Jays, Tigers aim to get into contention in second half

DETROIT — Two teams hoping against hope they can become contenders and avoid the dreaded selloff label — the Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers — begin the post-All-Star-break schedule Friday with a three-game series at Comerica Park.

Toronto, 41-47 and 8 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East, has a serious road trip at Detroit, Boston and Cleveland to open the traditional second half.

“Everybody knows that when we are healthy what we can do,” Blue Jays reliever Roberto Osuna said. “We were almost in a similar situation in 2015. Those were my teammates then and I believe in them. I don’t have any doubt about making the playoffs this year. Hopefully we can stay healthy in the second half.”

“That’s the spot we’re in,” starter J.A. Happ said. “We’ll have to find a way to climb out of it. We’ll take the break and we’ll see what we’ve got to come back. It’ll take a great effort but I think we can do it.

“It’s the personnel in here and we have our rotation back where we thought it was going to be and hopefully we can kind go on a run and hopefully our offense will just continue to be as consistent as they can be.

“That’s what it’s going to take, a lot of consistency on both sides of it. We’ll find out where we’re at. We certainly have a tough stretch coming out of the break.”

Detroit, 39-48 and eight games out in the AL Central, will spend a week at Kansas City and Minnesota after hosting Toronto. The Tigers need a two-week hot streak but with a season-best four-game winning streak, that does not seem likely.

“You are what your record shows,” second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “That’s the bottom line. There is no way around it. There are no excuses. You can point your finger. You can talk about the pitching, the offense, the base running, whatever you want.

“At the end of the day, we are what our record shows.”

Detroit had an eight-game losing streak and was just 7-14 before the break. The Tigers can’t string solid starts together and their bullpen acts like leads are bronchitis — they keep coughing them up.

“We need to win games, we’re in last place, or next to last place,” Kinsler said. “There’s a lot of time left, but it’s tough to catch good teams. Good teams aren’t going to lose a bunch of games in a row.”

“It’s been frustrating,” J.D. Martinez said. “I feel like we are playing under our ability. I feel like we have underachieved. We definitely have underachieved. We’re a good team, but for some reason, we are not finding ways to win games.”

The Blue Jays will open with Aaron Sanchez (0-2, 4.85 ERA), who was limited to just six starts in the first half due to a blister on his right middle finger.

Sanchez has no career record against Detroit with three relief appearances and two starts resulting in no wins or losses and a 2.00 ERA.

The Tigers will open with right-hander Justin Verlander (5-6, 4.73 ERA) and then All-Star Michael Fulmer.

The Blue Jays have a winning record against Verlander in his 11 career starts against them, with Verlander holding a 3-4 mark and a 4.76 ERA against Toronto.

“We have guys who are performing a little below what their track record says,” Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said. “Which is also why I expect a correction. The offense has been part of the story. And I hate to say it, but we’ve hit a lot of balls hard, significantly more than any other team, that have gone for outs.

“That can change a game. A potential big hit becomes an out. Our offense hasn’t hit the ball as poorly as the numbers show.”

Detroit isn’t hitting home runs at its traditional pace and that’s a disaster for a team with limited athleticism. GM Al Avila wants to reduce payroll but doesn’t want to give players away.

There seems to be a market for free-agent-to-be right fielder J.D. Martinez along with catcher Alex Avila, on a one-year contract, and lefty closer Justin Wilson, who has one more year of arbitration before he can become a free agent.

Toronto doesn’t have the payroll problems Detroit does but it does want to get a little younger and it does have some prospective free agents it may be open to trading.

Starters Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano can become free agents but they’re not having good seasons. Relievers Joe Smith and J.P. Howell have been injured.

Smith could return to the Blue Jays early next week after missing time with right shoulder inflammation, while Howell hasn’t pitched since June because of his own shoulder problems.

“Bottom line is to just win games,” first baseman Justin Smoak of Toronto said. “We feel we definitely have a team that is capable of doing that. We’ve got a lot of guys on this team who have accomplished a lot of different things in the game and are really good players.

“Once you start winning games and you get on a roll, things can happen. We haven’t got on one of those rolls to really feel like that.”

“We don’t have long to turn it around,” Verlander said. “Obviously, Al’s already put out there some of the guys that are on the block, and we’d probably have to peel off like 10 or 12 straight to kind of turn that tide a little bit. But I’m not saying it’s not possible.

“I think as long as everybody in this clubhouse is wearing the Old English D, that’s all we think about. You think about winning for this organization. You think about turning things around. Think about winning ballgames. That’s it.”