Surge puts Blue Jays' true potential on display
Winning ways a result of talent coming to forefront, not an otherworldly run of luck
The Blue Jays bandwagon is filling up once again. The caravan hit a little bump on Monday, when Toronto's winning streak came to an end after 11 games, but the overall trajectory for the Blue Jays is up, up, up.
And while going two weeks without losing is not the kind of thing that's sustainable, a lot about what the Blue Jays are doing can, in fact, continue. There's very little in the way of smoke-and-mirrors here.
First, let's be clear about something: The wins, for the most part, weren't close. And they weren't a function of weak competition. There hasn't been a lot of luck here -- the Blue Jays are playing really well.
"We always figured it was just a matter of time before we started playing better -- and it lasted longer than we expected, but that's all behind us now," manager John Gibbons said Sunday. "We're just rolling along right now."
Toronto outscored its opponents 70-27 during the streak. That's an average win of 6-2, which is pretty convincing. On top of that, the victims included the Rangers four times in Arlington, the Rockies three times and the Orioles three times.
It's one thing to fatten up on second-division teams. That's not what Toronto did.
The schedule remains tough, by the way. The Blue Jays spend this week in St. Petersburg and Boston, then go home for four against the Tigers. It's a very real opportunity to make up more ground. It's also a chance for their surge to come to an ebb.
As for how they're doing it, the simple answer is: everything. They're pitching well, they're hitting well, and they're catching the ball well. What's encouraging is that only the pitching part seems particularly susceptible to correction.
The Toronto offense has come to life, but it's not really that much more than we should have expected all year. Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion and J.P. Arencibia are propelling the high-power output. But Jose Bautista and Melky Cabrera haven't been especially hot.
That is to say, while some guys may come to earth, some others should heat up. And, of course, Jose Reyes is on the way. The Blue Jays won't score six per game all year, but their offense is better than it looked early in the year and should be an asset.
"It really doesn't surprise me too much," Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson said over the weekend. "They have a very talented offense, with a lot of power and a lot of speed."
Likewise, the defense has become what it should have been. Toronto doesn't have a high-strikeout pitching staff, and that's especially true lately. Chien-Ming Wang relies heavily on ground balls, as does the new-look version of Esmil Rogers. That means the defense absolutely must be effective. And after a dismal start, it has been.
Entering Monday, the Blue Jays ranked third in the Majors in park-adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Baseball Prospectus. According to Team Runs Saved, as calculated by the Fielding Bible, they were eighth-best. Those marks are improved from 26th and 22nd, respectively, in late April.
This ought to be a good defensive team, especially when healthy. The regular left side of the infield has as much ability as any in baseball. The outfield is a quality unit as well. Defense alone won't be enough to propel the Blue Jays into the postseason, but without good defense, they surely won't get there.
That leaves the rotation, and it's the one part of this team that might be a little over its head at the moment. Rogers and Wang have been superb lately. They may well continue to be effective back-end starters, but it's unlikely they'll maintain ERAs in the 2s.
Then again, at some point, perhaps R.A. Dickey will find the form he showed the previous three seasons in New York. And it's not at all inconceivable that Josh Johnson could keep up what he's done recently. The question for Johnson has rarely been effectiveness, just health.
It's been a group effort for the Blue Jays. The unfortunate truth is that it's just about impossible to keep all facets of a team clicking for more than a couple of weeks at a time. The game is just too difficult. But the very encouraging part is that they're not doing much of anything that's really above their true ability level.
We don't know how the Blue Jays' season will turn out. But they've shown enough in recent weeks to remind people why there was so much excitement surrounding them during the winter.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.