USA TODAY US Edition
Blue Jays confident they can rebound
Before Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, several Toronto Blue Jays expressed how different it felt starting a series fresh without the possibility of their next defeat ending their season.
A stunning 14-2 loss Tuesday to the Kansas City Royals refreshed their collective memories pretty quickly.
“We know what we have to do,” Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson said. “Backs against the wall. We’re going to have to play our best game to beat these guys.”
The Blue Jays lost the first two games of the division series to the Texas Rangers — at home, no less — and had to win three in a row to advance.
They face the same task, and the climb begins when they take the field in Game 5 on Wednesday afternoon.
“Winning those two games in Texas and winning Game 5 here, they were all do-or-die,” said staff ace David Price, who would start a Game 6 in Kansas City. “This is something we’ve experienced already in the playoffs. I know this team is ready for the challenge.”
“Hopefully we can score first,” reliever Aaron Sanchez said. “I feel like that’s been the biggest key in both series; whoever scores first seems to have the momentum on their side.”
Momentum is something these Jays know about.
From the time the front office made several key trades in late July, the focus turned from not just making the playoffs and ending a postseason drought that had lasted since 1993, but to winning a World Series.
The addition of stars Price and Troy Tulowitzki — as well as complementary players such as outfielder Ben Revere and relievers Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins — catapulted Toronto from six games behind the New York Yankees on Aug. 1 to finish six games ahead.
“We lost 12 games in the regular season from the time I got traded,” Lowe said. “That just shows you right there how good we are. We’ve been down both these series, but we battled back once before, so there’s no doubt we can do it again.”
The offense that propelled the Blue Jays to the AL East title — a major league-leading 5.5 runs a game and .797 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) — has managed four runs a game and a .666 OPS in the ALCS.
If the Jays fall short, the tradedeadline deals might have failed in one respect. But the foundation of a perennial playoff participant seems to be in place.
“If you look around, there’s a lot of guys expected to be back next year. They’re all really good players. There’s a reason why we’re where we are right now,” Lowe said. “It’s not a fluke, it’s not just random guys having good years. I think it’s definitely going to carry over.”
The Jays have Tulowitzki under contract through 2020, but Price and Game 5 starter Marco Estrada will be eligible for free agency after the World Series.
The club can exercise options on Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion for one more year. But the core of the team goes deeper.
“Look at all the young talent we have in this clubhouse,” Price said. “All these guys that have really come into their own — with (Kevin) Pillar and (Ryan) Goins, Tulo is going to be here for a long time, Sanchez, (Marcus) Stroman, all these guys — they’ve got a good core of young talent.
“I love it here. This is a lot of fun. (Free agency) is something I’ll worry about when the time comes.”
That time will be Wednesday — unless the Jays can win and get the ball to Price for Game 6.
“Tomorrow is a huge day for us,” Lowe said. “This is what this city has been missing for 20something years now. I’m just thankful to be a part of something special.”