© 2013 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

9/23/2013 8:00 P.M. ET

Bullpen a bright spot heading into 2014

CHICAGO -- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said Monday that the performance of the bullpen has been a bright spot for an injury-riddled club that is in last place in the American League East as the regular season winds down.

"There's a number of those guys [who have performed well]," Gibbons said of his relievers. "You're not relying on two or three guys. We've got a handful of them down there that on any given night you can bring any one of them in and feel good about it."

Toronto's bullpen entered Monday with a 3.43 ERA for the season, and Gibbons said that type of dependability from the club's relief corps was far from certain in Spring Training.

"I think the feeling was, coming out of Spring Training, that [the bullpen] might be the weak point, with [Casey] Janssen coming off the shoulder problems and you didn't know how he was going to be.

"Everybody liked [Steve] Delabar and [Aaron] Loup. [Dustin] McGowan was up in the air and we didn't know if he was going to pitch at all. Sergio Santos was coming off the arm problems. … [Neil] Wagner came out of the blue. And [Brett] Cecil, there was a question whether he was even going to make the team, and he turned into an All-Star."

The bullpen has been a pleasant surprise in a trying season for the Blue Jays, and is an asset for the team as it winds down 2013 and looks ahead to next season.

"A lot of good things have happened [with our bullpen]," Gibbons added. "And it's a part of our strength."

Confidence remains high as tough season nears end

CHICAGO -- When the Blue Jays acquired Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson from the Marlins, added an ace in R.A. Dickey and signed free agent Melky Cabrera last November, Toronto was thought to be a contender in a tough American League East division at the start of the 2013 season.

But injuries to key players including Reyes, Johnson, Cabrera, and Jose Bautista, coupled with starting pitching struggles, have the team in last place in the AL East, with a record of 71-84 going into Monday's makeup game against the White Sox from a June 12 rainout.

As the Jays entered the final week of the regular season, there was optimism about 2014, but also a feeling that while injuries were a factor this year, that isn't an excuse for failing to reach the team's goals.

"I think we're a legitimate contender [going into next season]," said Bautista, who has been sidelined since Aug. 21 with a left hip bone bruise. "Unfortunately, we didn't have the results this year … but that's not to say that the quality needed on the players' side is not here.

"We just need to step our game up a little bit and be accountable for our actions and, at the same time, hold ourselves a little bit to a higher degree of responsibility of coming out here and playing a better team effort and getting results done. There's no excuses, we just have to figure out a way to do it."

Toronto's starting rotation entered Monday with a 4.77 ERA, and part of the reason for that may have been injuries to members of the staff, including Johnson, who missed the entire month of May with right triceps inflammation and has been out since Aug. 7 with a right forearm strain.

"Of course [injuries played a role], but that sort of stuff happens every year," Bautista added. "Good winning teams figure out a way to win regardless of how many injuries there might have been. We did have a lot of injuries, but I don't think we had two or three key guys being hurt at the same time other than on the starting pitching side.

"Obviously [starting pitching] is one of the important aspects of our ball club … and some can point out that was our biggest weakness this year. But like I said, winning teams figure out a way to win, and I guess not only can I use the word 'team' there, but I can say winning organizations figure out a way to win even when some of the starting pitching or some of the starting players in the everyday lineup get hurt."

Manager John Gibbons wouldn't go into specifics, but he said there's some work that needs to be done this offseason to improve the club.

"We still like the core group here," Gibbons said. "But there's got to be some changes to shore some things up and to get better. I'm not going to go into that, but the status quo is probably not going to be good enough. Every year you identify an area you could probably upgrade a little bit, so we'll just kind of go from that."

Bautista agreed that there's room for improvement.

"There should be enough depth within the organization [to] have enough players accessible to hopefully come in and do a good job," he said.

Worth noting

• Though the Blue Jays' pitching staff entered Monday with a 4.24 ERA on the season -- ranked 12th in the AL -- the staff had posted a 3.14 mark since Aug. 25, second to Kansas City's 2.81 ERA over that span.

• Janssen entered Monday having converted 33 of 35 save opportunities (94.3 percent) this season. That save percentage was the best in the AL and second in the Majors among relievers with a minimum of 30 save opportunities.

Janssen had also converted 55 out of 59 save chances since becoming Toronto's closer on May 9, 2012. His 93.2 save percentage over that period was the third highest in the AL.

Adam Lind entered Monday hitting .304 (14-for-46) with six home runs and 16 RBIs over his previous 14 games. His seven homers in September tied him for first in the AL, and he was second in slugging percentage (.709), tied for third in RBIs (17), and fifth in OPS (1.059) for the month.

Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.