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Playoff-bound Blue Jays persevered after a wobbly September, next up is the Twins

Toronto Blue Jays on the field after clinching a berth in the American League divisional series, following an AL MLB baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays, in Toronto, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO — Things looked bleak for the Toronto Blue Jays a few weeks ago when they were swept in emphatic fashion by the visiting Texas Rangers.

The four-game losing skid dropped Toronto below the wild-card cutline. 

That's when Blue Jays outfielder George Springer — a playoff veteran and a World Series champion in 2017 — showed his leadership skills in the clubhouse.

"George came around to every single guy that was in here, telling them not to give up, to keep going," said Blue Jays reliever Jordan Romano. "That meant a lot coming from him.

"I think the guys we've got, the character of them, that definitely helped us keep the course."

The Blue Jays responded with victories in seven of their next nine games. Toronto went on to book its playoff ticket on Saturday night and will play the Minnesota Twins in a best-of-three wild-card series starting Tuesday at Target Field.

"I'll keep it in house but I just let the guys know to keep going," Springer said. "I mean that's baseball, stuff like that's going to happen. We answered the bell and here we are."

Securing a playoff berth before Sunday's season finale — a 12-8 loss to Tampa Bay in a playoff warm-up game — allowed the Blue Jays to save Kevin Gausman for the Twins.  

He's a good bet to get a starting assignment along with Chris Bassitt and former Twins starter Jose Berrios. The Blue Jays will likely unveil their playoff roster Tuesday morning.

"The confidence is so high in the clubhouse amongst the guys and the staff," said Blue Jays manager John Schneider. "It felt like we just needed to get in. Getting there was hard. 

"So going forward, this team is built for the playoffs between pitching, defence and offence."

Minnesota (87-75) and Toronto (89-73) split their six regular-season meetings. Each team won twice on the road and once at home.

The Twins, who won the Central Division title, will host all games against the Blue Jays. Toronto was 46-35 on the road this season and 43-38 at Rogers Centre.

The winner will play the second-seeded Houston Astros in the best-of-five American League Division Series. 

"We have played a little bit better on the road, which is a little bit weird for this season," Schneider said Sunday at Rogers Centre. "But we're going to work our asses off to get here and play games here."

Toronto's last playoff win came in 2016 when the Blue Jays reached the AL Championship Series for a second straight year. The Blue Jays were swept in the wild-card round last year and in 2020.

"Baseball is hard and this (East) division is hard," Schneider said. "I think getting here probably takes a lot of weight off of the players' shoulders. Looking back at spring training, there were very high expectations. 

"People can say we either met them or fell short of them, but the fact that we are in, I think the guys really like that. They're really looking forward to it because of how good they are."

The Rays will host the Texas Rangers in the other AL wild-card series. The winner will face the top-seeded Baltimore Orioles.

The ALDS winners will advance to the AL Championship Series. The winner of that best-of-seven series will play the National League champion in the World Series starting Oct. 27.

"We're capable of hoisting that trophy at the end of the year, I know that," Kevin Kiermaier said. "We've got all the talent on paper. We've proved that we can play with all the best teams. 

"We've just got to go out there when the bright lights turn on and play our game."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2023. 

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on X.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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