It appears unlikely the Toronto Blue Jays will end their 14-year streak without a division title, but the club isn’t conceding the wild-card race yet, thanks in large part to A.J. Burnett’s recent success.
Burnett looks to win his fifth straight start for the first time in nearly three years as the Blue Jays continue a four-game series against the struggling Detroit Tigers on Tuesday night at Comerica Park.
Stuck in what is perennially one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, Toronto hasn’t won an AL East title since doing so in three consecutive seasons from 1991-93, the last two of which resulted in World Series championships for the Blue Jays.
This year’s Blue Jays (60-59) aren’t in good position to end their title drought, trailing division-leading Tampa Bay by 12 games and also coming in behind Boston and the New York Yankees. However, the club remains on the fringe of wild-card contention thanks to Burnett (14-9, 4.62 ERA).
Though his ERA is as high as its been in a season since he posted a 4.70 ERA while making only four starts in an injury-plagued 2003 campaign with Florida, Burnett has already recorded a career high in wins, tying him for third in the AL. He’s also first in the league with 159 strikeouts in 157 2-3 innings.
The right-hander has been particularly effective lately, winning eight of his last 10 starts, including four straight with a 3.42 ERA. That success has helped Toronto pull into fifth place in the wild-card race, eight games behind first-place Boston.
“It’s big for us to hopefully keep on a good run here because we’re far from out of it right now,” Burnett said after giving up four runs in six innings of a 6-4 victory over Oakland on Thursday. “That’s the team attitude. We want to keep winning ballgames and make it interesting.”
Burnett, who hasn’t won more than four consecutive outings since a career-high seven-start win streak from July 19-Aug. 19, 2005, is 2-1 with an 8.68 ERA in four career starts against the Tigers, including a 5-3 win over them April 20.
He hopes to help the Blue Jays build on a 7-2 victory in the series opener Monday night. Toronto snapped a three-game skid by going 3-for-4 with runners in scoring position and recording its highest run total in 10 games.
Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said he wished his team played like that more often.
“We played like you’d like to see about 95 games a year,” he said. “We pitched well, we hit the ball in key situations and we played some good defense.”
The Tigers (58-60), plummeting in the wild-card race with eight losses in their last 11 games, will try to get back on track with Zach Miner (6-4, 3.57) taking the mound Tuesday.
The right-hander is 3-1 with a 2.31 in four starts since joining the rotation after the All-Star break. He gave up two runs - one earned - in six innings of an 8-3 win over the Chicago White Sox on Thursday.
In four career games - one start - against Toronto, Miner is 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA.