The collective of Blue Jays fans went into this season feeling a little uneasy, and I was among them. The front office made very few moves in the off-season to improve the team, and there was nowhere near the amount of excitement surrounding the team as the previous year. Their numbers in spring training were mediocre, and they failed to sign Ervin Santana, a guy who most thought could truly be an impact on the weak Jays’ rotation. The doubt lingered into the beginning of the season. The team started off slow, Edwin wasn’t showing us his signature homerun ‘Edwing’. There were choruses of Jays fans saying either ‘it’s still early’ or ‘well, they’re doomed’. My, my how tides have turned.
As of this very moment, the Jays are leading the AL East by 4 ½ games, something the Jays haven’t done since I was an infant. They have the 2nd best record in the American League. Even the most optimistic fans (me) wouldn’t have believed you if you told us this would happen pre-season. So where did these Jays come from?
All over! The USA, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, heck we even have a Canadian! No, but really, it’s been a healthy mix of pure skill, luck, and taking advantage of others’ weaknesses. Are the Jays playing good baseball? Absolutely. The defence has been pretty well unstoppable all year thanks to a few upgrades at second base, and a healthy Melky Cabrerra. The offence heated up early in the season and hasn’t slowed down since. There are 5 guys in the line-up who have hit 10 or more homeruns. Edwin Encarnacion annihilated previous single-month homerun records in May. But that’s not all! The Jays have been working the small ball too! They’ve been seeing pitches better, Jose Bautista had taken more walks in 3 weeks than JP Arencibia did all of last year.
There has been some uncertainty with the starting rotation, but Mark Buehrle has continued to be absolutely lights out. Drew Hutchison has faltered a few times, but remains to be solid, going pretty deep in most of his starts. JA Happ has been better than expected. Marcus Stroman seriously impressed in his first MLB start. Even RA Dickey, who hasn’t been phenomenal, is seeing better numbers than last year, especially in the homeruns category.
Shockingly enough, the weak spot of this Blue Jays team has been the bullpen. They’ve had a few messy innings, and blown a few leads. It’s hard to forget the disaster that was that game in Minnesota where they gave up like 8 runs on 1 hit. McGown returned to the bullpen and has been a solid addition, Esmil Rogers took his talents to Buffalo, Aaron Loup has settled in, and Casey Janssen returned from the disabled list, and the bullpen has started to show glimpses of its former glory.
The Jays have also had the benefit of playing in the faltering AL East. The Rays have been abysmal, facing a magnitude of injuries, not unlike the Jays faced last year. The Yankees are searching for their stride, and haven’t been able to find it yet. The Red Sox look nothing like the World Series Champions we saw last year, but recently went on a winning streak to off-set some their devastating losing streak in May. The Orioles look like the only team who might be able to give the Jays a run for their money, but even they are hanging back.
One of the greatest improvements the Blue Jays have made is being able to find ways to win games that they would have lost last year. They target the weak spots in other teams, and are able to pick up the slack in other areas if something is lacking.
The Blue Jays have been immensely fun to watch this year. I’m trying not to get ahead of myself here, but it’s exciting to think that we might be looking at Canada’s first play-off team since the early 90s. Let’s keep rolling, boys.