We've all agreed in this space that the Blue Jays have not been built with a goal of competing for the 2003 world championship; rather, we've enjoyed watching a new organizational philosophy transform the Jays from a middle-market club saddled with costly, mediocre veterans to a young and promising club that should consistently contend, perhaps by 2005.
But hope springs eternal, and just five days hence your Toronto Blue Jays will wake up on game day, tied with the mighty Yankees and powerful Red Sox for first place in the A.L. East -- and, in all likelihood, a half-game ahead of the Texas Rangers in the wild card chase. So, as we adjust our rose-coloured glasses, how might the 2003 Jays compete for a postseason birth? An assessment of the schedule, series by series, is instructive. The Jays' opportunity lies in Catch(Up)-22.
Much has been made of the "Terrible Twenty" games to start the season for the Jays -- series against the Yankees, Twins, Red Sox, Twins, Yankees and Red Sox -- and how it could have the potential to demoralize the potentially fragile confidence of the young Toronto club. But just as Joseph Heller's Yossarian character demonstrated that only the crazy are truly sane in times of war, the Jays may show that the legitimately irrational franchises in the American League can give a young club postseason hope if they can achieve the (admittedly unlikely) goal of keeping their heads above water through Labour Day.
Catch(Up)-22 refers to the final twenty-two games on the Jays' schedule, and its potential for the Jays to catch up in the wild card race if they are in any way, shape or form within striking distance: Tigers, Rays, Orioles, Tigers, Orioles, Rays, Tribe. With lesser starting pitching and an inferior bullpen, the '02 Jays tore through the Tribe, Rays, Orioles, Rays, Orioles and Tigers at a 15-4 clip to close out the season. Problem was, the Jays were 63-80 after their victory at Fenway on September 8 before they headed out to the Jake.
So for the coming season, let's assume that 90 wins will be the bare minimum to compete for a playoff berth of some sort in the American League. (90 won't be good enough, but work with me.) The Jays really have no excuse for going anything less than 15-7 during Catch(Up)-22, and could do even better. So if the Jays can somehow finagle their way to 75-65, ten games above .500, after the Labour Day series with the Yanks concludes on September 4, they should control their own ability to make the wild card race interesting in the GTA. Getting there, of course, is the problem.
So this is admittedly done with the most starry-eyed of optimistic outlooks. Nevertheless, ladies and gentlemen, here is the 2003 schedule with an eye on being ten games above .500 before Catch(Up)-22:
The Terrible Twenty (Mar. 31 - Apr. 21): Yankees, at Minnesota, Red Sox, Twins, at New York, at Boston
The Simple Six (Apr. 22 - 27): at Tampa Bay, Royals
The Duck 'n' Cover Dozen (Apr. 29 - May 11): against some heavy lumber...Rangers, Angels, at Texas, at Anaheim
The Soothing Six (May 13 - 18): D-Rays, at Kansas City
Another Tough Twenty (May 18 - June 8): at Chicago WS, at New York, White Sox, Red Sox, at St. Louis, at Cincinnati
A Quarter-Century Celebration (June 10 - July 6): Pirates, Cubs, at Baltimore, at Montreal, Orioles, Expos, at Detroit, at Baltimore
The Fearsome Fourteen (July 8 - 24): Red Sox, Yankees, at Boston, at New York, at Chicago WS
The Hapless Half-Dozen (July 25 - 31): Orioles, D-Rays
Disneyland With Your Folks (Aug. 1 - 3): at Anaheim
Busch Gardens With Your Buddies (Aug. 4-6): at Tampa Bay
The NASTY Nineteen (Aug. 8 - 27): Rangers, at Seattle, at Oakland, Mariners, Athletics, at Boston
Measure-Up Weekend (Aug. 29-31): to see how the Jays stand against another rebuilding club...at Cleveland
Tonawanda and Lackawanna Invade! (Sep. 1 - 4): Yankees
Catch(Up)-22 (Sep. 5 - 28): Tigers, at Tampa Bay, Orioles, at Detroit, at Baltimore, D-Rays, Tribe