spotlight
By Richard Justice
Another huge crowd -- 44,597 -- showed up and had the Rogers Centre rocking. Right from the start, there was an electric atmosphere. In that way, it was like the old days for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Remember when it was always like this? That's one of the best things about this team's two-week, 13-1 sprint to the top of the American League East. Along the way, the Blue Jays awakened a great baseball city.
When a team captivates a city the way this one has, players and fans alike remember it forever. After it's over, players recall fans coming up and saying simply, "Thank you."
Those emotions are even more dramatic in Toronto since the Blue Jays haven't played a postseason game in 22 years. So they've waited a long time for a reason to believe in a team.
These Blue Jays are the real deal. That's the first thing to remember. That left side of the infield -- third baseman Josh Donaldson and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki -- could be one of the best ever.
This October could provide a huge stage for both of them, especially Donaldson (.296, 31 home runs, 85 RBIs), a converted catcher who has emerged as one of the great players of his generation. He impacts games equally with both his defense and his offense.
The AL Most Valuable Player Award race appears to be down to Mike Trout versus Donaldson, with the outcome likely to be decided in these last seven weeks of the regular season.
But it's not one player or one thing with the Blue Jays. That was never more clear than Wednesday night when they jumped the Oakland Athletics for 10 runs in the first two innings and coasted to a 10-3 victory.
That's 10 straight victories for the Blue Jays (63-52) and moved them ahead of the Yankees (61-51) and alone into first place in the AL East for the first time this season. On July 28, they were 50-51 and eight games behind the Yanks.
That was when Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos made the first of two impact moves in getting Tulowitzki from the Rockies. To some, the move made no sense since Toronto was already leading the Majors in runs.
To Anthopoulos, it made perfect sense. Sure, he needed pitching. But when Anthopoulos saw a chance to make his team better and to deepen an already deep lineup, he didn't hesitate.
The Blue Jays are 12-0 with Tulowitzki in the starting lineup and 13-1 since July 28. They've outscored the opposition 81-37.
And then hours before the non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31, Anthopoulos acquired left-hander David Price from the Tigers. That move cut deep into Toronto's farm depth, but it sent a message that regardless of the standing -- the Jays were six games out -- this had become a season to go for it.
Since then, they've been a perfect team. They're leading the Majors in runs. Their rotation is 11-0 with a 2.14 ERA, also the best in the Majors. Likewise, their bullpen's 1.46 ERA is No. 1.
The Blue Jays were still something of an unknown quantity until they swept a three-game series at Yankee Stadium last weekend. In allowing one run in three days to an offense second in the Majors in runs, Toronto made a huge statement.
One of the beauties of a stretch run is that winning one big game or one big series only means there'll be more. So the Yankees can regain some of their momentum during a three-game series in Toronto this weekend.
And the Yanks and Blue Jays play seven more times after that, so as good as the Jays have been, they haven't actually won a thing. It feels as if something important has changed with this franchise. It also feels as if the best is yet to come.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.