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Blue Jays’ path is far from clear in the second half of season

Jun 9, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion is greeted in the dugout by team mates after hitting a three-run home run in the first inning against Minnesota Twins at Rogers Centre.

Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports

Alex Anthopoulos is busy.

With a little over two weeks left before Major League Baseball's trade deadline, the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays sounds a bit more stressed than usual as he obsessively tries to improve his team.

The 37-year-old will not even divulge where he is, lest it be a clue to his competitors of some deal he might be working on.

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"I don't need to tell anybody where I am," Anthopoulos said curtly over the telephone during an interview on Tuesday.

"I'd just rather keep that private."

The break surrounding the annual All-Star game is now over, and the resumption of the regular-season schedule will begin on Friday when the Blue Jays start a three-game home series against the Texas Rangers. It will start what is commonly referred to as the second half of the season, although that milestone was officially crossed in late June when Toronto played its 81st game of the year.

Now the Blue Jays have just 66 contests left in the season to prove if they are playoff contenders, or just another in a long list of pretenders.

The Blue Jays have followed a crooked path so far this season, which no doubt is adding to the GM's dilemma of what he might want to do to improve the roster leading into the July 31 deadline.

When the team was healthy earlier in the season, it shot to the top of the American League East standings and held first place for 48 days, leading the pack by as many as six games. But injuries to key personnel have depleted a once-potent offence and weakened the defence, resulting in an 8-17 tailspin heading into the all-star break.

As they embark into the second half, the Blue Jays are now 49-47 on the season and in second place, trailing the Baltimore Orioles by four games.

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"I think, over all, at the end of the day you're never satisfied," Anthopoulos said when asked to sum up Toronto's achievements over the first half of the season. "You always want to do better. There's been some great stories and overall we've been right there. We've been in first place for quite a long period of time.

"But again, I don't really get caught up in that. The focus is just, more, how we can get better? That's more the focus all the time."

The last time the Blue Jays were this close

The 49 wins prior to the all-star break are the most by the Blue Jays since 2006, when they were 49-39, which was also the last time Toronto sported a winning record heading into the break. Back then, that was only good enough for third place in the AL East, five games back of the front-running Boston Red Sox. The Blue Jays went 38-36 after that and finished the season in second place, 10 games behind the New York Yankees. That season, the Blue Jays did not make any significant alterations to their roster by the trade deadline. Toronto did deal Shea Hillenbrand and Vinnie Chulk to the San Francisco Giants for Jeremy Accardo, but that move was about maintaining a harmonious clubhouse more than anything else. Just a couple days earlier, Toronto manager John Gibbons had challenged Hillenbrand to a fight after the pitcher wrote the "ship was sinking" on the clubhouse bulletin board.

Is a trade in the offing?

Anthopoulos would never tip his hand when it comes to possible player moves, but he said he's prepared to do what he feels is necessary to strengthen the team. Injuries to Brett Lawrie, Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind, who are not expected back for at least a couple of weeks, could force his hand. "Certainly we expect to go out and compete and win games without those guys," Anthopoulos responded when asked how long he can afford to wait for those players to return and not hurt the team's playoff chances. "But I don't know, it's really day to day. You don't replace those players. Encarnacion's obviously an elite player and Lind's become a very good hitter for us, and Brett Lawrie brings a lot to the team as well. So I don't think there's any expectation that you can replace those guys. I think you hope everyone else is going to step up and make contributions, and you can get hot and hold the fort until those guys get back."

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Who Toronto will be playing

Divisional play always heats up in the second half of the schedule, and for the Blue Jays, 41 of their remaining 66 games will be against the AL East, beginning on Monday when the Boston Red Sox arrive in Toronto for a four-game series. Toronto has 13 games remaining against the Red Sox, and of the 10 they have left against the Yankees, seven are in New York, where the Blue Jays are 0-16 dating back to 2012. Toronto has nine games remaining against Baltimore (six at home) and nine against Tampa Bay (six at home).

Can this roster, when healthy, contend?

I think there's no question," Anthopoulos said. "That being said, if we have opportunities to add by the trade deadline, you're always going to try to take advantage of those opportunities."

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