As baseball fans awoke to the MLB standings on Sunday, May 5, the Toronto Blue Jays, after an offseason of spending, roster improvements and high expectations, sat at 10-21, last place in the American League East, riddled with injuries and staring at a 6-12 record in front of their home fans.
A day earlier, R.A. Dickey, expected to be the most impactful of the offseason additions, surrendered seven earned runs in six innings of miserable pitching against the light-hitting Seattle Mariners.
If it's possible to hit rock bottom in early May, the Blue Jays did it.
Since that moment, the AL East standings have been close, but one team has stood above the rest:
Tampa Bay: 20-17
New York: 20-20
Not only has Toronto turned the corner, but the rest of the even, muddled AL East has looked exactly how they appeared in spring training: Good, but not great, capable of fleeting moment of big success, but also showing vital weaknesses to hold back any 95-plus win team from emerging.
In other words, the division may house five good teams, but not one great one.
As the Blue Jays have found themselves, watched their pitching staff turn a corner and look forward to the health and returns of expected contributors, the American League should heed warning: Here come the Blue Jays.
At 33-36, it would be foolish for Toronto fans to plan for October baseball. At this point, the team still resides in last place, owns a negative run differential, and, according to ESPN's playoff odds, have just a 13.9 percent chance to qualify for the postseason. As a point of reference, not one of the last place teams across baseball on this date last season qualified for October baseball.
With logic and context disclosed, AL East foes and future Blue Jays opponents should respect the warning shots being fired lately by baseball's hottest team.
Over the last ten games, Toronto is 8-2, including a six-game winning streak heading into play on Tuesday. That stretch includes a sweep in Texas last weekend, a shutout victory over the Rockies on Monday evening and incredible pitching by a staff that looks markedly different than they did earlier this year.
Led by Josh Johnson (19.1 IP, 20 K, 1.86 ERA since coming off the DL on 6/4) and R.A. Dickey (two or less runs allowed in five of eight starts since the May 4 outing against Seattle), the staff has posted a 2.07 ERA. The recent signing of Chien-Ming Wang has been prescient, giving Toronto 14.1 decent innings, along with two victories, last week. Within a few weeks, the flame-throwing Brandon Morrow could return, looking to get back on the track to stardom he boarded in 2012.
Offensively, the team has survived despite the devastating loss of Jose Reyes. If he can return before the All-Star break, manager John Gibbons could continue to bat Jose Bautista in the two-hole, giving the Blue Jays one of the most dangerous and unique top of the order combinations in the sport.
If Adam Lind can continue his resurgent season (161 OPS-plus after back-to-back-to-back seasons of an under-100, below average mark), the offense, along with Edwin Encarnacion, Melky Cabrera, healing Brett Lawrie and powerful, yet free-swinging Colby Rasmus and J.P. Arencibia, the Toronto offense might score more second half runs than any team in the division.
Toronto isn't a great team, and will probably fall short of the 90 wins some pegged them for prior to the season and continue to face an uphill climb out of the hole they dug themselves. But don't mistake that for a team that won't contend.
As the Blue Jays surge, Boston is facing regression from Jon Lester and injury to Clay Buchholz, Baltimore is struggling to find consistent and average starting pitching, Tampa is still without the David Price or Fernando Rodney of 2012 and New York is trotting out one of the worst offenses in the American League, if not all of the sport.
Over the last 44 days, the Blue Jays have been the best team in the division. If they can repeat that feat over the next, say, 50 days, then they'll be in a position to command the division down the stretch.
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