Jose Reyes' Return Completely Changes the Blue Jays Lineup, AL East Race

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJune 26, 2013

The Blue Jays have been the hottest team in baseball over the past couple weeks, rattling off an 11-game winning streak before dropping their past two games, and they currently sit at 38-38 on the season.

With that run, they're right back in the thick of things in the AL East, and things are only looking up for a team that was dubbed a huge disappointment not too long ago.

Shortstop Jose Reyes, who has been sidelined since April 13 with a severe left ankle sprain, is set to return to the top of the Blue Jays lineup for their series finale against the Rays on Wednesday night.

Acquired as part of the team's offseason blockbuster with the Marlins, Reyes hit .395/.465/.526 through 10 games to kick off the season before landing on the shelf.

Munenori Kawasaki quickly became a fan favorite replacing Reyes, but there's little doubt the offense will benefit from getting Reyes back.

Kawasaki hit .225/.337/.325 in 151 at-bats for a 0.8 WAR, according to FanGraphs, before being optioned back to the minors to make room for Reyes. His outgoing personality not only endured him to fans, but also made him a welcome addition to the clubhouse, so he'll no doubt be missed.

With the return of Reyes, Melky Cabrera will be moved from the leadoff spot to the No. 5 position in the lineup, with the Blue Jays projected lineup now looking as follows.

1. SS Jose Reyes
2. RF Jose Bautista
3. 1B Edwin Encarnacion
4. DH Adam Lind
5. LF Melky Cabrera
6. CF Colby Rasmus
7. C J.P. Arencibia
8. 3B Maicer Izturis
9. 2B Emilio Bonifacio

While Bautista's on-base skills play well in the No. 2 spot, the team may decide to shuffle things around moving forward. Cabrera is not exactly an ideal No. 5 hitter with just three home runs on the season, and he would make more sense slotted in the No. 2 spot. Consider something like this as a potential Toronto lineup long term.

1. SS Jose Reyes
2. LF Melky Cabrera
3. RF Jose Bautista
4. DH Adam Lind
5. 1B Edwin Encarnacion
6. CF Colby Rasmus
7. C J.P. Arencibia
8. 3B Maicer Izturis
9. 2B Emilio Bonifacio

The question now is, how do things shape up in the AL East race moving forward, and what kind of impact will Reyes have on the divisional race as a whole. As it stands right now, the divisional race looks like this.

1. Boston Red Sox (46-33)
2. New York Yankees (42-34)
3. Baltimore Orioles (43-35)
4. Tampa Bay Rays (41-37)
5. Toronto Blue Jays (38-38) 

The pitching has come around thanks to the unexpected contributions of Esmil Rogers and Chien-Ming Wang. They will also have a healthy Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek at some point in the near future. Offensively, they'll get Brett Lawrie sometime around the All-Star break, which should help things as well.

If they can continue throwing the ball well, and the team can avoid further injury, they really don't have many holes on the roster. All the same pieces are there that made this team so highly regarded entering the season, and with them just finding their stride and getting Reyes back, they have to be considered the most dangerous team in the division.

Baltimore has a juggernaut offense led by the trio of Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Chris Davis, but their starting pitching remains a major question. Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez have been solid, and Wei-Yin Chen will be back healthy soon, but the back end of the staff will need to be addressed.

The Yankees will benefit from the inevitable returns of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, but injuries have finally started to catch up with them and beyond CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda their rotation has been shaky.

Pitching has ruled in Tampa during their recent run of success, but it has been a weakness this season. Getting David Price back will certainly help, but they need Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore to get back on track and Alex Cobb to get back on the field.

Boston looks to be the most solid team in the division top to bottom, but they're not without their own issues as they have a major hole in the closer's role and health concerns with their starters. They have the veteran core to keep it together down the stretch, but they'll need Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz to pitch like they did in the early going this season.

Granted, the above teams all best the Blue Jays in one aspect of the game or another, and as of now Toronto still sits in last place. However, with the return of Reyes, it's hard not to like the Blue Jays overall outlook as we move into the second half of the season.