As the Blue Jays come halfway, they are undeniably contenders

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TORONTO – At the start of the tenth round on Friday, a Hanser Alberto bastard sailed just beyond Cavan Biggio’s reach. He landed in shallow right field for a single, scoring Rio Ruiz and threatening to undermine a night that had been so promising for the Toronto Blue Jays.

But with the Blue Jays in their last out on the Jackie Robinson matchday, Randal Grichuk hit a two-run home run at Sahlen Field to give Toronto a 5-4 victory. With just one blow, an almost certain defeat turned into a spectacular victory.

Now, the Blue Jays come halfway through this shortened season with a 16-14 record and extend their lead over the Orioles for the last place in the American League playoffs to 2.5 games. At this point, the collapsing Yankees are only 0.5 games ahead of the Blue Jays. While a Jordan Romano finger injury certainly dampens the excitement of victory, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Blue Jays have reason to see themselves as contenders.

“Absolutely,” Biggio said on Friday afternoon.

“We’re excited,” Grichuk added after the game. “We fully expect to be in the playoffs. We are confident in who we are and what kind of talent we have… we can’t wait to be there. Winning baseball is fun.

In the fourth inning, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. started the Blue Jays with the first home run on the opposite field of his career (he later requested the ball as a souvenir). On the next court, Hernandez added his own home run, sending John Means’ fastball 430 feet above the center wall of the court. Of all the big league hitters, only Fernando Tatis Jr. has more homers than Hernandez.

Thanks to another strong start from Hyun-jin Ryu, the Blue Jays didn’t need much attacking. The southpaw limited the Orioles to two runs in six innings while suppressing seven and throwing a season-high 98 shots.

“Things have progressed well for me,” said Ryu in a generally low-key manner.

Seven begins her four year term with her new team, Ryu has been as efficient as advertised. By shifting gears, throwing strikes, and limiting running play, he has a 3.16 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 37 innings.

As director Charlie Montoyo said, “He was exceptional.”

This production is invaluable at all times, especially since the Blue Jays’ paddock has been so heavily used lately. In that sense, the recent addition of Taijuan Walker made an immediate difference. Because they acquired Walker, the Blue Jays could send Thomas Hatch and Anthony Kay back to the relieves pen instead of using them as piggyback starters. With Hatch released to throw innings with leverage, he replaced Ryu and threw an effective seventh inning.

But Romano, who followed Hatch in the start of the eighth inning, gave Renato Nunez a solo home run who equalized the game. Then the round took a turn for the worse: Romano, who quickly became one of the Blue Jays’ most reliable relievers, left the game abruptly after injuring his right middle finger. While the severity of the injury is unclear until Romano undergoes further testing, the Blue Jays would certainly miss him if he needed time on the sidelines.

Once Romano left the game, Anthony Bass and Rafael Dolis provided solid relief – and Danny Jansen should also be credited with an inning pitched given he threw three Orioles on goal. Still, the loss of Romano hurts. If there’s any consolation, the Blue Jays still win their fair share of games even though it’s not the first time they’ve suffered injuries this year.

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“Nothing but trust in the guys that we have in the locker room,” Biggio said. “The injured guys will come back. Guys like Bo (Bichette). Ken Giles will be back and it will be an exciting club in the future.

Of all the injured Blue Jays, perhaps Giles is the most advanced. He was feeling great after pitching another bullpen session on Friday, which means his next stop will be against live hitters. While the Blue Jays don’t set a schedule for his return, it’s conceivable that he could be back on the active roster in a week’s time. At this point, a surprisingly efficient enclosure would grow stronger.

Pearson (flexor strain) and Bichette (knee) might be further apart, but both are progressing. After playing against 60 feet on Friday, Pearson will stretch further and then start throwing a mound again. Bichette, meanwhile, started swinging off a tee and playing wrestling. Then he’ll take Grounders as soon as his knee allows it.

“We’ll see how he feels,” Montoyo said.

Ultimately, Bichette’s return could be a major difference factor for this team. It’s far from imminent, however, and there are plenty of games to play in the meantime. Already this group has proven itself capable of competing. When Walker makes his debut on Saturday, they will also have welcome reinforcements on their side.



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