Atrocious April forgotten as Jays finish off monstrous May
Despite injuries, Toronto caught fire in May to go 18-10
A bounceback May has left the Toronto Blue Jays' atrocious April in the past. Their play in June may provide the best indicator yet of whether this team is primed to be a contender or pretender this season.
There is definitely some spring in the step of the Blue Jays thanks to a run of eight wins in nine games that capped an impressive 18-10 month.
"Hopefully from here on out we play good steady ball for the next four months and see where it takes us," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons.
Injuries were a major problem in the early going and the disabled list still includes outfielder Steve Pearce (calf) and starting pitchers Aaron Sanchez (finger) and Francisco Liriano (shoulder), although the latter is expected to return Friday.
The Blue Jays won just two of their first 13 games and were an eyebrow-raising 10 ½ games out of the division lead on May 9 at 12-21. Injured stars like Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki eventually returned to the lineup, players emerged from their slumps, and balls that fell near the warning track in April were clearing the fences in May.
"It was a really rough month of April, that's no exaggeration," Gibbons said. "We could have buried ourselves."
The homer-heavy formula that has taken the Blue Jays to the American League Championship Series the last two years is working again. Decent starting pitching and a resurgent bullpen have helped too.
Backups like Ryan Goins, Ezequiel Carrera and Darwin Barney played well after being forced into everyday roles. The lineup has slowly returned to its normal look and team confidence has grown along the way.
"Gibby was preaching to us the whole time to stay the course, don't fall off, keep plugging and things are going to turn around," said second baseman Devon Travis. "The guys really took to that. [May] was a fun month, for sure. We're looking forward to keeping that going."
Travis has certainly done his part. He rebounded from a poor April with 20 extra-base hits in May, including a go-ahead homer that helped the Blue Jays complete a three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds this week.
Slugger Jose Bautista has also bounced back after an opening month to forget. He had one homer and a .178 batting average on April 30 but entered play Thursday with 10 homers and a .251 average.
A full-time role has agreed with first baseman Justin Smoak, who has emerged as a key cog in the order with 12 homers and 34 RBIs. Kevin Pillar, meanwhile, has settled into the role of leadoff hitter while maintaining his stellar defensive play in centre field.
It was hoped designated hitter Kendrys Morales would replace some of the production lost by Edwin Encarnacion's departure. Morales has delivered so far and is on pace to be in the 30 HR/95 RBI neighbourhood by season's end.
Joe Biagini's transition from reliever to starter has been smooth. Reliever Ryan Tepera went on a 19-inning scoreless streak last month and has been a rock for the Toronto bullpen.
Sidearmer Joe Smith has been solid, Jason Grilli is throwing in high-leverage situations again and closer Roberto Osuna is back in form.
Toronto spent part of April in last place in Major League Baseball's overall standings. Entering play Thursday, the Blue Jays were just two games out of a wild-card spot and 5 ½ games behind the first-place Yankees.
A lot can change in a month. A strong effort against New York this week would put the Blue Jays in a position to think about leading the division rather than bringing up the rear.
"It'd be nice to continue playing well right now," Gibbons said. "The timing would be perfect. We'll see."