NEWS
09/21/2015 19:05 EDT | Updated 09/21/2016 01:12 EDT

Gibbons says Jays need to clinch before potential playoff starter decisions made

Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons hasn't told his starting pitchers how his rotation might look if the team reaches the playoffs.

He wants to lock up a post-season berth first.

"I think you need to wait until you get in," Gibbons said before Monday's series opener against New York. "Because they're all pitching now anyway, nobody has been (taken out) of the rotation other than (Drew Hutchison).

"So they just need to keep pitching. That's the least of our concerns now."

The Blue Jays took a 2 1/2-game lead over the Yankees into the opener of a key three-game series between the American League East rivals at Rogers Centre.

Entering play Monday, Toronto had an 80.6 per cent chance of winning the East title, according to the Baseball Prospectus playoff probabilities on the MLB website. The Blue Jays are a virtual lock to at least make the wild-card game.

If the season ended Monday, the Blue Jays would have home-field advantage for the first round of the American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers while the Kansas City Royals would take on the wild-card winner in the other ALDS.

The potential starters for what would be Toronto's first post-season appearance in 22 years has been a hot talking point in the city. Gibbons said it's only natural that his pitchers have thought about it too.

"There's five guys out there and they all want to do it," he said. "But they can't all do it if we get in. Run the season out and see who's pitching the best too. I think that's got to (be a) factor."

It's still premature to look ahead given that potential opponents, home-field advantage and player performance could all change before the regular season wraps up on Oct. 4 at Tampa Bay.

But it's safe to assume that ace David Price would be pencilled in to make two starts in a best-of-five ALDS.

Right-hander R.A. Dickey would be a good bet to make a start after Price since he has had a strong second half and his knuckleball is in stark contrast to the hard-throwing Price. Dickey also throws from the other side and could work under the roof at Rogers Centre.

After that, it gets tough. Does Gibbons go to the reliable Marco Estrada (13-8, 3.14), take his chances with Marcus Stroman (2-0, 3.00) or turn to veteran lefty Mark Buehrle (14-7, 3.69)?

A lot will depend on how the team fares over the next two weeks.

Price's starts will be timed so that he's ready to pitch in the Oct. 6 wild-card game if needed. If that isn't required, he would likely be the Game 1 starter on Oct. 8.

If the Blue Jays clinch earlier than expected, some pitchers could be rested or have their innings limited. If the race goes down to the wire, it will be all hands on deck.

The American League Championship Series is a best-of-seven affair scheduled for Oct. 16-24. The best-of-seven World Series is set for Oct. 27-Nov. 4.

Also of note, Buehrle is 14 2/3 innings away from reaching the 200-inning mark for a 15th straight season. He's scheduled to make two more starts but could also see in action in Game 162, which might be needed to put him over the top.

"He could get two and a half (starts)," Gibbons said. "It'd be a hell of an accomplishment."

Buehrle, who's in the final year of his contract, has yet to decide on his playing future after the current campaign.

"I don't know if this is his swan song or not, but if it was it sure would be a nice way to go out," Gibbons said of the milestone. "But he's one of those guys though ... when you don't expect something, he pulls something out. He's liable to throw a complete-game gem, you know.

"If it's one of those days where he's on — he's done it before."

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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press