07/14/2003 7:32 PM ET
Blue Jays enjoy All-Star experience
CHICAGO -- The Toronto Blue Jays aren't exactly sure what to make of their first half this season.
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
On the one hand, they've stuck around the top of the AL East longer than anyone could have anticipated and won 49 games before the break. On the other, they've struggled recently, staggering to the first-half finish line nine games behind the New York Yankees. Whatever the perspective, it's obvious that the trio of All-Stars in Chicago is the most responsible for the team's fortunes.
Carlos Delgado leads the American League in home runs and the Majors in RBIs. Roy Halladay is baseball's only 13-game winner. Both are making their second All-Star appearances. Vernon Wells is the newcomer, and all he's done in his second full season is stand fourth in the AL in homers and behind only Delgado in ribbies.
Delgado is the eldest statesman of the group, at age 31, showing exactly how bright the future is for this organization. He last went to the All-Star Game in 2000. Halladay, just 26, is in his second Midsummer Classic in a row. Wells, 24, was taking it all in for the very first time.
"It's fun. It's a circus, but it's a dream come true," Wells said. "I 'm here to enjoy this. There are enough superstars in this room. I'm happy to be among them. It's definitely an honor and a treat."
Being a part of that Jays offense has been a treat as well. Toronto trails only the Red Sox in batting average, slugging percentage and runs scored, the main reason why talking about the Jays and a playoff spot isn't absurd. Toronto's lineup, featuring Wells and Delgado and a host of other .300 hitters, produced at an absolutely torrid pace as the Blue Jays climbed closer and closer to the Yankees and Red Sox. Recently, that rate has understandably slowed, and combined with a pitching slump, has contributed to Toronto's slip in the playoff race.
"We have to realize it's hard to keep that up for 162 games," Delgado, the realist, said. "It's hard to hit .300 all year.
"I think we were pitching. Teams go as far as their pitching. A team with good offense will battle, but teams that go to the playoffs pitch better. The last two, two and a half weeks, we haven't pitched as well as we wanted to."
Everyone except for Halladay, of course. The young ace hasn't lost a game since April 15. For much of the 13-game winning streak, Halladay hasn't felt any added pressure to keep winning. And even when the Jays struggled recently, he used it as motivation, not as a negative.
"I was fortunate, when it was happening, we were really playing well and were winning a lot of games," Halladay said. "The last two or three starts, it's been important for me to pitch well. I wanted to pitch well against the two teams in front of us.
"But I like it. It's an opportunity and challenge, more than pressure."
Whether the pressure mounts after the break remains to be seen. Series with the Yankees and Red Sox could go a long way to determine whether these Blue Jays All-Stars have to worry about playoff races. Either way, no one involved wants Toronto to scrap its long-term plan and completely mortgage the future to take a shot at winning now.
"I think we're built for the future," Halladay said. "We jumped out and surprised a lot of teams and got in a position to win. We shouldn't pack things in, but if we don't reach the playoffs, we're still building toward it.
"It's a tough situation and maybe other players feel differently. I want to be a part of the team's future. I really like what we're building."
"I would understand [if we didn't make moves]," Delgado said. "I usually don't question executive decisions. They have to figure out how its going to work. My job is to play, make it exciting as possible close to the deadline and make us buyers instead of sellers."
If the Jays can get hot again, and stay close to the leaders, even if they don't bring in more help, they might have an advantage. Because the Jays' present surprisingly has caught up to their future, they might not have enough experience to get nervous.
"We love to play the game," Wells said. "We have a young team. I don't know if we're old enough to know what we're doing."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.