Confident Blue Jays land in Boston

The Guru
Contributing Writer

Remember in spring training when the experts said the American League East would not be as strong this year? Remember when those experts picked the Red Sox to finish last and the Blue Jays to run away with it?

So much for “experts”. Looking at you Shaughnessy.

Here we are in late June, three weeks away from the All-Star Break, and the Red Sox are in first and the Jays are in last.

However, there is a lot of baseball left.

After a rough start to the season, the now red hot Blue Jays travel to Fenway Park for a four game series beginning Thursday night. The Blue Jays have won 12-of-14 games and have slashed their deficit in the division from 12 games behind the Red Sox to just six and a half.

Jays manager John Gibbons said, "It was a battle early on, we all know that. We always figured it was just a matter of time before we started playing better. But that's all behind us now and we're rolling."

A big part of the reason for the Blue Jays recent success has been the pitching.

The Blue Jays have allowed two runs or fewer in 10 of their past 12 games. Last year’s NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey tossed a 2-hit shutout Wednesday and seems to have found the knuckleball that eluded him at the beginning of the season. Starters Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson have June ERA’s of 2.16 and 2.84, respectively. Chien-Ming Wang and Esmil Rogers — pitchers who weren’t supposed to be in the rotation at all for Toronto this year — have combined to go 3-0 with a 2.01 ERA in six starts this month. The Casey Janssen (17saves) led bullpen has the third best ERA in the American League at 2.95. Blue Jays relievers have allowed just six earned runs in their past 76 innings.

The pitching matchups have Wang facing off against a slumping Jon Lester (1-4 with a 7.30 ERA in his last four starts), Johnson gets rookie Allen Webster (0-2, 11.25 ERA), Rogers and Felix Doubront (2-2, 5.00 ERA against Toronto) go on Saturday and it's Buehrle vs. Ryan Dempster Sunday afternoon.

Hitting has not been the Blue Jays problem this year. The Toronto lineup is second only to Boston in runs scored this month among all American League teams. In their past 18 games the Jays have outscored opponents 104-52. Toronto is second to only Baltimore in the AL in home runs.

The Blue Jays do have a potent lineup. First baseman/designated hitter Adam Lind is hitting .322 (fourth in the league) with 11 home runs through 64 games this season. Lind has five home runs in his last 12 games. Edwin Encarnacion is second in the AL with 22 home runs, third in RBI with 64 and is top ten in slugging and OPS. Three time All-Star Jose Bautista has 16 homers and 43 RBI.

The Blue Jays also got back one of their big offseason acquisitions in shortstop Jose Reyes. Reyes, out since April 12 with a severely sprained ankle, returned from the disabled list Wednesday and the former NL batting champion is a real difference maker at the plate, in the field and on the base paths. Reyes was hitting .395 with five stolen bases before the injury.

It does not look like anyone is going to run away with the AL East this year. Every team in the division is at least a game above the .500 mark. No other division has more than three teams with winning records. But the Red Sox do have an opportunity here to either create some breathing room for themselves or things are going to get a whole lot tighter.

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