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A Sort of Homecoming: Phillies at Blue Jays, June 30-July 2

June 30: Blue Jays 8, Phillies 1 W: Jannsen (6-6) L: Bernero (0-1)
July 1: Blue Jays 5, Phillies 2 W: Taubenheim (2-4) L: Lidle (4-7)
July 2: Phillies 11, Blue Jays 6 W: Geary (5-0) L: Burnett (1-2)

As Phils GM Pat Gillick presumably gets closer to pulling the trigger on the team's first unambiguous mid-summer selloff since 2000, he and his scuffling charges return to the town where Gillick became a baseball bigshot. As TGP noted last summer, the Phillies and Blue Jays have shared a common fate since they met in the 1993 World Series: neither team has made the playoffs, despite a handful of decent seasons. In Toronto's case, a good chunk of the blame can be placed on the two powerhouses with whom they share a division: the Yankees haven't missed the postseason since 1995, winning the last eight division titles, and the Red Sox have claimed the wild card in five of those years. The Braves have presented a somewhat similar obstacle for the Phils, but the bigger problem has been the team's inability to get above the mid-80s in wins.

For the moment at least, there isn't much doubt about which team is closer. Toronto enters the series 10 games over .500, in third place once again (where they've finished in seven of the last eight seasons; the AL East is to consistency what Jessica Simpson is to the dumb blonde stereotype) but just a game behind the Yankees and five behind the pace-setting Red Sox. Given that the Jays are only now getting fully healthy--$50 million free-agent addition A.J. Burnett returned earlier this month--and the team still has the wherewithal to add pieces, their best play could be in front of them.



The Blue Jays can hit. CF Vernon Wells, whose name was linked with Bobby Abreu in off-season trade rumors, is making an MVP case with a .315 average, 20 HR, 62 RBI and a .990 OPS; corner OF Alex Rios, a disappointment in his first two big-league seasons, has blossomed with a .330 average and 15 homers, five more than his previous season high. Troy Glaus--the slugging third baseman whom the Phils should have moved heaven and earth to acquire last winter--has 21 homers and an .874 OPS despite a .247 batting average. And both Shane Hillenbrand and Lyle Overbay are on pace to hit around .300 with over 20 homers apiece.

It's the pitching, however, that makes Toronto a scary prospective playoff opponent in the AL. Roy "Doc" Halladay won't throw in this series, but at 9-2, 3.07 he is once again a Cy Young award candidate. Burnett, who goes Sunday against (presumably) Ryan Franklin, has 24 strikeouts in his first 25 innings, with a complete-game shutout in his last start. Ted Lilly, the lefty whom Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi reportedly refused to trade for Ryan Howard last June, has 8 wins and a 3.87 ERA. (Still, I'm guessing Ricciardi would do that deal were Gillick to offer it now.) Rookies Casey Janssen and Ty Taubenheim, who pitch the first two games in the series, haven't fared as well but still compare favorably in their first big-league exposure to the Phils' Cole Hamels and Scott Mathieson.

Before the Boston series last week, I wrote that I thought a 2-7 road trip might serve the Phils better long-term than a more successful journey away from Citizens Bank Park. At 1-5 thus far, they're most of the way there; I suspect the real homecoming the team will receive next week in South Philly will be the deciding factor as management elects to look toward next season and beyond.