Finally, we are seeing the Toronto Blue Jays play the way we expected them to play. They are 16-6 in the month of June. Of course, an 11-game win streak didn't hurt. In April, when things were at their worst, I figured sooner or later they would get hot and hit a win streak.
What's improved? Basically, everything.
When the season started, the Blue Jays couldn't hit, pitch or field. In May, the bats got going. The defence has improved as the season has gone on. The bullpen has been terrific. And finally, in June, the starting pitching has been good.
Toronto's starting pitchers had a 5.27 earned-run average in April and a 5.74 ERA in May. It is tough to win games when the rotation is that bad. The starters have an ERA of 3.25 in June, with four games left in the month.
Why is this month so much better? Partly because the Jays have been able to go a few times through the rotation without losing anyone to injury.
Toronto has used 12 different starting pitchers so far this season and it is tough to get any consistency with pitchers coming in and out of the rotation so often. But since the injury to Ramon Ortiz on June 2, the Jays have been rolling with the same five starters. They haven't had to call down to the minors to get someone for an emergency start. That's been a nice bonus.
They've also been pretty lucky. Esmil Rogers and Chien-Ming Wang have pitched far better than fans had any right to expect. As well, R.A.Dickey and Josh Johnson look like they might finally be healthy. Plus, Mark Buehrle has remembered how to pitch. Let's look at each of them:
Dickey began the month with a 5.18 ERA. In June, he has a 3-1 record and a 3.71 ERA. He may be the most disappointing of the players picked up in the off-season. He's been very inconsistent. Even though June has been better for him, he still has had three good starts and two bad starts: in the good, he posted a 0.40 ERA; in the bad, he had a 10.63 ERA. Dickey has been bothered by a sore back and neck, which seem to have sapped a bit of speed from his "angry" knuckleball (he throws a faster and a slower knuckler). He may have turned a corner, though. In his last start, he threw a two-hit, complete-game shutout.
Buehrle entered June with a 5.51 ERA. In five starts since, his ERA is 3.00. Buehrle's turnaround really started in May. He gave up seven runs in a single inning against the Rays in a start on May 6, raising his ERA to 7.02. Since then, he has lowered it to 4.73.
Johnson made four really bad starts in April, putting up a 6.86 ERA, went on the disabled list, came back June 4 and has a 2.84 ERA in his four starts since. That's the pitcher fans were hoping to see when Toronto acquired him from the Miami Marlins.
Rogers had been very ineffective in the bullpen and, when moved into the rotation, I didn't expect much. As a reliever, he had a 4.23 ERA. In five starts, he has a 2.67 ERA. Rogers' last start was his worst as he gave up three consecutive home runs. He had been a two-pitch pitcher (fastball, slider) and I had doubts that he could have continued success as a starter with just the two pitches. But he has been mixing in a sinker more.
Wang was picked up out of the New York Yankees' minor-league system. He had a 2.33 ERA in nine starts for their triple-A team. But he had a clause in his contract that allowed him to opt out of it if he wasn't offered a spot with the major-league team by June. The Yankees didn't think his minor-league success would translate to the majors. Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos disagreed and offered him a chance. It has paid off so far. In three starts, he has a 2.18 ERA, averaging almost seven innings per start. He's had success in the majors before, winning 19 games in back-to-back seasons for the Yankees before arm injuries slowed him down. He looks healthy now. I wouldn't expect him to continue to post an ERA in the 2's. But if he can keep the team in games, he is a welcome addition (As you can guess, I wrote this before Thursday's start in Boston, which was awful. He deserves another chance).
These five starting pitchers will have to continue do the job as Brandon Morrow has had a setback in his injury rehab. It doesn't look like he'll be back until closer to the end of July. And J.A. Happ has just started throwing again after taking the line drive to the head in early May.
If the starters can continue to pitch like they did in June, maybe the Blue Jays can get back into contention.
Follow Tom Dakers on Twitter @bluebirdbanter
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