The Toronto Blue Jays are no doubt in tough to salvage their once-promising 2014 baseball season and make a spirited run for the playoffs.
If history is any guide, the Blue Jays only have to hark back 100 years to see that it can be done.
It was in 1914 that the Boston Braves fashioned the top regular-season comeback in league history as determined by a team’s lowest chance to make the playoffs over the course of a season.
The Braves had fallen to 26-40 by July 4 of that year and were mired in last place in the National League, 15 games back of the first-place New York Giants, according to data presented by Coolstandings.com.
Suddenly, the Braves started to turn it all around, erupting on a magical 68-19 run to charge to the top of the standings with a 94-59 record, winning the pennant by a whopping 10.5 games over the Giants.
The Braves would cap the remarkable comeback by sweeping Philadelphia in four games to claim the World Series.
By comparison, the Blue Jays’ plight does not appear so daunting.
The beleaguered American League club returns to Toronto after a disappointing 2-6 road trip to begin a nine-game home stand, starting Friday with the first of a three-game weekend set against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre.
The Blue Jays’ record, once the pride of the AL, is now 65-62 – good for a second-place tie with the New York Yankees in the East heading into Thursday’s play, but nine games back of the front-running Baltimore Orioles, with 35 games remaining in the regular season.
The Blue Jays are tied for fourth place with the Yankees in the race for the two AL wild-card playoff berths, four games back of the second wild-card spot currently occupied by the Detroit Tigers, who are staving off the Seattle Mariners by half a game.
According to FanGraphs.com, that all translates into the Blue Jays having a 6.1-per-cent chance of making the playoffs – a long shot, to be sure, but better odds than what the Braves were facing 100 years ago.
“We want to be in the playoffs, and that’s still the goal,” Paul Beeston, the Blue Jays’ president and chief executive officer, said Thursday during an interview. “And while the odds are long, the odds aren’t so long that we’re Silky Sullivan.”
For those lacking in the equine arts, Silky Sullivan was a racehorse best known for his spirited come-from-behind victories.
It remains to be seen if the Blue Jays have old Silky’s heart, as the team has displayed little, if any, propensity for being able to battle back after setting the pace earlier this season, when Toronto enjoyed a first-place perch for 48 days.
That included a lead of six games in the standing back on June 6, when the Blue Jays were 14 games above the .500 mark (38-24).
Since then, a combination of debilitating injuries, haphazard pitching and a suddenly suspect offence has helped to torpedo the Blue Jays’ chances and sent them plummeting down the standings.
If 90 wins is viewed as the minimum necessary to be able to secure a playoff spot, the Blue Jays will need to go 25-10 the rest of the way, a .714 winning clip.
That would appear to be a stretch for an outfit that has posted an AL-worst 5-12 record since Aug. 1. Over that span, Toronto is also last in runs scored (with 56) and home runs (with nine).
While time is running out, the final five weeks of the regular-season schedule at least affords the Blue Jays the best opportunity to make one final bold charge for a playoff spot that has eluded them for 21 years.
Of Toronto’s 35 remaining games, 22 are at home, where the Blue Jays are 33-26 on the season, the second-best home record in the AL East, behind only Baltimore.
And of those 35 games, 28 are against divisional rivals, including six against the Orioles, seven against the Yankees and six against the last-placed Boston Red Sox. The Blue Jays also have four games remaining, all at home, against the Mariners.
The stretch drive will commence this weekend against the Rays, followed by a three-game visit by the Red Sox before the home stand concludes next weekend with three against the Yankees.
“It’s one of those home stands where if you don’t have a good couple of games, it can put you behind,” Toronto outfielder Jose Bautista said. “At this time of the year, it might be hard to recover, so it’s definitely important.
“We’re confident, we’re looking to go out there and beat the Red Sox, the Yankees and the Rays. We’ve played very well in our division this year and we expect to continue to do that.”
On Thursday, the Blue Jays issued a news release outlining to fans the process in which they may purchase tickets to any playoff games that the club might play at Rogers Centre in October.
Now it is up to the baseball team to try to live up to that promise.