It's been a long road to home-field advantage for Blue Jays

By: Andrew Hendriks

Canadian Baseball Network

When Josh Donaldson drew a pair of walks during the American League’s 6-3 win over the National squad in this years running of the Midsummer Classic, few thought that his strong performance in Cincinnati would help the Blue Jays come October.

You see, at the time of the All-Star break, Toronto, at 45-46, had been hovering around the .500 mark for the better part of three weeks, and although they had looked promising at times, winning the first of two 11 game streaks at one point, general inconsistencies had this crop of Jays looking as if they were headed for a 23rd consecutive playoff-less campaign.

And then Toronto GM, Alex Anthopoulos went to work on his roster.

Dealing from a position of strength with regards to the club's prospect capital, Double-A traded for not one, but two of the games most sought-after stars in Troy Tulowitzki and David Price.

But he didn’t stop there.

Prior to the deadline, Anthopoulos also strengthened his team’s core by adding Ben Revere, Mark Lowe, LaTroy Hawkins and Cliff Pennington. That group had a near-immediate impact on a club that, prior to their arrival, had already shown flashes of the sheer dominance that was yet to come.

When action started up again on July 17th in St. Pete, Toronto trailed the Minnesota Twins, who had staked a claim to the second Wild Card spot, by six games. Come the four-game showdown between the two clubs on August 3rd, the Jays had evaporated Minnesota’s lead all together and would go on to sweep the Twins en route to taking a firm grip on the playoff spot themselves.

Toronto then set their sights on the Angels, who, like the Twins before them, had been holding a WC spot well into August.  By the time the two offensive powerhouses linked up in Anaheim, Toronto had built a three-game lead on LAA, and would go on to bury them with yet another sweep.

Next up, New York.

On August 11th, the Blue Jays trailed the Yankees by a half a game in the standings. Their 4-2 win over Kendall Graveman and the Oakland Athletics that night, coupled with a New York loss to Cleveland, helped propel the Jays over NY for the first time since mid-April and, although the two clubs would exchange spots at various points throughout the next week and a half, Toronto eventually pulled ahead and took sole possession of the East come late August.

Coming into play on September 1st, the Jays held a 2.5 game advantage on the Bombers in the standings, and with seven games remaining between the two clubs during the regular season, their fate was in their hands.

Toronto went on to take five from the Yanks in their final seven matchups, keeping the New York at bay and finishing the season series with a franchise best 13-6 record against their heated rivals.

With the East firmly in their grasp, the only thing left for Toronto was to shoot for tip spot in the AL, a position that, as of September 1st, was held by the juggernaut Kansas City Royals, who Toronto had clipped to the tune of a 4-3 record during regular season play.

On September 26th, the Jays rallied past Tampa Bay 10-8, and with the win, claimed sole possession of first place over KC in the American League, a position they have since held for the better part of the last week.

This is key as first place overall, considering how the AL edged the senior circuit in this year's All Star Game, grants the team holding it home field advantage for the entire postseason run.

In addition to home-field advantage, the team who finishes the season in top spot is then put up against the winner of its leagues Wild Card game during the Divisional Series.

Of course, this outcome likely means that the WC winner has already burned their ace in the one-and-done playoff, setting up a favorable advantage for the top seed in the best-of-five division series.

It would also prevent a possible matchup against the hard-hitting Texas Rangers during DS play, a team that, like Toronto, has really turned it on in the second half, and is currently red-hot since jumping the Houston Astros in the AL West standings in September.

Those are the basics, but in Toronto’s case, the peripheral numbers are even more telling.

Out homering their opposition 91/31, the Jays have scored an even 450 runs while playing inside the hitting friendly confines of Rogers Center in 2015, compared to 423 while on the road.  At home, the club has a ten point advantage in their team batting average, 12 in on base percentage and 29 in slugging.

But the hitters aren’t the only ones getting it done inside the Dome.

Collectively, Toronto’s pitching has recorded an overall ERA of 3.22 across 735 innings at home. Their 575 punch-outs, coupled with the 187 walks easily trump their road numbers of 514 and 198, respectively, and (not that pitchers W/L records tell the whole story), their 53-28 record is light years ahead of their 39-38 showing away from Toronto.

All told, the Jays are 53-28 at home this season and are rivaled only by the Astros, who will finish the season with the same W/L total.

Needless to say, these numbers indicate that the Blue Jays, who clinched their first AL East title on Wednesday, would certainly benefit from securing the home field advantage ahead of the upcoming postseason.

But the Royals, who lost Lorenzo Cain to a banged up knee on Wednesday, are looking to snare first place back from the Jays with their three game set vs. the Twins this weekend.

Fortunately for Toronto, the team won the season series vs. Kansas City 4-3, meaning that if the two clubs were to tie in the win-loss column come weekends end, the Canadian squad would head into the postseason with the advantage.

Still, in order to secure top spot in the league, the Jays will have to pay Tampa Bay tough this weekend at Tropicana Field… A stadium that, historically, has earned the moniker of  “House of Horrors” with regards to the way Toronto has played underneath its Teflon roof in years past.

To be the best, you have to beat the best, and on the weekend, the Jays will see the Rays top guns in Chris Archer and Matt Moore as Tampa Bay looks to play spoiler against their AL East rivals.