Breakout Blue Jays are built to last
By Matt Whitener
October baseball is all about momentum. Sure, big, impressive records are nice and they do win division titles, but what really matters as fall baseball approaches is who is playing the best in that moment the brackets are taking shape for the postseason.
It is the intangible ability to glue together that the Giants rode to two other World Series titles in the past five years, as well as what let the Cardinals rise from the lowest playoff seed in 2011, to riding on the back of some big swings of the bat from David Freese to their 11th World Series title.
It is what David Ortiz single-handedly created for Boston two years ago, while he stroked Cardinal pitching at a rate greater than .600, and brought another title to Beantown.
Timing truly is everything, and while there is still plenty of time to go before the year’s results are set in stone, one thing has become as undeniable as anything: The Toronto Blue Jays are (suddenly) very, very much the real deal.
They are momentum-defined right now. With their win on Thursday afternoon over the Oakland Athletics, they became the first team in 61 years to own a pair of 11-game winning streaks in one season. During this current win streak, they have found themselves behind on the scoreboard only once — and by a single run, no less — and they’ve lost just one game overall in the month of August, while outscoring their opposition 65-29.
Oftentimes, it can take an adjustment period after making the type of sweeping changes that the Jays undertook during the final week of July. After deciding that their time was now, by going out and having argubaly the biggest trade deadline of all-time, they have reshaped their image and become the most undeniable team in baseball at the moment. Troy Tulowitzki has been sensational in his new home and in his new role as a leadoff threat, while David Price has given T-Dot the big-game arm it has thirsted for so long after, and has issued two resoundingly strong victories in his first two times on the mound.
What is leading into this rapid rise through the standings? Well, we already knew that they can flat rake at the plate. The Jays are the majors' most prolific offense, leading both leagues in runs scored, total bases, RBI, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, while sitting a single homer behind the Astros for overall leadership in that category as well. Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista both sit in the AL’s top five in runs batted in, as well as runs scored. Edwin Encarnacion joins them as a third Jay that has already topped 20 long balls, while Russell Martin and Tulowitzki are not far behind with 15 apiece.
Instant impact is far from their issue, but the Jays have also continued their rise as a pre-eminent defensive club as well. The addition of Donaldson brought a Gold Glove background in addition to a MVP-caliber bat. Kevin Pillar has emerged as a highlight machine across the outfield, and the additions of Tulowitzki as well as Ben Revere from Philadelphia have increased the team’s range in both the infield and outfield simultaneously.
Add these elements in with the obvious offensive firepower, and it is clear why the Jays are a dominant everyday offering. It’s nothing new for this franchise to be offensively productive, but for far too long, that was all it could offer. The Jays' hunger for impact off the mound has been long standing and long unrequited.
If there’s anything that could be the reason for the Jays’ climb, it has been the fact they have become a pitching factory on the other side of the All-Star break. Entering Friday, their team ERA sits at a miniscule 2.37, just a fraction of a point behind the lauded St. Louis Cardinals’ MLB-best mark of 2.36 over that same time. That is nearly two runs less than what the same group surrendered in the first half of the season, when Toronto were mired in the middle of the AL East with Baltimore and Tampa Bay.
But behind veteran savvy of the timeless Mark Buehrle, who has reached double digits in victories for an astonishing 15th consecutive year, as well as the hot hand of R.A. Dickey, who has worked to a 1.49 ERA in six starts after the break. Add in understated strong campaigns from Aaron Sanchez and Marco Estrada, and this is suddenly a pitching staff with some teeth.
However, the bite came in the form of Price joining the staff and instantly gave the Jays the booster shot of a strong Cy Young contender. In his first two starts (both wins), Price has been as magnificent as he ever has been, allowing one run over the 15 innings. The most demonstrative of the pair of victories was last Saturday’s, when he locked down the Yankees, who were then clinging to a divisional lead, to the tone of three hits over seven shutout innings.
Beyond just making the climb up the standings, it is having the ability to unleash Price as a near-instant match advantage in series play that makes Toronto instantly the most dangerous team in the American League — and perhaps all of baseball — over the next two months.
But it is more than just the collection of marquee names and All-Stars that are making this team what it is. It is the relentlessness of the hunger for postseason success. Climbing over their much more hallowed inter-division foes and claiming their first postseason appearance in over two decades is something that can rally the people of Toronto behind the Jays. And as it happened in Kansas City last fall, the buzz is growing with each victory.
The acquisition of a long-suffering star in Tulowitzki, to join another one in Bautista creates instant karma at the top. The addition of wily vets looking to add to their jewelry collection in the form Buehrle, Dickey, Encarnacion and Martin is even further incentive to the fuel that young talents such as Sanchez, Devon Travis and Drew Hutchison bring. Cap that off with a pair of the elite talents in Donaldson and Price — players so relentlessly locked in during their prime years that they cannot help but create elite results every time they take to the field — and the outcomes of this team have the fuel to not flame out anytime soon. This team’s success makes sense.
In the end, the sudden impact of these trade-deadline moves combined with an already stacked lineup is undeniable. The immediate success provides the fuel that can drive a team up the ladder of October success. While what is happening in Toronto is sudden, it is both far from random and certainly not without precedent. This is a team that is lacing its boots up at the right time, and is going full steam ahead at the perfect time.
More from The Sports Fan Journal: