Many of the so called experts predicted the Toronto Blue Jays to end up in the cellar in the AL East.
So far, this hasn't happened as the Blue Jays have stayed within striking distance in the AL east, and currently own the AL's third best record.
How have they done this you may ask? Well, it is simple. They currently lead the league in home runs and the pitching staff has stepped up and pitched pretty consistently.
At the plate Vernon Wells is tearing it up. He is second on the team in homers with 11, leads the team with a .301 average, and has batted in 33 runs. This is what many Blue Jays fans have expected from Wells year to year.
Perhaps the surprises of the year have come in journeyman IF/OF Jose Bautista, who leads the team with 14 long balls and 38 ribbies.
Currently his 14 homers leads the AL, which is a surprise for a guy who hadn't hit 75 in his career going into the season.
Along side Bautista is Alex Gonzalez, who has rocked 10 long balls and knocked in 30. Gonzalez hadn't hit more than 10 homers all season long since the 2007 season with the Reds.
Edwin Encarnacion has also been a major part of the attack at third base. He has hit 7 long balls and driven in only 16, but is a dangerous addition to the lineup on a daily basis.
While these three have done it at the plate and carried the team, many of the guys thought to have been the main offensive threats heading into the season have struggled.
Adam Lind is only batting .237 and has struck out nearly 50 times. Former all star Aaron Hill is batting below the Mendoza line at .156, and Lyle Overbay has struggled to get going batting just over .200. Just imagine if these guys were hitting like they could?
Where the Jays have really capitalized is at the front and end of the game. Starters have combined to go 19-13 to this point, and several starters have carried no hitters into the late innings.
The Jays are lead by Ricky Romero, who leads the team in ERA, strike-outs, and is tied for the lead in wins.
Also making a splash is former third round pick Shaun Marcum, who is 4-1 with a 2.82 ERA and is showing signs of being a front of the rotation pitcher. Also youngsters such as Brett Cecil, Dana Eveland, Brandon Morrow, and Brian Tallet have been solid contributors.
In the bullpen it makes all the difference in the world when you have a closer.
Kevin Gregg has turned back to his All Star form of 2008 as he has nailed down 12 games in 20+ innings while keeping his ERA under 4.00. Scott Downs, Shawn Camp, Casey Janssen, and Jason Frasor have also been solid working out of the pen, combining for a 7-5 record with an ERA of just over 4.00.
At this point many readers who aren't Jays fans may be saying,
"So what? They still play in the same division as the Yanks, Rays, and Sox!"
I say, not so fast my friend! Please don't forget who the manager is on this team.
Cito Gaston has been there and done that. Cito has been to four post seasons in his career, all with the Blue Jays, and won back to back titles in 1992-93. He has a knack for getting the most out of players, and this group has been no exception.
If I were to hire any manager in the game, Cito would be at the top of mine, and most people who know baseball's list.
The bottom line is do not turn your back on this team. Sure, they have lost two of three against the Rays this season, and five of six against the Sox, but they are still relatively young. This is a team that is learning how to win, and Cito Gaston is the man to teach these young men how to do so.
I am not saying they will win the division, or even make the wild card spot, but I assure you that they will stay in it. Romero and Marcum provide a solid 1-2 punch, while youngster Brett Cecil has showed the promise of a great young pitcher.
Add a lineup that can score at any moment with the long ball and you have something.
Again, I am just saying they will contend at this point. I am not completely on the bandwagon yet. If they can find ways to win series' against the Yanks, Sox, and Rays on a consistent basis then you had better watch out.
Cito will have these guys playing well above their skill sets all year long, and all I say is if you are a fan of baseball, do not discard the Toronto Blue Jays as the pennant races heat up.
But as always, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.....