TORONTO — General manager Ross Atkins believes his Blue Jays have put their recent slump behind them and will make another playoff push in the final five weeks of 2021.
Toronto wiped out an impressive 9-2 run in its Rogers Centre return earlier this month, after a 22-month absence because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with an 8-11 slide.
The Blue Jays find themselves five and a half games behind the Boston Red Sox in the battle for the second wild-card spot in the American League with 33 games in 35 days remaining of the regular season.
"We feel good about the team, we feel good about the shape of the organization and feel we have enough of a season to make a good run," Atkins said on Monday. "We have yet to have all things clicking at once. Even that 9-2 stretch, it was really our pitching that kind of carried us through at that point.
"We have yet to have a time where all things have been happening for this team. I'm very confident it's in our future, and I hope it's sooner rather than (later)."
The Blue Jays recent woes can be pinned on a lack of late-game offence and an inconsistent bullpen. Toronto has a 3-9 record in extra-inning outings and has gone 8-37 when trailing after six innings.
But despite the slump, Atkins backed his manager Charlie Montoyo, who is in the third year of his contract. The Blue Jays utilized a fourth-year option on Montoyo for 2022.
"One of the hardest things for a baseball manager, a leader in sport, football, basketball, hockey, whatever it maybe is, is to let individuals be just that," Atkins said. "It is a clear strength of his.
"He wants to impart his values and his morals in a way that is constructive and respectful. He wants individuals to be that, and you can see that in the personality of the team. You can see that in stressful times in the way they rally around one another and how proud they are of one another."
Atkins reported he was impressed with the way his players have handled the recent stumble.
"Awesome," the Blue Jays GM said. "Accountability with a little frustration and back to work the next day."
A boost to the Blue Jays chances is the return of George Springer on Monday against the Baltimore Orioles from a left knee sprain that has kept him out of the lineup since Aug. 14. Atkins strengthened Toronto's lineup in the off-season with free-agent signings of infielder Marcus Semien and Springer.
But Springer has been limited to 49 games with first-half quad and oblique ailments and, most recently, his knee issue. The Blue Jays have gone 29-20 with Springer in the lineup. He enjoyed his best stretch earlier this month with back-to-back AL player-of-the-week honours.
He'll return as Toronto's leadoff hitter in a designated hitter role. Springer will play the outfield when he's deemed fully healthy.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 30, 2021.
Tim Wharnsby, The Canadian Press