5 things that changed the season for Blue Jays

5 things that changed the season for Blue Jays

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Blue Jays were easily one of the best teams during the second half of the season, but things didn't always come so easy for this World Series contender.

On July 28, Toronto was one game under .500 (50-51) and eight games back in the American League East. A lot has changed since then, but even before that point there were several key developments that helped the organization stay afloat long enough before the needed reinforcements came in September.

The club won the division and will face the Rangers in the AL Division Series, starting with Game 1 on Thursday, live on FOX, FS1 or MLB Network and Sportsnet.

Game Date Result
Gm 1 Oct. 8 TEX 5, TOR 3
Gm 2 Oct. 9 TEX 6, TOR 4
Gm 3 Oct. 11 TOR 5, TEX 1
Gm 4 Oct. 12 TOR 8, TEX 4
Gm 5 Oct. 14 TOR 6, TEX 3

Here's a closer look at five key developments that helped changed the Blue Jays' season:

1. The Tulowitzki trade

The drastic overhaul of the Blue Jays roster began on July 28 when Toronto pulled off a blockbuster deal with Colorado. Toronto acquired one of the game's best shortstops in Troy Tulowitzki, and even though he struggled with the bat during his first few weeks, his presence coincided with the team's resurgence.

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Tulowitzki represented a big defensive upgrade over the departed Jose Reyes and really helped solidify a defense that is now a strength but not too long ago had several glaring holes. Toronto's success after the deal was dubbed the "Tulo Effect," and although he can take only partial credit for the turnaround, the week of his deal was when everything changed for the Blue Jays.

Toronto went undefeated in the first 13 games he started. His injury in early September was a huge blow to the organization, but he returned Friday night in Tampa Bay and should be ready to go without any kind of limitations in the postseason.

Tulo singles in return

2. The arrival of David Price

The addition of Tulowitzki was the first step Toronto made in July, but acquiring Price was the biggest move of all. The Blue Jays had plenty of question marks surrounding their starting rotation, and the lack of a true ace was always going to be an area of weakness, especially for an organization that wanted to be in the postseason. Price immediately changed all of that.

In Price, Toronto picked up a candidate for the Cy Young Award, and while he was very good in Detroit, he arguably was even better for the Blue Jays. Price went 3-0 against the Yankees down the stretch and finished 9-1 record with a 2.30 ERA for Toronto. He allowed three runs or fewer in all but one of his 11 starts and is one of the main reasons Toronto was able to pull away from New York and win the AL East.

Price notches 17th win

3. Marco Estrada moving to the starting rotation

Even an injury to Marcus Stroman wasn't enough for Estrada to win a job in rotation during Spring Training. Estrada began the year in long relief after the Blue Jays instead decided to go with a starting staff of Drew Hutchison, R.A. Dickey, Daniel Norris, Mark Buehrle and Aaron Sanchez.

Norris struggled early and by the end of April had been sent to the Minor Leagues. That created an opening for Estrada, and he never looked back. At one point, he carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning of back-to-back starts and overall he became one of the most consistent starters in the league.

Manager John Gibbons recently said that he thought Estrada might have "saved" Toronto's season, and it's hard to argue with that. The expectations weren't high going into the year, but he finished with a 3.28 ERA in 28 starts and really solidified the rotation, especially before Price joined the team at the end of July.

Estrada strikes out nine

4. Roberto Osuna being moved to closer's role

Brett Cecil's stint as Toronto's closer lasted all of one game before the Blue Jays handed the job to rookie Miguel Castro. That decision didn't work out any better as Castro blew a pair of saves and lost two other games over the span of two weeks in April. The club was desperately searching for answers until Osuna came in and seized the opportunity.

Even though Osuna had never pitched above Class A prior to this season, he hit the ground running. The bright lights of the Majors didn't have any kind of negative impact on his performance and he was nearly flawless for the entire first half of the year. Osuna went on to save 20 games with a 2.58 ERA, and although he's not expected to win, the native of Mexico will at least be in the conversation for AL Rookie of the Year.

Osuna's impressive run also allowed the Blue Jays to limit Cecil to setup duties. He has since thrived in that job and has helped solidify the middle relief alongside recent additions such as Mark Lowe, LaTroy Hawkins and Sanchez.

Osuna's 20th save

5. The return of Marcus Stroman

Toronto's major additions to the roster weren't limited to the non-waiver Trade Deadline. The Blue Jays got the biggest surprise of all when Stroman made his stunning return to the mound in September after undergoing left knee surgery in March. Stroman previously had been ruled out for the year, but he began working his way back in August and eventually returned Sept. 12 in New York.

Stroman represented yet another significant upgrade to the rotation and provided the club with an ideal No. 2 starter behind Price. It also gives more overall depth to a postseason rotation that will also include Estrada and Dickey. Stroman didn't show any signs of rust upon his return; he won each of his four starts and now the lack of innings actually could be a positive going into the postseason. While other pitchers are starting to wear down, Stroman is rounding into midseason from.

Stroman strikes out eight in win

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.