In early June, when the Toronto Blue Jays lost five players to injuries in eight days, the team had to turn to dark comedy.
"It was laughable," designated hitter Frank Thomas said yesterday.
At that point, third baseman Troy Glaus, shortstop Royce Clayton, first baseman Lyle Overbay, pitcher Sean Marcum, and catcher Sal Fasano went down in succession and the Blue Jays were nine games out of first place in the American League East.
They arrived at Fenway Park last night having put 12 players on the disabled list and lost a total of 638 player games to injury. But still, they're in third place, just two games under .500, and 11 games back of the Red Sox after last night's 7-4 loss at Fenway.
"The guys have done a nice job of hanging in there," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "They could have really disappeared, but they didn't."
The Blue Jays now have their lineup at full strength, with Overbay and second baseman Aaron Hill returning last night.
And that is a dangerous sign for opposing teams.
"With the explosive lineup we have, we can do a lot of damage in the second half," Thomas said. "We've got some dangerous bats in this lineup that haven't swung well."
Thomas, perpetually a slow starter, has started to pick up his play since hitting his 500th career home run June 28. Vernon Wells, a career .285 hitter, batted just .253 before the break. Glaus, who has 29 or more homers in every season in which he's played at least 100 games, has battled several injuries this season and has 11 home runs.
The pitching staff is missing A.J. Burnett, who is on the DL, having made just one start since June 12 as he battles right shoulder pain. Toronto also lost closer B.J. Ryan (elbow) for the year in April, after a breakout season in 2006.
The talent is there to make a run at the division title, especially if the Sox go through injury woes of their own.
"We know that when we have everybody full strength, it's a big confidence booster," Clayton said.
"We have yet to see what this club is capable of as far as having everybody healthy. It's going to be a good chance to see if some other teams have some issues to deal with -- because I think we've dealt with most of ours -- and we'll see what happens."
But Thomas all but conceded the division to the Sox, when told by a reporter that many Boston fans think the race is over.
"They should say that," Thomas said. "They are up  games. They've got a great team. They've got an unbelievable pitching staff, and normally pitching is what determines the division races."
Thomas instead has his sights set on the wild card, where the Blue Jays trail Cleveland by nine games.
"I lowered my expectations about four weeks ago," Thomas said. "I said we need to start focusing on that wild-card race because it's just as important winning the wild card as it is to win the division. Because you're in the playoffs -- and it's all about the playoffs."
Toronto hasn't made the playoffs since winning the division -- and the World Series -- in 1993. In fact, no AL East team besides the Yankees and Red Sox has reached the postseason since division winner Baltimore in 1997.
The Blue Jays will have a chance to shake that jinx in the second half, with three more games at Fenway, followed by four at Yankee Stadium -- a chance to show their lineup is no laughing matter.
"Every year different teams sneak in and cause noise sometimes," Thomas said. "That's what we need to do. We're talented enough to play with anybody. So, hopefully, we can jell together and play the way we need to play in the second half."
Daniel Malloy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.