Gregor Chisholm: The Blue Jays can dare to dream of a deep October run. Teams with nothing to lose are the most dangerous

With two weeks to go in the regular season, the Blue Jays are one of the hottest teams in baseball and find themselves rounding into form at just the right time.

Toronto picked up its fifth victory over the last six games, 7-3 over the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon in Buffalo. The Jays have now won or tied each of their last nine series and are a season-best six games above .500 (26-20) with 14 games to play.

Since Aug. 17, the Chicago White Sox are the only American League team to match Toronto’s 19 wins. Per FanGraphs, Toronto has a 98.6 per cent chance of making the post-season. At this point, it would be almost impossible to screw that up.

Post-season play has been expected for the last couple of weeks, but most people were projecting the Jays to make the playoffs as a seventh or eighth seed. That still might happen, but after a strong run they are in position to do more. The Jays have a comfortable five-game lead over ninth-place Seattle and are in the mix to finish as high as fourth.

“We’re definitely peaking at the right time,” said Jays starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, who allowed just one run while striking out seven across six innings vs. the Mets.

“Once we start winning it feels like we can win on any night, any given day. Getting a lot of confidence leads to good results as well. That’s actually a great cycle to be in. You gain more confidence by winning, so we’re definitely in a good spot right now.”

What’s remarkable is how the Jays got to this point.

They opened the season without a home and drew the ire of fans in the opening weeks for poor fundamentals and a failure to execute in one-run games. A struggling offence overshadowed an effective pitching staff, and by mid-August they were four games under .500 and fading fast in the AL East, 61/2 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays.

Since relocating to Buffalo on Aug. 11, the offence has fared much better. Toronto has averaged 5.67 runs per game at home this season, which is second-highest in the AL and fifth-highest in MLB. Among AL teams at home, the Jays rank second in average (.271), third in OBP (.345) and fourth in OPS (.817). The numbers on the road aren’t quite as good, but overall the club sits a respectable sixth with 223 runs.

The pitching has been solid as well with the AL’s sixth-best ERA at 4.05. Toronto will hope its staff performs even better in the playoffs when its bullpen does most of the heavy lifting. Jays relievers have combined to post a 3.63 ERA in 45 games this season, trailing only Cleveland and Oakland.

If the post-season began today, the fifth-seeded Jays would face Josh Donaldson’s Minnesota Twins in the opening best-of-three series, but that is hardly set in stone. There are just three games separating Toronto from the eighth-seeded Houston Astros, which means the Jays could still end up facing the White Sox, Rays or A’s instead.

The full playoff picture might not be available until the final weekend in September.

No matter which team the Jays end up playing they will undoubtedly open the series as underdogs. Few experts expect Toronto to make a deep run into October, but internally the Jays don’t have to do much soul searching to find reasons they should feel confident.

They have played in 22 one-run games this year, more than any team in baseball, and despite some the early season issues, the Jays have won 13 of them. That won’t entirely make up for the club’s lack of post-season experience, but it should help prepare them for what comes next. Low-leverage innings don’t exist in the playoffs and it’s a positive the Jays haven’t played in too many of them.

“I think it’s all about staying even keel,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said in reference to his team overcoming adversity. “When the coaching staff says: ‘Hey man, that’s good. We played a great game, we lost a tough one, let’s regroup and get ready for tomorrow.’

“That’s been the message the whole time here and that’s what they’ve done. Tough losses, we got crushed the other day against (the Mets), we regrouped and won the last two. I’m very proud of this team for doing that.”

The Jays still have to clear a few hurdles before the playoffs begin. They will open a three-game series against the rival Yankees on Tuesday, with another four-game set looming the final week. The Jays’ performance during this upcoming stretch will determine whether they finish in the middle of the pack or squeak in at No. 8.

Additional help is on the way to help make that final push.

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Outfielder Teoscar Hernandez took light batting practice on Sunday, and pitcher Nate Pearson is scheduled to continue his rehab from a right elbow injury at the club’s alternate training site in Rochester, N.Y. early this week. Pitcher Matt Shoemaker should follow not long after that.

The Jays weren’t expected to be this good for another year, so any October success will only add to what has already been an impressive season. Toronto has noticeable flaws and there are better teams, but this roster is impressive too and there’s nothing more dangerous than a club with nothing to lose.

It’s mid-September and the Blue Jays still have a chance. Let’s see what they do with it.

Gregor Chisholm

TORONTO STAR

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