For Toronto Blue Jays, the Wins Are Coming Easy
Attention all teams in the American League and those domiciled in the American League East in particular: There is an old school party going on in Toronto, but none of you are invited!
Those in Toronto are hoping it is going to be a nice intimate affair.
The seeds for the Toronto Blue Jays turnaround were already being planted last season. Vastly underrated manager Cito Gaston was brought back halfway through last season and guided the club to a stellar .580 winning percentage over the final 88 games.
After making the playoffs in four of his first five seasons and winning back-to-back World Series in his first tour in Toronto, Cito is once again doing what he does best—winning ball games.
It is said that winning culture starts at the top and trickles down from there.
During this past offseason, the Blue Jays decided to quietly bring back their former President, one of the most respected baseball men in the game, Paul Beeston. This reunion of winning management should have told us all that the Blue Jays were going to be a different team in 2009.
Pitching was a question mark for the Blue Jays except for long-time staff ace Roy Halladay, who continues to be a perennial CY Young candidate. The starting rotation, which was very deep and very strong last season, lost to injury Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum, while A.J. Burnett departed as a free agent.
With calm confidence, Toronto did not hesitate to dip into their farm system and rely on their young emerging arms. Scott Richmond has had a great start to the year, posting four wins and a better earned run than Halladay thus far.
Top prospect Brett Cecil, who was just called up, also looks to be a nice addition after a strong first start in Cleveland. With Ricky Romero coming back shortly from the disabled list, surprising depth and youth are providing some excellent starting pitching.
There were many concerns surrounding closer B.J. Ryan heading out of Spring Training. His velocity was down and by extension his effectiveness was in question.
However, the depth of Toronto's bullpen has proven to be a strength for the Blue Jays so far this season. Without missing a beat, Scott Downs has answered Cito Gaston's call to replace Ryan as the closer without hurting the rest of the bullpen's ability to hold leads.
When a team has both a starting rotation and a bullpen they can rely on, one can argue that as long as there is good defence to go along with it, then that is all that is needed to survive the long summer grind. After all, the old adage goes: Pitching and defence win championships.
The best surprise of all has been the surge of runs scored coming from the Toronto nine. It makes a pitcher's job that much easier when they have a lead to work with and the Blue Jays have tried to make the pitcher's job as simple as possible.
A healthy Aaron Hill and a much-improved Adam Lind have filled some major lineup holes. Last season Hill was plagued by horrible post-concussion syndrome, and Lind suffered ups and downs that rookies sometimes have to tough out and work through.
This season, both are showing that they can be difference makers.
Past All-Stars Alex Rios and Vernon Wells have yet to warm up, and once they do the middle of the order will become only that much stronger. Along with a healthy and energized Scott Rolen and highly touted rookie Travis Snider, Toronto seems to have all their bats falling into place together.
The real hope here is that the Toronto Blue Jays can keep up their solid pitching and hitting when they begin to play division rivals Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, and Boston Red Sox over the next month.
Thanks to some kind schedule making, Toronto has been lucky to begin the year with a lot of AL West and AL Central matchups and lesser AL East foes. A chance to build up some confidence is a nice luxury, but following through and actually winning the easier games is even nicer.
When wining happens, it is not one or two small things that make the difference.
Winning requires a certain kind of magic to act as the glue when things all of sudden come together. Dominating pitching, consistent hitting, a winning attitude from the top down, and well-timed luck are essential to making a championship run.
This season, all of those key pieces seem to be falling into place, but there is also a contagious optimism that creeps up on all of us that is starting to be enjoyed by the Blue Jays; a wave of optimism that they intend to ride for the rest of the season.
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