Will Jose Reyes' Return Take the Surging Blue Jays All the Way to 1st Place?

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistJune 24, 2013

Jose Reyes' timing couldn't be better.

Toronto is playing its best baseball of the season, winning 11 consecutive games (and 15 of its last 18).

While the Blue Jays are tied for last place in the AL East with Tampa Bay, they trail first-place Boston by only five games—a gap that could be smaller by the time the first pitch is thrown at Fenway Park on Thursday night.

That's when Reyes, who has been out of action with a sprained left ankle since April 12, will make his return to action, according to Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News:

#BlueJays GM AA tells MLB Radio Reyes will play for #Bisons again Monday, then join AA New Hampshire. Will get back to MLB Thursday at BOS.

— Mike Harrington (@BNHarrington) June 23, 2013

That's great news for Toronto—and terrible news for Boston and the rest of the division.

Reyes was on fire before he was injured, and the players who have stepped in at shortstop for the Blue Jays during his absence have been, shall we say, less than impressive.

Maicer Izturis .258 .269 .379 .647 4 (2) 4 4 0
Munenori Kawasaki .231 .345 .333 .678 9 (1) 17 20 6
Emilio Bonifacio .000 .000 .000 .000 0 (0) 0 0 0
SS Without Reyes .238 .322 .346 .668 13 (3) 21 24 6
Jose Reyes .395 .465 .526 .991 3 (1) 5 5 5

That's a pretty significant drop in production.

But it's not just at shortstop where Toronto has missed Reyes' bat.

Manager John Gibbons has sent six different players up to the plate as the team's first batter of the game in Reyes' absence.

Just as with the team's replacements at shortstop, the results have not been good.

Anthony Gose .417 .462 .583 1.045 2 (0) 0 4 0
Rajai Davis .304 .310 .446 .757 5 (1) 7 9 8
Melky Cabrera .291 .338 .397 .735 11 (2) 17 21 0
Brett Lawrie .135 .220 .270 .490 2 (1) 2 3 0
Munenori Kawasaki .100 .167 .100 .267 0 (0) 1 1 0
Emilio Bonifacio .053 .095 .105 .201 1 (0) 1 2 0
Without Reyes 0.255 0.298 0.367 0.655 21 (4) 28 40 8
Jose Reyes 0.395 0.465 0.526 0.991 3 (1) 5 5 5

That's an equally significant drop in production, but even more than with the team's replacements at shortstop, not having a table-setter like Reyes atop the lineup has a domino effect on the rest of the lineup.

Now, with Reyes back in the fold, Toronto's potent lineup will come to the plate with the leadoff man on base much more often.

That's never a bad thing, especially with his ability to cause havoc on the basepaths, whether it be by stealing a base or going first-to-third on a long single to the outfield.

Sure, the argument can be made that Reyes' return could negatively impact the chemistry the team has going at the moment—that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

But those arguments fall short when you look at the numbers of the players that the Blue Jays have tried—and failed—to replace his production with.

While the rest of the division continues to bide its time, waiting for injured superstars to return to action, Toronto is getting back one of the game's premier shortstops—one who is still in the prime of his career.

So will a healthy Reyes lead Toronto to the promised land atop the AL East?

His return will have as big an impact as any move that the rest of the division could—or will—make between now and the trade deadline at the end of July, when the rest of the AL East is trying to figure out how to catch the first-place Blue Jays.