Toronto Blue Jays face tough test in weeks ahead

Prior to Monday night’s 8-3 victory over the New York Yankees, the Toronto Blue Jays had lost 11 of their last 15 games, dropped two straight, and were happy to be home after a ten-game road trip that saw the current AL East leaders win only three times.

Outscored 29-13 over the weekend during their three-game stop in Cincinnati, the baseball gods haven’t looked favorably upon Toronto since the end of it’s recent run to the top of the division, and with the competition now quickly closing in, the Jays will need their full offensive arsenal to be firing on all cylinders.

But after Jose Reyes was forced to leave on Saturday and both Brett Lawrie and Jose Bautista left with injuries of their own on Sunday, it became clear that the Blue Jays will have to turn things around without at least a couple of key weapons.

Luckily for Toronto, while Lawrie’s broken finger is likely to sideline the youngster for at least a month, Bautista’s MRI revealed only a grade-1 tear which could keep the slugger off of the disabled list.

And despite the initial concern, Reyes missed only one full game and started at shortstop on Monday.

However, with Lawrie now out of action, the need to acquire a second baseman who’s able to hit consistently has only become more immediate, because the combination of fan favorite Munenori Kawasaki and Steve Tolleson will offer Toronto little in the way of offensive production.

Before heading to the 15-day disabled list, Lawrie had already set a career-high with 12 home runs despite a batting average that’s been considerably lower than expected, and the Canadian’s 38 RBI’s are further evidence of the steps he’s taken towards becoming a well-rounded hitter with some pop in his bat.

On Monday, Bautista briefly calmed the injury waters by reassuring the local media that avoiding the disabled list is still a possibility, but also reminded those in attendance that being cautious is critical to an early return.

”If I feel I’m going to make it worse by starting to play again, I’d be doing the team and myself a disservice,” said Bautista. ”I’ve got to know that I’m at least not going to make it worse. If my recovery becomes slower, or I still have to deal with some pain [while] playing, I can handle that. But if there’s an increased chance of me making it worse by playing, I can’t do that.”

In the meantime, Toronto made the necessary adjustments to it’s roster by recalling both Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar to platoon in right field during Bautista’s absence, but beyond their defensive presence, neither of the light-hitting replacements are expected to flourish at the plate.

But with the likes of Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind, Melky Cabrera, and Colby Rasmus all relatively healthy and capable of producing, the Jays should still have the offense needed to carry their often unstable starting rotation.

For a team currently struggling to avoid an all-out, momentum killing dip down the divisional ladder almost any loss would hurt, and the injuries to Lawrie and Bautista have come as Toronto is entering a particularly unforgiving portion of it’s schedule.

After the Yankees leave town on Wednesday, the Jays will entertain the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers before beginning another ten-game road trip on July 3rd with seven straight contests against the Oakland Athletics and LA Angels.

Ahead of Tuesday’s tilt versus the Yankees, Toronto held a slim, 1.5 game lead over the Baltimore Orioles for first in the AL East, but if they hope to build upon Monday’s victory, the Jays will have to win their second straight game against a club that’s beaten them in five of seven meetings so far this season.

Surrounded by doubt, a broken-hearted fan base, and skeptics that view Toronto’s current misfortunes as confirmation of their own genius, the Jays will now have an opportunity to prove that they’re more than just a one-month wonder by maintaining their presence at the top of the AL East without their best lineup and several regulars playing through minor injuries.

Going forward, Toronto’s performance in the coming weeks will not only set the tone for the second half of the regular season, it will also tell us almost all we need to know about the Blue Jays and their chances in 2014.

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