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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Gibbons thinks Blue Jays can go on a May-like tear over next few weeks

TORONTO - The Toronto Blue Jays were one of the most feared teams in baseball through May and early June.

They need to regain that form to have any chance of qualifying for the post-season.

The Jays went 21-9 in May and led the American League East standings through the month of June. The post-season seemed like a good possibility for baseball fans in this playoff-starved city.

That optimism started to fade after some spotty play last month and a just-completed 2-6 road trip has made things worse.

Toronto kicked off a critical nine-game homestand Friday night knowing it will likely take an effort similar to May's 21-win performance to get back in the playoff mix in the American League.

"I think we can do it again," Gibbons said before the series opener against Tampa Bay. "We've done it before, you can definitely do it again. It's not going to be easy.

"There are a lot of good teams out there that we're competing with right now ... we'll just ride it out and see where we end up."

Entering play Friday, the Blue Jays were tied for second place in the AL East with New York, nine games behind the first-place Baltimore Orioles.

The wild-card race is tighter with Oakland (74-52) and Detroit (68-57) currently holding the two positions. Seattle (68-58) was a half-game back of the Tigers while the Blue Jays (65-62) and Yankees (64-61) were in a virtual tie, four games behind.

Toronto salvaged the finale of its disappointing road trip with a 9-5 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. Gibbons hopes that performance can serve as a building block for the three-game set with the Rays and the series next week.

"Our bats came to life," he said. "Hopefully maybe that's the start of something. We'll see."

The Tigers were set to square off against the Minnesota Twins this weekend while the Mariners were set to face the Red Sox.

The Blue Jays took a 33-26 record at Rogers Centre into the opener against the Rays. After Tampa Bay, Toronto will take on the slumping Boston Red Sox for three games before a key three-game set against the Yankees.

"We need the pitching to be good," Gibbons said. "We need to get on a nice little roll, some good starts for a stretch. But we need to hit, we need to score runs. So we'll see."

The Blue Jays haven't been to the post-season since winning their second straight World Series title in 1993.

Toronto's numbers this month have been poor. The Blue Jays have dropped four of their last six series (1-4-1) and been outscored 92-56 over 17 games (5-12) in August.

Toronto pitchers have a collective 4.99 earned-run average this month (second worst in the AL) and the team's offence ranks last among AL teams in runs (56) and homers (nine).

"You're going to go through stretches where you struggle," Gibbons said. "That's just baseball. The key for us is to get our offence going. We've got to score to win and Wednesday was a nice start for that."

The team could get a boost next month if infielder Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C., returns to the lineup. He's making progress in his recovery from an oblique injury but is still at least a couple weeks away.

There's also a chance right-hander Brandon Morrow could make a return to the bullpen and top pitching prospect Daniel Norris might get called up from triple-A Buffalo.

However, the numbers are not in the Blue Jays' favour.

It will likely take 90 wins to make the playoffs. That means Toronto has to close out the schedule at a 25-10 clip to have a realistic shot.

"We're in a pretty good frame of mind," Gibbons said. "That's never really been a problem with this group. We're getting towards the end of the season.

"Every game is important. Go out there and win as many as you can."

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Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter

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