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Stretching the Field: Blue Jays have work cut out

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Updated: 8/01 12:23 pm

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - "Touch 'em all, Joe! You'll never hit a bigger home run in your life."

Those words echoed by former Toronto Blue Jays announcer Tom Cheek took place back in 1993, when the Jays won their second straight World Series title.

Sadly, Cheek passed away in 2005 and his beloved Blue Jays have never been to the postseason since his famous call.

The Blue Jays, though, are currently making a run toward the playoffs for the first time since Joe Carter's monumental home run against the Philadelphia Phillies in the Fall Classic.

Toronto stood pat at Thursday's MLB trade deadline and will have to make due with the current roster and injured players returning from the disabled list. According to Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos during a conference call, the club had the financial resources to make moves and just wasn't able to pull the trigger with any interested suitors.

"I know a lot has been made about payroll and things like that. I can't stress this enough, especially going through the trade deadline: Our payroll is the highest it has ever been in the history of the organization," Anthopoulos said. "We absolutely had the financial resources to add at this trade deadline."

Adding depth to the infield, bullpen or rotation was a possibility for the Jays, but they remained quiet while other American League contenders found suitable partners to improve their chances in the stretch run. The Detroit Tigers now have three Cy Young Award winners in the rotation after landing David Price in a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. Who wants to face Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Price in a playoff series?

The Oakland Athletics got the ball rolling first by acquiring Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel a few weeks ago, then got even more nasty by trading for Jon Lester from the Boston Red Sox. It appears the Athletics and Tigers are the frontrunners to represent the AL in the World Series.

Even the New York Yankees were busy before the deadline with the additions of Chase Headley, Martin Prado and Stephen Drew. Headley landed in the Bronx last week and the Yankees are right behind Toronto in the AL East standings.

Toronto swept the Athletics in three games from May 23-25, but dropped all four games in Oakland from July 3-6. Still, it proves the Blue Jays can hang with the so-called mighty A's. As for the Tigers, Toronto swept them, too, from June 3-5 and will face Detroit next weekend north of the border.

Some of Blue Jays players, in particular closer Casey Janssen, were anticipating some new additions to help over the next two months.

"I just think, from an overall perspective of all these teams getting better, we know it's going to be a tough time for us," Janssen told Toronto's website. "One that isn't impossible, but we're going to have to do everything right.

"Obviously, we value our prospects, we value our players, I'm sure the other teams do as well. Maybe they just value the player or the opportunity to get into the playoffs more. It takes something to get something, and congratulations to those teams that got those guys."

The Jays did make a minor trade for infielder Danny Valencia earlier in the week. That's nice for depth, but it won't lift them over the hump and into first place in the division, where Toronto sits 1 1/2 games behind the Baltimore Orioles. New York is five games out.

Slugger Edwin Encarnacion (.277, 26 HR, 70 RBI) is on the disabled list with a quadriceps injury and recently suffered a setback in his recovery. He was expected to come off the DL soon and that could be delayed. Brett Lawrie (finger) and Adam Lind (foot) are hoping to return in the near future to contribute to a recent Blue Jays surge that includes six straight wins and 11 in the past 13 tries. The Jays have outscored opponents 41-17 during the win streak.

With no significant new faces in the clubhouse, it will be up to the usual suspects to break the playoff curse.

"We've heard (about) '92, '93, and I think we're tired of hearing it," Janssen said. "We want to put our stamp on Toronto and across baseball. For me, in my eight years here, I've never been this close, never had such an opportunity to make it into the playoffs, and I think that's where this excitement level for this trade deadline was.

"It's finally our time, (we're) finally beating down the door, and we wanted to come on the scene as strong as we can. Like I said, it didn't happen, we just have to regroup and go about our business again."

Jose Bautista has been the face of the franchise for several years and has nothing to show for it except a lot of home runs and a big bank account. He's obviously disappointed and will look past it.

"For everybody's sake I hope we all play great from now until the end of the season," said Bautista, who has 21 homers, 63 RBI and a .293 batting average. "I'm one of those guys that really wants to win, and I've been playing for a long time and never experienced it."

This could be Bautista's chance and for the rest of the organization because 1993 was a long time ago. Some of the players were teenagers or in grade school back then. Stamps were 29 cents, gas was $1.16 and George H. W. Bush gave way to Bill Clinton in the White House.

History lesson aside, the Blue Jays would like to erase their historic postseason drought this season and are playing their best baseball. Runs have come often, pitching has been precise and this current 10-game road trip has pushed Toronto into one of the top two wild card spots. As for pitching, Toronto starters are fourth in the majors with 45 wins, the most for the starting staff before Aug. 1 since 2008 (45).

The rotation did not record win No. 45 until Sept. 27 last season (Game 160).

Toronto's offense, thanks to the help of top hitters in Bautista, Encarnacion and Melky Cabrera, is one of the best in the big leagues, sitting first in homers (134), second in on-base percentage (.331) and third in batting average (.264), RBI (488) and OPS (.762).

The trek resumes this weekend against the Houston Astros, then it gets tough for the Jays with Baltimore, Detroit and Seattle on the upcoming slate.

Toronto hasn't backed down from any challenges this season and there's no reason to retreat now.

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