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opinion

Blue Jays starting pitcher Kevin Gausman throws against the Tampa Bay Rays during a game in Toronto on Sept. 15.Alex Lupul/The Canadian Press

Once again, the Toronto Blue Jays have robbed us of really meaningful late-September baseball.

Usually, they do this by being bad. This year, they’ve done it by being good.

As of this writing, the Jays had 18 games left in the season. They were tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for the first wild-card spot. But the only number that matters is five. They were five games up on the Baltimore Orioles for the last wild-card position.

Could they fall back that far, that fast to a team that’s built like a company softball team (if the company manufactured health supplements)? Sure.

Should they? Absolutely not.

There is no major-league world in which that should be possible. If the Jays are actually sitting around the clubhouse thinking, “We better not blow this,” they ought to have the logos cut off their jerseys by a baseball general.

So let’s assume the Jays have done the possible – achieved the minimum of their annual expectations and qualified for the post-season.

Great job. Three-way mid-air collision with fan expectations and pre-season U.S. media predictions avoided.

This gives them a quasi-breather in which to have a good, long think about where they are, how they got here and where they’re headed. That’s not good.

It’s an odd rule that children are more likely to survive being lost in the wild than adults. Why? Because once lost, the adult panics. He starts rushing off in all directions, making it harder for rescuers to triangulate him from his last known position. By contrast, a child will drop at whatever point they realize they’re lost and stay there.

In most crises, the first thing you should do is nothing.

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Here are a bunch of things the Jays might be tempted to do now:

Tinker with the rotation in the hopes of finding another starter they won’t need in the playoffs;

Talk about it;

Call up a bunch of guys from the minors willy nilly to “see what they can do”;

Fall in love with one of those guys and talk about it;

Go looking for a fight in their final series with the New York Yankees so that they have emotional oomph when they’re getting jeered into the ground at Yankee Stadium in October;

Lose that fight and talk about it;

Read anything about the 1987 season;

Having read about it, talk about it;

Attempt to cater their final record to a preferred opponent, assuming that no one wants to play Tampa in Tampa, but everyone would choose to play Cleveland, even if that means spending three days in Cleveland;

End up drawing Tampa and sound down when talking about it;

Start remembering how Houston didn’t seem so tough when they played it back in April;

Talk about it;

Check every morning to see if flights to Los Angeles are getting any cheaper;

Talk about it.

Aside from losing, the worst thing a sports team can do at any time is get philosophical. It’s very good for the media’s purposes. We love a chatty, unsettled athlete talking out his/her problems in real time. If we could put all of them in a paint shaker before they get up on a podium, we would all chip in to buy one.

But it’s never good for the athlete or, by extension, the team. When they are in the thick of something – winning, losing, qualifying – there is less expectation that they have thoughts about the process. The things they’re doing out on the field already give you enough to write about.

But once they enter one of these twilight periods, where nothing’s really happening and the next obvious wrinkle is a ways off, talking becomes expected.

We’re speaking here about public pronouncements of the “I can’t wait to lay a beating on X” or “I sure wouldn’t want to play Y right now” variety, levelled through whatever sort of media. Social would be the go-to these days.

The Jays are pretty accomplished non-talkers. After a few years of trial-and-error – more like error-and-error – their upper management hardly ever says anything. That philosophy has trickled down. Aside from Alek Manoah and a couple of others, there’s no one on the team you’d call enthusiastically verbose.

They’re even better at avoiding bold pronouncements. What’s the pullquote of the year? Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s trailer/movie comparison. That was back in spring training.

This team has been riding a technicolour mood ring since then – everything from elation to despair. Keeping the rhetoric between the hash marks is a remarkable achievement.

But if nothing’s really happening and things are bumping along, people get bored. That includes the players. They didn’t get into this line of work so that it could feel like a 9-to-5. As much as anyone watching them, they want their reality to feel heightened.

The easiest way to take it from zero-to-sixty (thousand enraged tweets) is one provocative comment.

Based on historical results, here’s what the Jays should be doing:

Shrugging whenever they’re asked for their thoughts on the post-season and saying, “We haven’t qualified for anything yet”;

Saying nice, non-committal things about every opponent;

Avoiding all aggro in New York;

If aggro cannot be avoided (it is New York), saying “We’ll show them where it counts – on the scoreboard”;

As much as is possible, silently basking in the moment;

Not getting injured doing anything silly.

Based on what they’ve got – two lockdown starters, an in-form bullpen, a reliable closer and a peaking order – the Jays have as good a chance as any of the second-tier playoff qualifiers. They aren’t at the level of the Dodgers, Mets or Astros. But much stranger things have happened.

So there’s no sense in worrying about it. These next few weeks are a moment for Zen contemplation. There is no baseball. Don’t try to push the river. Just play. And don’t ride a motorized scooter to work or anywhere else. They are death traps. The last one applies to everyone.