The Toronto Blue Jays are on fire. Last year, after the remarkable trade essentially gutting the Marlins lineup, writers had selected the Blue Jays as World Series contenders but they supremely underperformed. Hard to imagine the team picked to finish last in the AL East is leading the division. With virtually the same team, they find themselves in unfamiliar territory. It has taken over a year for the trade to finally come to fruition but the Blue Jays are the best team in baseball.
They already had the best player in the game with Jose Bautista. While another 50+ homer season was unexpected, pitchers are now finding it difficult throwing around the bearded right-fielder. Bautista is slugging .538 and is on pace for a 40+ home run year but, most importantly, he is the MLB leader with 44 walks. And when pitchers avoid him, Edwin Encarnacion is there to clean up. Encarnacion is second, behind Nelson Cruz, with 18 homers. He had only two in April but exploded tying an AL-record with 16 in May. He also slugged .789 with five multi-home run games. There is still a long season before comparisons of a Manny Ramirez-David Ortiz tandem but Bautista and Encarnacion are pretty good. They have carried the team so far and come through in the clutch as the Blue Jays just completed a nine-game winning streak. They lead all of baseball with 79 home runs while no other team even has 50. Adam Lind returned from the DL and is raking, hitting .341 in 88 at-bats. Clattering of nails was rampant early in the season when Jose Reyes was placed on the DL but the dynamic shortstop is pain-free, scoring 29 runs in 38 games. Even with Bautista and Encarnacion playing lights out, Reyes is still the key for the Blue Jays’ success. If he stays healthy, they will be looking to add complementary pieces for a postseason push in July.
The ageless Mark Buehrle is dealing. With a 9-1 record in 11 starts and a 2.33 ERA, the crafty veteran has redefined himself north of the border. There is an epidemic of Tommy John surgery revolving around pitchers yet Buehrle has thrown over 200 innings in 13 consecutive seasons. He has never won less than 10 games except for his rookie year and is now entering consideration in the Hall of Fame. A big game pitcher, he dominated the 2005 playoffs pitching the White Sox to their first World Series title since 1919. He is blowing through MLB lineups having pitched less than five innings only twice in his 11 appearances. He makes quick work while on the mound, averaging only 99 pitches (compared to the league average of 120). R.A. Dickey was supposed to be the ace on the staff. Though his 4.30 ERA might raise eyebrows, Dickey struggled early April but has since bounced back with five straight quality starts. Both Buehrle and Dickey are an unusual duo to lead the rotation. Neither is overpowering but each throws quickly and uses the corner of the plate as best as they can.
The Blue Jays pitchers have a 4.19 ERA. The offense is carrying the team. With the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox struggling, the Blue Jays have opened a 2.5 game lead after two months. Sabathia just on the DL for the Yankees as besides from Masahiro Tanaka, questions swirl for Girardi’s rotation. The Rays do not have much hitting other than Evan Longoria. And the Red Sox have questions throughout their roster.
The Blue Jays could open a big lead during the summer making it much more difficult when teams push later in the year. Reyes, when healthy, has always been one of the best leadoff hitters. Melky Cabrera is second overall with 72 hits. The offense is clicking on all cylinders. Someone will need to step up in the rotation (JA Happ?) to lead the backend behind Buehrle and Dickey. At the moment, Blue Jays fans should start preparing for a long October.
All stats are courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/.