The Toronto Blue Jays surprising early season success continued this past weekend with a sweep of the Baltimore Orioles. Going into the season the Jays were expected to battle these same Orioles in a fight to stay out of last place in the AL East . That has not been the case through two months of the season as the Jays are currently one game behind the second-place New York Yankees and one game in front of the fourth-place Boston Red Sox.
The question now becomes whether or not the Jays can turn this good start into a legitimate pennant race. The next nine games will not make or break the Jays season but the next three series, two against the first place Tampa Bay Rays and one with the Yankees, will be a solid indicator of what type of summer the Jays and their fans are in for.
The test begins tonight in Toronto with a three game set against the Rays. The Jays will also travel to Tampa next week for three more against the best team in the league. To get a better understanding of how both teams have arrived at where they are in the standings to this point, read on.
The Jays have the league's second best offense scoring 5.21 runs per game behind the Yankees league leading 5.56. Tampa is right behind them at 5.18 R/G, as are the Red Sox at 5.17. These four teams are not only in the same division they're also the only four teams in the AL scoring over five runs per game. Despite their almost even ability to put runs on the board the Jays and Rays do it in completely different ways.
The Rays are fourth in the AL in walks, drawing a free pass in 9.9 percent of their plate appearances. Despite walking so much there .257 batting average (seventh in AL) pulls them down to sixth place in on-base percentage at .335. They do have above average power as their .153 isolated power is good for fifth in the league.
The Rays shine brightest on the base paths in almost every way possible . They lead the AL in stolen bases with 58 and sit fifth in stolen base percentage with a 76% success rate. They're tied for the league lead in steals of third base with nine while being caught trying to steal third just one time. The Rays are also tied for the league lead in bases taken with 64. Also, when they've had an opportunity to take extra bases on a single or double they've done so successfully 47 percent of the time, best in the league.
To this point in the season the Jays have scored most of their runs with an astounding affinity for the long ball. They lead the league with 88 homers, 19 more than the second place Red Sox. They're also first in doubles with 123, slugging percentage (.471), and isolated power with an outrageous .227. The Jays have hit just .244 putting them 12th in the league and well below the league average of .258. The average, along with their 11th in the league walk rate (8.28% of PAs), leaves them dead last with a .310 on-base percentage.
Unlike the Rays, the Blue Jays don't run much with just 22 steals on the season. They don't get caught much though, stealing successfully 81.5 percent of the time, third best in the AL. Amazingly, despite their different approaches both teams are tied for first in the AL in run scoring percentage. Both of them have managed to plate 35 percent of their base runners, slightly more efficient than the Yankees' 34 percent.
Pitching and Defense Comparison
This is where we see the gap between the Rays and just about everyone else in baseball, Blue Jays included. The Rays allow just 3.43 runs per game easily the best in the league and more than a run lower than the league average of 4.49. The Jays also stand better than average and sixth overall at 4.29 R/G. The Jays 4.17 ERA is good for seventh in the league, just ahead of the league's 4.21 mark overall. Again, the Rays shine with a 3.18 ERA more than half a run better than second place Minnesota's 3.72 ERA.
The sparkling ERA comes in spite of ranking tenth in the league in home runs allowed, hopefully something the Jays' bats can take advantage of. The Rays have been able to neutralize that by only walking 8.13 percent of batters faced, third best in the AL. Their strikeout rate, 19.03 percent of batters faced, is also third best in the AL. Combined the Rays are second in the league in strikeouts per walk at 2.34.
The Rays pitching and fielding have combined to limit opposing teams to only 7.7 hits per nine innings, best in the league and the only team allowing less than eight. The defensive metrics peg the Rays as easily the league's best defense. They pace the AL in both defensive efficiency and TotalZone's defensive runs above average.
Oddly enough, the homer happy hitting Jays also happen to have allowed the second fewest homers in the league. Jays pitchers also strikeout more batters faced, 20.63, than any staff in the AL. Both are impressive and also help to offset the Jays eighth best walk rate, 9.32 percent of batters faced.
Defensively the Jays are third best in hits allowed per nine innings (8.4). The Jays are eighth best in defensive efficiency and exactly league average in terms of TotalZone's defensive runs above average. The Jays have the Rays beat in one defensive category, caught stealing percentage. The Rays rank sixth at 33 percent while the Blue Jays lead the AL with 39 percent.
The Blue Jays offense will be hard pressed to put runners on against the Rays staff to take advantage of their home run hitting power. Also, controlling the running game will be a big challenge for Jays' pitchers and catchers alike. And the pitching matchups look to favor the Rays in games one and two this week as well. It's not going to be easy but if the pitching steps up and the Jays can keep the power at the plate on the surprising start has a chance to carry over into June.