With Gaston at helm, Jays hopeful

With Gaston at helm, Jays hopeful

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays remain convinced that their team is better than its performance in the first half of this season. A postseason berth might seem light years away, but Toronto is still clinging to some semblance of hope.

Given the way this year has played out so far for the Blue Jays, that hope might be more in relation to next season. There's a long way to go for a Toronto club that struggled mightily with the bat in the season's opening act, leading to sweeping changes on the coaching staff.

It's a project that Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston is more than willing to take on and one he might not have accepted if he didn't believe Toronto had the talent to improve. In Gaston, the Jays now have a manager with an extensive resume and a walking reminder of the Blue Jays' glory years.

Gaston was at the helm for Toronto's consecutive World Series titles in 1992-93 and, after an 11-year absence from the game, he took over for John Gibbons as the Jays' field general on June 20. The Blue Jays might reside in last place in the American League East, but Gaston believes they can still turn things around.

"As far as the future here, I think we have a good-looking ballclub," Gaston said. "I don't think this is going to happen all at once, but I think it's going to be good. I think this club has a chance to be a good ballclub, whether it's this year or next year.

"There's a reason I'm back here. I don't mean just because they asked me. I just think there's a bigger plan to all of this. Hopefully, I can guide this team in the right way, and we can have another World Series here in the near future. I don't think it's that far away -- I really don't."

There's no denying that the players enjoyed playing for Gibbons, and it was a tough decision for the Blue Jays to let him go, along with much of the coaching staff. In terms of how Gibbons related to the players, he had a laid-back style that's not too much different from Gaston's.

Bringing in a new leader has created a different atmosphere, though. Gaston is trying to implement an improved hitting philosophy, stressing aggressiveness and having a game plan at the plate. Gibbons' dismissal was the result of the club's poor play, and Toronto is hoping that providing a new voice will help over the rest of the season.

"It's a different feeling having him back," Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells said. "With Gibby, everybody loved him and everybody had a great time playing for him. You kind of look at his overall record being right at .500, he didn't do that bad of a job. We just didn't play up to our capabilities.

5/23, TOR 7, KC 1 -- Hill's diving catch
Aaron Hill makes a leaping catch to rob Billy Butler of a hit.
Highlights: Watch
6/08, TOR 5, BAL 4 -- Barajas' wrap-around catch
Catcher Rod Barajas reaches around the screen behind home plate to retire Jay Payton.
Highlights: Watch
6/20, TOR 0, PIT 1 -- Halladay's quick assist
A line drive deflects off Roy Halladay's head and into the hands of Scott Rolen.
Highlights: Watch
6/22, TOR 8, PIT 5 -- Zaun's stumbling catch
Catcher Gregg Zaun goes all out to make a stumbling catch in foul territory.
Highlights: Watch
6/24, TOR 14, CIN 1 -- Welcome home, Cito
The Jays erupt for 14 runs in Cito Gaston's return as the manager.
Highlights: Watch

"So you bring Cito in and, hopefully, revive some of the magic that they had in the '90s. You start to remember what happened when he was the manager here back then, and you try to resurrect that."

Calling an attempt to revive Toronto's playoff aspirations this season a tall task might be an understatement, even with the club boasting one of the top pitching staffs in the game. With a much-improved Rays squad, a surprising run by the Orioles and the Red Sox and Yankees causing fits as usual, the AL East is an incredibly difficult division to ascend.

From here on out, Gaston is simply hoping for more consistency, especially from Toronto's hitters. The Blue Jays have struggled with their situational hitting this season -- an area that needs to improve if the club wants to make up any ground.

"If you could just get through and play decent for the rest of the year, that'd be good," Gaston said. "I mean, it's going to be real tough for us to go over all those clubs unless you win a whole bunch of games in a row. If you rip off 10 in a row, who knows?

"We're not giving up, but you're going to have to have some sort of winning streak like that to catch up with those guys."

The Blue Jays are clinging to the hope that such a run exists in the second half.

"We want to do something special," Wells said. "That's all we can do is go out every night and try to get back in this thing as quick as possible. Obviously, you can't try to do too much, but nobody's talking about us right now. So maybe we can go out and sneak in some victories."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.