Will the Toronto Blue Jays stay on top in June?
The Toronto Blue Jays are sitting in the number-one spot in the American League East, five and a half games ahead of Baltimore. It’s the Jays’ largest lead since 1993 (the year of “touch ’em all Joe”), leaving many wondering if their hot streak will end any time soon.
After their seven series win streak came to an end over the weekend against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Toronto Blue Jays have cooled-off a little. We saw surprising outings from Mark Buehrle, who went into the series against the Cards with 10 wins under his belt, and Drew Hutchison, who proved that his quality starts only make appearances on the road. What was even more surprising, though, were the plate appearances on Saturday and Sunday by one of, if not the, best lineups in baseball right now — zero runs in 18 innings, resulting in back-to-back shutouts.
Set to face the Twins, Orioles, Yankees (twice), Reds and White Sox this month, should fans remain confident that the boys in blue can brush this series off their shoulders and stay ahead at the top?
Yes, they should. And for the sole reason that the same roster that threw the first punch and laid claim to the AL East lead in the past weeks is proof of what a healthy ball club of stars can do. So, here are some reminders to those who might want to prematurely jump off the bandwagon.
In a town where Jose Bautista reigns as slugger Joey Bats, teammate Edwin Encarnacion has sometimes been looked on at a second glance, but that is far from the case this year. When Encarnacion steps onto the plate he is a threat plain and simple; home runs are now as synonymous with his name as they were to the bearded guy who hits before him in the lineup.
Encarnacion produced five multi-homer games in May, becoming the third player in the history of the game to do so. The first baseman, who got off to a slow start in April, concluded May as the AL Player of the Month and currently has 63 hits, 19 home runs and 50 RBIs.
The Francisco Effect
In 2014, the Toronto Blue Jays have already made over 40 roster moves, but none of them have stood out more than Juan Francisco’s call up on April 18 to fill-in for an injured Adam Lind.
During the offseason, the 26-year-old was cut by the Milwaukee Brewers in spring training and was acquired by the Toronto Blue Jays on a minor-league contract for the purpose of added depth. But what was initially seen as another temporary face walking through Toronto’s big-league revolving door turned the club upside-down. So much so, that while third baseman Brett Lawrie took time off to recover from a tweaked hamstring, he returned to news that his coveted spot on the field was now be occupied by Francisco in order to capitalize on his new power-hitting abilities.
Second base had been referred to as a “black hole” this season for the club as an unimpressive Ryan Goins, a now-injured Maicer Izturis, Jonathan Diaz, Chris Getz, Munenori Kawasaki and Steve Tolleson all took turns in the spot.
There were conflicting reports as to how Lawrie accepted the shift decision; however, his adjustment put the best nine guys out on the field defensively and offensively, which will continue to pay off.
Green light for Gose
When Colby Rasmus went down with a hamstring injury, a familiar face found a place not only in center field but also consistently on base. Anthony Gose has not only made manager John Gibbons happy with his defense, he has proved to be much more comfortable at home plate this year than we have ever seen him. He is holding his own, making the right plays and is hitting .239. The 23-year-old has truly matured into an everyday player and will be the most significant factor when it is time to consider the expendability of the pending free agent from Alabama.
Seitzer: Patience pays off
Every time the camera takes a moment to pan into the Toronto Blue Jays dugout, more often than not you will see the club’s hitting coach, who was acquired in the fall, in conversation with a hitter ready for the pate or one who just came off of it defeated.
Kevin Seitzer has changed the way Toronto Blue Jays hitters, seasoned and developing, hunt quality pitches. He has introduced a new level of patience at the plate and reminds his hitters they should not be discouraged with a walk because the next guy in the lineup has the potential to do some damage, and this practice is wearing opposing pitchers down.
It’s no longer the Bautista-Encarnacion combo. Seitzer has brought out new probabilities in Lind, Melky Cabrera and Francisco with Jose Reyes and Gose finding holes to hit through in order to secure single, doubles and, at times, triples that regularly rack-up extra runs.
Last year, the Toronto Blue Jays boasted about an offense that was among the best in Major League Baseball, and, this year, with a new understanding of quality at-bats, the are proving it.