Instead of looking up at the contenders, the Blue Jays are right in the mix. They appear to have as good a shot as any club at contending in what is normally one of the toughest divisions in Major League Baseball.
"We're not necessarily where we want to be, but we're within striking distance with the venom to be able to make a run at it," said Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey.
The Blue Jays have a pedestrian 20-20 record after 40 games, but that's still good for a share of second place in a division that is weaker than usual. Baltimore, which entered Wednesday's games in top spot at 20-17, is followed by three teams — Toronto, New York (19-19) and Boston (19-19) — who all have .500 records.
The Orioles have a lead of just 1 1/2 games, with only 4 1/2 games separating first place from the last-place Tampa Bay Rays (17-23).
Toronto's offence has shown plenty of pop this season but the bullpen has had some trouble keeping leads. There have been a few injury concerns over the first six weeks but there is still a feeling the team can get the results it wants.
"I think last year we were a .500 team that was lucky to be .500. This year I feel like we're a .500 team that should be five or six games over," Dickey said Wednesday at a promotional event in the city's west end. "That's a whole different feeling. If we can stay healthy and if we can pitch — and those are two big ifs — I think we're going to be in it at the very end and have an opportunity to give this city what it's longed for for 21 years."
The Blue Jays haven't made the post-season since 1993 after winning the second of back-to-back World Series titles.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos overhauled the roster before the 2013 campaign but the team struggled to a 74-88 mark. He kept the tinkering to a minimum in the last off-season but it's too early to say whether that was the right approach.
The team has plenty of big-name talent with offensive weapons like Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes. Mark Buehrle has been a rock for a so-so starting rotation and the bullpen should get a boost now that closer Casey Janssen has returned from injury.
"I think we have the talent to win a World Series," said Dickey, who is 4-3 with a 4.53 ERA. "I wouldn't have signed here if I didn't think that and I firmly believe that still. Now we've got to have the guys that are supposed to perform, perform — myself included — and we've got to have a guy or two step up like most championship teams have when they have those big seasons. And we've got some of those guys in the clubhouse that can do that. So we're poised and we have the raw materials to be able to do something special.
"Now it's how can we be consistent on the field. We've played 40 games, we're at .500 exactly. I don't think I've ever been a Blue Jay and been more than three games over .500 — maybe four once. So we need to find a way to get 10, 11, up to 20 games over at some point."
Toronto will wrap up its nine-game homestand Thursday with the finale of a three-game set against Cleveland. The Blue Jays will then visit Texas and Boston before a 10-game run at Rogers Centre against Oakland, Tampa Bay and Kansas City.
The Blue Jays made a number of roster moves before Wednesday's game against the Indians.
Catcher Dioner Navarro was placed on the bereavement/family medical emergency list. He must remain on the list for three to seven days.
Catcher Erik Kratz and right-hander Neil Wagner were recalled from triple-A Buffalo and right-hander Chad Jenkins was optioned to the Bisons.
Notes: Dickey was on hand at a west-end sporting club for the launch of a partnership between Head & Shoulders and Major League Baseball. He joins an ambassador team that includes C.J. Wilson of the Los Angeles Angels and Troy Polamalu of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers.
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