After a loss last Thursday night, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Schneider said his team had to start playing better baseball and "do it right f****** now" in an attempt to inject a sense of urgency into his team.
Since those words escaped his mouth, the Blue Jays have dropped a home series to the Cleveland Guardians, watched one of their high-leverage relievers hit the IL and experienced a painful loss that combined a series of missed opportunities with injuries to lineup stalwarts Bo Bichette and Matt Chapman.
According to FanGraphs, the team's playoff odds have dropped below 50% for the first time since late May.
If the Blue Jays had any margin for error when Schneider spoke out, they've exhausted it now.
The good news for Toronto is the schedule in front of the club is extremely forgiving. From now until Sep. 11, it will face the Washington Nationals, Colorado Rockies, Oakland Athletics and Kansas City Royals.
The bad news for the team is that none of their primary rivals will be hitting an especially tough section of their schedules, either.
The Blue Jays have a .647 winning percentage against teams below .500 this year. If they match that, an 8-4 stretch is a reasonable expectation. In order to leap back into a playoff spot, one of the AL West teams above them would have to go 5-7, which is tough to project considering their relatively breezy schedules.
If Toronto doesn't make it back into playoff position by Sep. 11, its road gets awfully difficult as the Blue Jays' schedule down the stretch isn't particularly forgiving.
These numbers are muddied slightly by the fact the AL West squads play each other consistently down the stretch, but that is unlikely to benefit the Blue Jays.
If those three teams trade wins in a relatively egalitarian manner, that will make all three of them tough to catch. The fact the trio all sit within a single game of each other this late in August is a good indication that a scenario like that is pretty likely.
Gaining ground late isn't impossible, but it's a tough ask.
That makes the next two weeks absolutely pivotal to the Blue Jays' hopes. Winning eight of 12 may not be enough. Toronto might need to absolutely dominate — and that'll have to happen with one of its best relievers out and two of its best hitters banged up.
All season long, even when the Blue Jays have put together strong stretches, they've rarely looked like a powerhouse. There has been some quality pitching to appreciate, plenty of defensive highlights — particularly in the outfield — and the odd reminder that this lineup still has plenty of talent.
But the 2023 Blue Jays haven't won more than four games in a row or had a month with a .600 winning percentage since April. They've won more games by a single run (21) than five or more (18) after managing 57 victories by five-plus runs over the last two seasons while needing just 45 single-run wins.
You can find statistical indicators that suggest the Blue Jays are capable of going on the type of run they'll need — this team ranks second in the majors in ERA (3.72) and eighth in wRC+ (106) after all — but we're 131 games into the 2023 season and we simply haven't seen it.
For most of this campaign it seemed logical to assume that while the team was underperforming, there would be a moment when it'd find its stride. Over the course of an 162-game season a good team normally has the luxury of waiting for that heater to arrive — as long as it stays in the race the way the Blue Jays have.
Now we're looking at a 31-game season. It's no longer fair to assume that things will straighten themselves out. It's go time.
The idea of "playing with urgency" can easily become a meaningless cliché, but there are some actionable steps the team can take.
Ride Davis Schneider while he's hot. Move George Springer back to the top of the lineup with Whit Merrifield cooling off. Pitch the high-leverage guys a little more. Consider using an off-day to get Kevin Gausman an extra outing or two.
You usually can't win in baseball by putting in more effort than your opponents, but you can put more emphasis on each and every game than they do, and that's where the Blue Jays are at right now. The schedule has given them a golden opportunity to demonstrate that there's more to this group than they've shown so far.
If they're going to make the playoffs — let alone make some noise in October — they'll have to do just that, and do it now.