We’re into the second year of the two-team Wild Card era, and it appears Bud Selig’s vision of baseball utopia– where parity rules the day– is becoming more and more of a reality. As we hit the end of June, the only teams you can say with confidence that won’t make the playoffs are: the Marlins, Mets, Astros and Cubs as well as probably the White Sox and Brewers. Neither Los Angeles team looks like they’ll be in the postseason either, but do have the talent – on paper – to perhaps mount a run in the second half.
One of the teams we’ve failed to mention? The Toronto Blue Jays, who won their eighth straight with a 5-2 triumph over the Rockies Wednesday night. It’s the Jays’ best run since 2008.
The Jays, with all their high-profile off-season acquisitions including R.A. Dickey and Jose Reyes, were supposed to contend from the get-go and vault Toronto back in the playoffs for the first time since 1993. On May 10, the Jays were 11 games under .500 and it seemed like it would be another losing summer at the Rogers Centre. As a result of this hot streak, the Jays are only a game under (35-36) heading into a three-game set with the Orioles. They’ve played themselves into, if not contention in the American League East, at least in the Wild Card conversation where they’re only 4.5 back. (This guy, remains upset however.)
The news only gets better for Toronto. Reyes, out since April 12 with an ankle sprain suffered in Kansas City, is about to begin a rehab assignment in Triple-A Buffalo and could rejoin the team before the end of the month.
For all the marquee players Toronto added over the winter, some relative unknowns have helped spark the turnaround. The trio of bullpen arms: Brett Cecil, Steve Delabar and Aaron Loup have been outstanding, each pitching to a 2.00 ERA or lower. Cecil has gone 15 straight appearances without allowing a run since May 10.
The pen has been key for the Jays as the starting rotation has remained suspect. Dickey and Mark Buehrle have had trouble adjusting to the American League and each own an ERA in hailing distance of 5.00. Brandon Morrow can’t seem to stay healthy and was ineffective in 10 starts before landing on the DL. After two starts that yielded an ERA over 12, Ricky Romero was banished to Buffalo. On the plus side Josh Johnson, himself battling nagging injuries throughout much of the season, tossed seven scoreless innings Monday vs. the Rockies and the Jays have also gotten two decent starts from Chien-Ming Wang whom they signed earlier this month.
Offensively it has been a much prettier picture for the Jays: 4th in home runs thanks to clobbering trio Edwin Encarnacion (19), Jose Bautista (15) and J.P. Arencibia (15). Even Colby Rasmus has chipped in with 13. Add Reyes back to the top of the lineup and the RBI chances skyrocket for the Jays middle of the order mashers.
Maybe the key to the Jays’ recent surge is Adam Lind. The DH/first baseman has been with Toronto since 2006, but found himself in the minors for a chuck of the 2012 season. It’s taken a long time, but Lind is finally resembling the talent he flashed in 2009 where he hit 35 homers with 114 RBIs with a .932 OPS. In June 2013, Lind has put together a .397/.408/.676 line with five homers and 17 RBIs.
The key, though, is Reyes coming back so the Jays don’t have to play, in the same lineup, Maicer Izturis, Emilio Bonifacio and Munenori Kawasaki. All three middle infielders are batting below .221.
It’s interesting to note so much of the early-season success of the Yankees – even when they were missing so many key players – was built on the backs of the Blue Jays. Toronto is only 1-8 vs. New York this season. Without the Jays to kick around, the Yanks have slipped to third in the East, while the Jays have climbed back up the ladder into the fringes of contention.
The two teams won’t see each other until Aug. 20 in games that should have massive Wild Card implications.
[Photo via Getty]