The Toronto Blue Jays have the chance to make some serious noise in 2013.
After having an already strong offensive core in place, GM Alex Anthopoulos stole the show during the offseason, acquiring big names and big talent and completely revamping the team's sub-par pitching staff. Now, the Jays are not only a legitimate playoff team but a trendy pick for the World Series.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
At the time of writing, the Jays have won a total of zero games and therefore, any prognostications about the playoffs and the World Series can be thrown in the "way too early" pile.
There's still the issue of playing the 162 games of the 2013 regular season.
Before we even get to fantasize about the first Blue Jays playoff game since 1993, we have to look at how the regular season will shake out. Here's a look at the Jays' toughest and most important stretches in 2013.
vs. RED SOX
The first three series for the Jays are absolutely crucial. In order to avoid any nervousness or doubts about whether this supremely talented team can succeed together, a strong start is essential. Beyond that, the city of Toronto has not been as excited and impassioned about their baseball team for a very long time—the Jays can grab the collective attention of the city if they dominate early on.
The possibility is certainly there as the Indians are not a strong team and the Red Sox, despite signing some mediocre, aging free agents, are a team that the Jays should routinely beat in 2013. Then comes the big test with the Jays heading to Detroit to play the best team in the American League. The series against the Tigers has the chance to be a big statement opportunity.
Starting on May 14th, the Jays have easily their toughest stretch of the season. They start at home for a two-game series against the defending champions, go to New York for three, come back home to play two strong division rivals and end off with a home and home against the Braves.
All of these series will be tough—it will likely be this stretch that will define the 2013 Blue Jays. This is their chance to prove they belong with the best.
If they can play comfortably above .500 during this stretch, it's likely that they'll make the playoffs based on the caliber of their opponents over this period.
THE JUNE OPPORTUNITY
@ WHITE SOX
Almost right after their toughest consecutive stretch of 2013, the Jays have arguably their easiest.
They play the Rangers twice and the White Sox once, two teams that have taken a step back—they are two teams that the Jays must leapfrog in order to be a playoff team. They also get the Rockies who won just 64 games last season and seem to offer up three easy home wins in the middle of the season.
Not to mention, they play the Padres just before this stretch. This is the Jays' opportunity to establish themselves after the supposed yardstick of approximately 60 games.
THE STRETCH RUN:
@ RED SOX
Was there really any doubt? Clearly, the end of the season will reflect the Jays' success or failure in 2013.
If all goes to Anthopoulos' plan, these last five series will mean something—did you notice they're all against division opponents? The two series with the Orioles seem to stick out, as they could be a hurdle in the Jays' path come September. For whatever reason, that last series against Tampa Bay screams "winner take all".
Either way, if the Jays are in contention, this last half of September will decide their playoff aspirations.