The Toronto Blue Jays open the most crucial homestand of the season tonight against the New York Yankees.
While many baseball insiders and experts have already written them off, the team is certainly in control of its fate, based on the number of games remaining against those ahead of them.
For the Blue Jays, it is vital for them to keep the good times rollin'. Too many times in the past decade the team has put together a string of wins in late July and early August to put themselves back in contention, only to follow it with some of the most abysmal play of the season.
The Jays went 5-1 (and easily could have been 6-0) on their recent trip through Detroit and Boston, but now must carry that into the series against the Bronx Bombers, a team decimated by injuries this season. A sweep of the series will vault the Jays into third place in the American League East.
Tonight is a chance for A.J. Burnett to prove that he is a real-deal, pressure-situation type pitcher. Allowing his club to be beaten by unknown Darrell Rasner will not do much for his potential free agent stock. On the other hand, if he can come out and pitch the Jays to a victory--his 16th of the season--he will add another chapter to what has been a relatively brilliant season by the fire-balling righty.
Burnett is an interesting character and player who has always baffled yet impressed. His record (15-9) is very impressive for someone who has been known as a .500 pitcher for his entire career.
Additionally, a few of those losses could have been avoided this season. There was the relief appearance against Texas in the 14th inning of a game in mid-April, and at least two games where he pitched exceptionally well, only to be let down by the offense. Burnett could very easily be 17-6 at this point of the season.
Unfortunately for Jays' fans, that means he likely won't be around come Spring Training '09.
I've never really believed in players stepping up their performance during "contract years"--the final year of a current deal in which a player is essentially trying out for a new, more lucrative deal.
But that was before Burnett's 2008 campaign.
With all the talk of trade potential and him opting out of the final two years of his deal, Burnett has won nine of his last 11 starts to send his stock through the roof.
To A.J.'s credit, he has said he does not want to think about changing teams at this point, and his resurgence, like that of many other Blue Jays, co-incided with the hiring of manager Cito Gaston.
Gaston seems like the type of man who demands the best of his players and makes sure he gets it from Burnett every five days.
Time will tell where Burnett will be come February.
As for his teammates, they must also focus on the present, which means winning as many games as possible between now and the end of September.
They have dug themselves a hole by throwing games away during the first four and a half months of the season, but they can certainly take advantage of some good momentum and banged up opponents to give themselves a serious shot at playoff contention.
Good for the Tampa Bay Rays for proving to the sporting world that it is possible to contend in the AL East against moneyhouses New York and Boston. Even if they fade down the stretch, they've given all cellar-dwelling teams proof that patience and good drafting can heal all ...
August is an interesting month for sports, with the MLB beginning to separate contenders and pretenders, NFL training camps kicking off, and NHL fans eagerly await training camps of their own. The Beijing Olympics are an added bonus for 2008 ...
Food for thought: how bad would it look for everyone if Brett Favre got injured in the first game of the season and ended his iron-man streak? It would be a bit ironic after the mess we were forced to endure this summer, wouldn't it? I still don't think he's going to have a great season, the whole situation has bad karma written all over it ...
Mats Sundin may officially be the biggest drama queen in all of sports. He had almost three months from the end of the regular season to the beginning of free agency to decide if he wanted to play or not. I know we all want to avoid another Favre-like situation, but reading in the news every five days that there is still not update on his status just seems like a waste of time. Why not just leave the man alone until he announces his plans? It shouldn't have taken this long, but maybe the media pressure is part of the problem.