TORONTO — Fuelled by a number of big trades in late July, the Toronto Blue Jays have dominated in August and find themselves in the thick of the playoff race heading into the last weeks of the season. Here is a look at five storylines to watch over the stretch drive:
Toronto's goal is to secure the East Division title and avoid a pressure-packed wild-card play-in game. The battle for first place between the Blue Jays and New York Yankees could go down to the last week. Toronto has several big series ahead of its regular-season finale on Oct. 4 at Tampa Bay, but none bigger than the four-game set that kicks off Sept. 10 at Yankee Stadium. The teams will meet again for a three-game series starting Sept. 21 at Rogers Centre.
AVOIDING A SEPTEMBER SLUMP
A recent 11-game winning streak and a run of 10 wins in 12 games have made the Blue Jays a near lock of getting at least the second American League wild-card spot. But a lot can happen over a month. The Blue Jays were six games back of the Yankees in the A-L East standings heading into August but will end the month in the division lead. With no one seemingly able to take a playoff spot from Toronto, the Jays have to make sure they don't beat themselves by following an awesome August with a slumping September.
WHAT ABOUT HUTCH?
Drew Hutchison has an impressive record this season, but he was still sent down to Buffalo to get a start in while the Blue Jays went on a long road trip. Hutchison's numbers are deceiving — many of his victories came thanks to heavy run support rather than stellar pitching. He has also struggled mightily on the road. Now back with the big club, Hutchison has put together a string of excellent starts. But with Marcus Stroman hoping to return, Hutchison could be the odd man out. A bullpen role could very well be in his future.
Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson is showing no signs of slowing down after posting MVP-like numbers over the first three-quarters of the season. The Toronto slugger is on pace to reach the 45-homer mark and drive in more than 130 runs. Donaldson and L.A. Angels slugger Mike Trout are considered the favourites to win the American League honour.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos raised his stock with an impressive series of moves at the trade deadline. But the GM's future with the club after this season remains unclear. Will incoming president and CEO Mark Shapiro be able to sign Anthopoulos to a contract extension in Toronto? There are more questions than answers at the moment.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press