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Blue Jays’ path to second-half success remains problematic

Toronto Blue Jays Jose Reyes (left) celebrates with Jose Bautista after hitting a homer off Minnesota Twins pitcher Scott Diamond during fifth inning AL baseball action in Toronto on Sunday July 7, 2013.

The Canadian Press

It was a laugher, a nice memory to leave 43,795 fans ahead of the all-star break.

Thirteen hits in the Toronto Blue Jays' 11-5 win over the Minnesota Twins, home runs by Colby Rasmus, Jose Reyes and Rajai Davis, and Edwin Encarnacion legging out a triple, for heaven's sake.

But manager John Gibbons knows games like Sunday's, which gave his club its first series win since that 11-game win streak just two weeks ago, won't tell the tale of whatever tale will be spun in the second half of the season.

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"If we're going to win, we've got to score runs," Gibbons said after his team raised its record to 43-45. "But there are going to be stretches when we're not getting good hitting, and that's when we'll need good pitching."

Starting pitching remains the quandary facing the Blue Jays as they finish the pre-all-star break portion of their schedule with three games on the road against the Cleveland Indians (starting Tuesday) and three more against the Baltimore Orioles. It's nice that Todd Redmond (1-1) can throw five innings of one-hit baseball, but it will be Josh Johnson, R.A. Dickey and a serious trade-deadline acquisition who determine whether the hope of last off-season can sustain itself through the long, hot, Southern Ontario summer.

The forecast is not good. Sites such as listed the Blue Jays as having an 8-per-cent chance of making the playoffs after Sunday's win. The game may be as simple as Rasmus wanted to portray it following his 3-for-4 performance – "hit the ball and miss some gloves" – but the path facing the Blue Jays is hardly that simple.

The maddeningly frustrating nature of this season must surely be reflected in the fact that the Blue Jays, cellar-dwellers in the American League all-star-game selections, could have four times as many all-stars as the best team in the American League West, the Oakland Athletics. That doesn't seem right, from a distance, and Blue Jays fans can take it as a sign that the sum of this team's parts is seriously underachieving. Or, noting the absence of a single one of their starting pitchers from the all-star discussion, it's confirmation that there is one area and one area only that is the reason the Blue Jays are wallowing in 2013.

The Blue Jays have drawn well this season – 1,445,173 passing through the turnstiles in 46 home games, with 14 crowds of more than 40,000 after 11 in all of 2012 – and president and chief executive officer Paul Beeston's goal of three million might be in sight if the club can convince its fans that it is contending. Hey, with lousy weather suggesting that the Rogers Centre roof would be closed, a poor opponent and a far-from-sexy pitching matchup, more than 43,000 people were willing to come and watch a last-place team.

The J.P. Arencibia bobble-heads helped, but there was plenty of noise, and a surprising number of fans stayed to watch Casey Janssen – who looks as if he needs the all-star break more than anybody else on the team – pitch a ninth-inning, make-work project.

Encarnacion was lifted for pinch-runner Munenori Kawasaki in the seventh inning after his second triple as a Blue Jay scored two runs, giving the crowd a chance to salute their most worthy all-star and lavish more praise on the most popular .212 hitter in recent Jays history not named John McDonald. And Twitter was alight with fans skewering other fans over etiquette – the cheers for Kawasaki's arrival far surpassed the cheers for Encarnacion's exit (during which he placed his palms together as if in prayer and bowed to Kawasaki).

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In the meantime, many of us will wonder how much of Sunday's big crowd is a residue of the hope that was pitched (and purchased) ahead of time and how much is a reflection of true interest and continued belief.

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