As tempting as it may be, the Blue Jays can’t look to the future

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PITTSBURGH — If a baseball player tells you he doesn’t pay attention to the standings this time of year, he’s probably lying.

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With that in mind, Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider had a message for his team entering a series against another MLB lie.

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Focus on the teams in the running, if you must, Schneider advised, but don’t get too caught up in the ungainly 49-81 mark held by the Pirates, who the Jays face for three games here this weekend. .

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“That was the message – look at the last two teams we’ve played,” Schneider said from the visitor’s dugout at the real gem of a stadium that is PNC Park. “At the end of the day, it’s still Major League Baseball and you have to go out to play and compete. You can’t just expect to show up and say we have a better record than this team, so we’re going to to win.

“Guys know what awaits them for sure.”

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There’s plenty ahead of us, both in the quest to lock in a playoff berth – and preferably one that secures home-court advantage for the wildcard round. There’s a lot of baseball to navigate before that, but Schneider’s team certainly doesn’t want to be in a can-do situation for Baltimore’s final three games of the season.

Zooming out, the Jays start the month with a 70-59 record, not far off the 69-62 mark they took in September 2021. What followed a year ago was an eight-game winning streak, as part of a 12-1 tear that put on a thrill run of a finish that left the Jays one game away from a postseason berth.

For much of this season, this ride has been more of a roller coaster than a pleasure cruise, leaving the team hopeful that next month will alter the itinerary.

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So what exactly does meaningful September baseball mean and how do the Jays plan to navigate it?

“Everything is intensifying,” said pitcher Ross Stripling, who will start here on Sunday. “August is the summer heat wave, it’s the month where you have to survive.

“Now we’ve crossed it and it’s a sprint to the finish. Every detail counts. The end is in sight, you start watching the scoreboard and every game counts. It’s no longer a marathon, it’s a sprint. It’s time to play with your hair on fire – all the clichés – that’s how it is. You need to be hyper aware of everything a bit more.

As young as the Jays are overall, some veterans should be able to help with the process. There’s a World Series MVP in George Springer to name one and another World Series champion with the Dodgers in Stripling, for another.

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Naturally, these players – and others like Whit Merrifield and David Phelps – can play a vital role in providing some stability in the weeks ahead.

“Experience and leadership and being vocal,” Stripling said when asked what he can bring. “I just do things to point guys in the right direction based on what I saw and learned from the leaders I had in LA

“It’s just knowing there’s more pressure but it’s still the same game. Just be the guy you are. You don’t have to throw the ball two miles an hour harder or hit a five-run homer. This team is good enough to do it.

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Good enough, but not consistent enough, a point Stripling and his teammates readily acknowledge.

Unlike last season, when the Jays were the ones chasing – before falling just short – they were the ones with a target on their backs. Adding to the intrigue – and challenge – is the fact that 19 of the Jays’ last 30 games have been against the Orioles and Rays, two teams involved in the wild card race.

The Orioles are the most pressing concern, given that they started Friday just a game and a half behind the Jays for the third and final wildcard spot and the fact that the two teams have to play three games in four days, in starting with a doubleheader on Monday at Camden Yards.

Of course, the Jays’ inconsistencies — plus a lackluster 13-14 record in August — forced September to be a more meaningful month than originally expected. Not only does Schneider’s team need to find some semblance of cohesive form, but they also need to hold Baltimore while trying to move up the ranks.

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There are no must-see series yet. But after being 2-4 at home to the Los Angeles Angels and Chicago Cubs, they may want to hit the Pirates as an auspicious start to September.

And the shape? It was a shitty shoot. Since July 22, they have had streaks of 8-2, 3-9, 9-1 and 1-3.

“The narrative around this team has been that we’re a bit striped,” Stripling said. “It’s been which team are you going to get on any given day instead of being a team that comes out with a chip on your shoulder every day.

“That said, you can’t get ahead of yourself. It’s easy to start anticipating, but you have to take care of the day ahead. Good teams are able to compartmentalize and do that.

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