Wild-card trick: Just don't lose
Other than the Blue Jays themselves, of course, who can believe they're still in the playoff race, either in the AL East or the wild-card scramble?
For sure, they're coming off a nice week. Five wins, two losses, with three of the wins, including a pair of shutouts, away to momentary wild-card leader Minnesota.
And now they visit division bottom-feeders Tampa Bay and Baltimore. They've got Roy Halladay going for his 15th win tonight; Ted Lilly is Ted Lilly, which is sometimes pretty good; A.J. Burnett has thrown two good ones back-to-back; Gus Chacin should be slinging again on the weekend.
Said Vernon Wells: "Teams that can answer the bell after they get their butt kicked for a good week ... teams that are able to bounce back and play good baseball are teams that have a chance to be in it."
So, what's not to believe?
Well, besides displaying little in the way of consistency and, therefore, the ability to get an extended roll, the gods of baseball mathematics do not smile favourably here.
As Sparky Anderson once explained to us, in about 25,000 words or more, successful come-from-behind division charges very much depend on how many teams are between you and the ultimate target.
In the business-as-usual AL East, there are, as always, the Yankees and the Red Sox. The Jays went into last Monday, 9 1/2 back of the former, 7 1/2 back of the latter. They got through Sunday seven and six in arrears.
Now that's truly significant progress, but can they duplicate that jump this week? And the next? And the next? Oh, yes, and beginning now, there's only seven weeks left.
Being seven games back of New York, which they at least get to play six more times, is one thing. Having Boston in between is, ah, two things.
The wild card? Well, the Red Sox are also in that one. So are the White Sox, leading by two into last night, and the Twins and, just two and 2 1/2 games back of the Jays, probably the Los Angeles Angels of Knott's Berry Farm and the Texas Rangers, too.
The Jays entered last Monday eight back of the White Sox, 7 1/2 behind both the Red Sox and Twins. For all their all-around crispness in the Metrodome, the Jays came out of Sunday ... well, eight games back of the White Sox, who swept the Tigers on the weekend and went 5-2 themselves.
Maybe the White Sox go 2-5 this week. But maybe the Twins and/or the Angels and/or the Rangers go unbeaten. Best the Jays keep winning in any case.
So how's the out-of-town scoreboard-watching going these days, anyway?
"I think we're learning our lesson there," said Reed Johnson. "I don't think it was a distraction but, just before the all-star break, when we found ourselves three or four games out, you saw a lot of guys watching.
"But I think if you ask playoff teams, ask the Yankees or the Red Sox or the NL teams that have been there, I'm sure they just worry about taking care of business, their own business.
"I think that's what we've been doing and that's why we've played so well lately," he continued. "Hopefully, we can just concentrate on what we have to do as a team and, when the last week of September rolls around, look up and see where we're at."
Besides simply winning, the Jays do have a couple of wrinkles in the math that might yet work for them. For several, there's their remaining games with teams of consequence — six with New York, eight with Boston, three with each of Detroit, the A's and the Angels.
Just as significant are the other head-to-heads, since, after all, the games-behind column, with all those little 1/2s, is really just a device to account for the sometimes wide difference in games played by the various teams.
The real nut is the loss column. Losses are forever.
In that regard, not counting last night's Angels-Yankees series finale and a Tigers-Red Sox opener, the Jays had nine more losses than New York, seven more than Boston.
But the Yankees and Red Sox also meet nine more times, including a huge five-game set starting Friday in Fenway. Which means those two have nine guaranteed losses to divvy up. The White Sox and Twins also have nine to share. And, in games among themselves, the four teams in the AL West have a guaranteed 44.
Just don't lose, then, and the wins will take care of themselves.