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Blue Jays catch breaks to get hot but in volatile season will they contend in AL East?

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

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The Jays haven't faded away before the All-Star Game, even though things appeared bleak. (USA Today Sports)

From the speakerphone in his office in Toronto, having returned to a season that looked as though it had run off without him and his grand designs for a while, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos evenly addressed what had transpired, and what could still transpire in the 2013 season. He honored the unseen and untold, and finally granted, "It's so volatile."

He was speaking of his own club, of others, of streaks and slides and expectations. More, he was speaking of the frailties of the human body and mind – how they all show up every morning in a vertical list that states, without equivocation, you win. Or you stink.

Then it starts all over again. The glorious run continues, one bad elbow from expiring. Or the misadventures trudge on, a quality start or two from turning.

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R.A. Dickey hopes to use his two-hitter against the Rays as a spring board in improving his season. (USA Today …

A year ago, Anthopoulos recalled, the Oakland Athletics were a losing team hardly anyone saw coming. They are 105-64 since June 25, 2012.

And the Blue Jays – his Blue Jays – were a sporty, competitive ballclub with a record slightly better than .500 and growing wild-card notions. They are 75-92 since that date.

Anthopoulos has looked hard at his roster – at his disabled list, at the list of 29 pitchers he's employed over 77 games, at an offense that's been so-so, at a defense that fields the ball only some of the time, at a rotation damaged by attrition and short outings and too many baserunners. He'd believed a break would come, that the middle of his lineup would produce, that his pitchers would heal, that last winter's blockbuster trade would pay off.

But an AL East that was going to be vulnerable wasn't acting vulnerable at all. The Jays were 10 games out. Then 11. Then 12. It wasn't getting any better – it was getting worse. The volatility that sends general managers to long evenings staring at the ceiling had become Anthopoulos' only hope. And the Jays needed that volatility, for the world to spin the other direction if just for a couple weeks. Expectations were too high. The payroll was too high. It couldn't end in July.

"You knew it was only going to get better," he said. "You hope you didn't dig too deep a hole."

Entering Thursday, the Jays of Bautista and Encarnacion, of Dickey and Johnson and Reyes, are 6.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox, and three behind the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles. Relevance came over 13 days, with 11 wins. And then over 12 wins in 14 games, the last of which – Wednesday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays – saw R.A. Dickey throw a two-hitter and Jose Reyes come off the disabled list after more than two months away.

Amid the volatility, Josh Johnson won his first game as a Blue Jay. Casey Janssen saved five games. Adam Lind hit five home runs and had 13 RBIs, as did Edwin Encarnacion. Chien-Ming Wang won a decision. Esmil Rogers won two.

And Jose Bautista hit .148.

The Jays plowed through the Texas Rangers, who are 7-2 since. They swept the Orioles, who had won eight of 11 going into the series.

These things come and go, but suddenly your supposed ace with the 5.15 ERA has a two-hitter in him, your All-Star shortstop is back atop a sturdy ankle, third baseman Brett Lawrie is close to healthy again, and Lind looks a little like the guy everybody thought he'd be four years ago. You look up and the top of the division isn't that far off, or at least nothing another three months couldn't fix.

Over two weeks, they'd ridden the volatility hard and saved their season – at least for the moment. And now the Jays seek stability, knowing the game's nature is to seek something more chaotic.

In the moments after he'd shut down the Rays on Wednesday, Dickey told reporters, "This is a hard game. … This game is so much about managing your regret and trying to grow out of adversity.

"I'm going to take a minute to enjoy it, that's for sure. Because I've had enough hard outings where I've had to grieve."

Reyes grinned and said, "I have my confidence back."

Reyes' arrival meant the demotion of Toronto's beloved Muni, the spritely shortstop Munenori Kawasaki. Over two months, he'd laughed, he'd danced, he'd read earnestly from his book of Japanese-to-English translations, and he'd played competently enough. What the Blue Jays loved about him is captured in his words as he left their clubhouse.

"It's not as if I've died," he said. "I'm still a baseball player. It's just that tomorrow the field will be different."

When a reporter asked him if he had one final message for Blue Jays fans, Muni said, "I'm hungry."

And that was that. For today.

Yes, the game veers in strange and unpredictable directions. You lose a bunch, you win a bunch, and then you pack up your locker. You win, or you stink. It says so every day. Yes, it's all so volatile.

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