The Toronto Blue Jays presently sit at 40-34 and remain 2.5 games back of the Baltimore Orioles for first place in the AL East.
The Jays are looking to repeat as Division Champions and find themselves back in the race after climbing from the basement while navigating a mediocre start.
The Jays open up a 6-game road trip tonight in Chicago against the White Sox followed by a rare visit to Colorado to face the Rockies. Toronto has 17 games remaining before the All-Star break in San Diego, and hopes to improve upon a recent winning stretch that has brought them back into contention.
Consider this, the Jays were 7 games back of the Orioles on May 21st sitting in last place in the East with a 21-24 record. Not exactly the start the reigning AL East Champs were looking for. The bullpen was in shambles making it an easy target for excuses. The once potent Blue Jays bats of late 2015 had gone cold and the team just couldn’t seem to deliver hits with runners in scoring position (RISP). There was even whispers of John Gibbons’ job security from the uneducated and the uninitiated. Long story short, it wasn’t an ideal start.
Since the 22nd of May, when the Jays collected their 22nd win of the season against the lowly Twins, the Jays have experienced an inspiring turnaround. They made a huge statement in the East by winning two series each against the Yankees and Red Sox. They took 3 of 4 from the front-running Orioles and the below average Phillies. They almost won 7 out of 7 series if it wasn’t for a disheartening 3-2 walk-off loss against the Tigers on June 7th. In any event, the Jays had been rolling fierce and were close to tying for the division lead until they dropped the rubber match against the Orioles on Father’s Day. Still, 18-10 since the 22nd of May classifies as a notable achievement that sees them right back in the race.
The biggest reason for the resurgence has been the bats and the ability to cash runners in at a much better rate. Edwin Encarnacion has gone full beast mode in June and is a candidate to potentially win MLB’s Player of the Month for the American League. Encarnacion is batting (.303) for the month of June with 9 HRs, 22 RBIs, and 21 runs scored. Josh Donaldson (.348) and Michael Saunders (.338) have also been huge contributors in June leading to several games where the Jays were putting 10+ runs on the board and leaving their opponents in ruins. These wins by larger margins gave the bullpen some much needed relief and it remains to be seen what they can accomplish in closer games moving forward.
In past years, the Jays have recently taken a swoon right before the All-Star break. Over the past three seasons they’ve gone a combined 15-33 in the games leading up to the break. That averages out to a 5-11 record over 16 games and clearly a moderate cause for concern for a contending team. While it’s still early, these upcoming 17 games will prove as a decent mid-season test to see if the recent Blue Jays resurgence is for real.
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