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The Globe and Mail

Blue Jays seemingly unfazed heading into crucial final stretch

Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista homers against the Seattle Mariners on Sept. 21, 2016, in Seattle.

Elaine Thompson/AP

And so it begins, that part of the Major League Baseball season where the stretch drive turns into an all-out sprint to the finish line.

Strap on that seatbelt, Toronto Blue Jays fans. It is promising to be a hectic conclusion.

The Jays return home from a 4-3 road trip to begin their final home stand of the regular season, a critical seven-game affair that will begin on Friday night at what will be a raucous sold-out Rogers Centre.

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It is the first of a four-game set against the New York Yankees, which will be followed by three against the Baltimore Orioles.

After that, the Blue Jays will travel to Boston on Sept. 30 for the start of a three-game series against the Red Sox that will mark the end of the regular season.

All those teams compete in the American League East and, with the way the standings are congested, every result could mean the difference between securing a postseason berth or going home empty-handed.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, whose team still controls its own destiny with 10 games left to play, said he likes the position the Jays are in. "We'll head home where we like to play – what's that, 10 games left?" he said after his club finished up in Seattle against the Mariners on Wednesday. "And we'll make our run at this thing, see what happens."

"We're not worried," pitcher Aaron Sanchez added. "We understand every game means something, that's for sure. I don't think that's something new to us. Just go win games."

While Sanchez and the rest of the Blue Jays are seemingly unfazed by their precarious position, the same cannot be said of their legions of fans, who are fit to be tied by the team's inconsistent play of late.

The Blue Jays have won just seven of their 19 games in September, hardly a compelling success rate.

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The good news is that, despite being overhauled by the Red Sox for the division lead, the Jays are still clinging to the first wild card spot by a game over the surging Detroit Tigers.

With Boston, the Cleveland Indians and the Texas Rangers having pretty much locked up first place in their respective divisions, the heated battle will be for those two remaining wild card playoff berths.

With the Blue Jays and Tigers currently in the driver's seat, the Orioles, Houston Astros, Mariners and Yankees are still within sniffing distance.

The Yankees have the toughest road, beginning the Toronto series three games back for the second wild card spot. They will undoubtedly need a big series against the Jays to salvage their season.

Toronto will send left-hander Francisco Liriano to the mound with the hope of getting the Jays off to a good start. The Yankees will counter with right-hander Bryan Mitchell.

The Blue Jays lead the season series over the Yankees 9-6. But the last time the two teams squared off, in New York in early September, the Yankees walked away with a three-game sweep.

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