The script has been flipped in the American League East. Boston’s defending world championship bats have the itis after gorging on opposing pitchers throughout 2013 and in the process, the standings have capsized. Up is down and down is up. Observers and media outlets alike have pontificated endlessly about the sinking Red Sox’s struggles while the Blue Jays buoyancy has been relegated to the rear. It’s a correction that needs to be mended.
North of our border, Rob Ford isn’t the only public figure smokin’ all over T-Dot. Canadians are enthralled by Montreal’s mission rally against the Rangers in pursuit of their 25th World Cup and gain ground on the Yankees as the winningest champion in North American sports, the Toronto Blue Jays are ripping through the schedule.
That fire blazing in Toronto has been scorching for over a month. After a soft April landing, the Blue Jays have been hitting, fielding, pitching like the contender they were framed as during the previous offseason in the month of May.
One year ago, the acquisitions of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Melky Cabrera and R.A. Dickey got the city up in a tizzy. The excitement never built to anything nearing a climax as Toronto was left with a squad that straggled to a 74-88 record and a condition analogous to blue baseballs.
While everyone else was reinventing the Harlem Shake, Dickey’s rare knuckleball was supposed to do the wobble dance in the comfortable confines of the Toronto Centre and leave hitters in a state of confusion. Instead, the wobbliest movements were from tracking Dickey’s uneven performances.
Reyes proved that his 2011 NL batting title was a fluke and continued getting bitten by the injury bug by missing 66 games. When he was healthy, Reyes was a submarining below .250.
Buehrle’s 4.15 ERA was the second-highest in a decade and was reflected in his 12-10 record.
The maligned Cabrera was exiled from the San Francisco Giants’ World Series championship roster when he served a 50-game suspension after testing positive for PEDs and went for the unethical double play by attempting to falsify evidence, including a fake website, to supplement (no pun intended) his appeal.
At the time of his suspension, Cabrera was leading the National League in batting average and set to cash in on a contract worth between $75 and $85 million. The fallout blew him out to the fringe corridors of baseball in Toronto for two years and $16 million. His production over the past two seasons should make his upcoming free agency an intriguing discussion.
Cabrera reverted back to the pedestrian contact hitter he was known as before he began juicing. This season, Cabrera’s bat has the juice once again as he’s whipping balls into play at a .320 rate and set a franchise record for hits in March/April. He'll never escape suspicion and his second major spike in average deserves raised eyebrows given his history, but until evidence emerges that tells us otherwise, the RBIs he's producing count towards the Blue Jays playoff record.
It’s worth noting that the heralded pickups from 2013 squad arrived forcibly or as a last resort. The Blue Jays are the team America doesn’t want, barely notices and that apparently major leaguers don’t want to play for. Playing in a division where they’re blotted out by the Yankees and Red Sox, they’re collateral damage amid a blood rivalry that's raged on for a century.
In addition to last season’s hit-or-miss trade haul, the Jays attempted to upgrade at second base by packaging a deal for Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler. Kinsler vetoed the swap and was instead shipped to the Detroit Tigers in a blockbuster trade for Prince Fielder and his enormous salary.
Yet, despite those bleak circumstances, the Blue Jays are the hottest team in the major leagues.
Tuesday night, Buehrle became the first nine-game winner this season and while Reyes’ bat is still in a coma, the Jays order has picked up the slack., however, the spark behind their surge up the AL East standings has come from their batting order.
The Blue Jays bats haven't sizzled this hot since Joe Carter stepped to the plate on a 2-2 count and hoisted Phillies pitcher Mitch Williams' into the Skydome bleachers for a World Series-winning walk-off home run. Two months into the regular season, the Blue Jays have the major league’s most electric lineup of power hitters. The names may not ring familiar, but led by the hottest first baseman in the American League, pitchers ears are ringing after the battering Toronto is putting on ‘em.
Not only are they leading the majors in home runs, but the latest incarnation of Edwin Encarnacion is just spraying balls into the deepest pockets of outfields like he’s Ken Griffey Jr. Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds swingin’ maple in their prime.
The only players to yard more often than Encarnacion in the month of May during the Wild Card era are the three aforementioned hitters.
Encarnacion’s surge in power isn’t a fluke either and shouldn’t be fully credited to Toronto’s hitter-friendly park. However, unlike the three legends, Encarnacion’s name is etched alongside in May hitting record’s log, his is the most improbable because his Blue Jays career nearly ended prematurely in 2010 as he struggled mightily.
During that time, he was designated for assignment to make room for relief pitcher Scott Richmond. Encarncacion cleared waivers through all 29 teams and general manager Alex Anthopoulos’ gamble paid off.
In his first 230 games as a Blue Jay, Encarnacion hit 38 homers and was whiffing at every pitch in and out of the zone. Ecarnacion hit 78 homers in his last two seasons and is second in the majors this season. On Tuesday, Encarnacion detonated his 14th dinger in the month, matching Jose Bautista’s franchise-record.
Encarnacion’s start has obscured Bautista flirting with a .300 average while sacrificing 12 baseballs to the bleacher gods.
It’s been a banner year for Queen City. The Raptors rose from the dead to ignite a slumbering basketball fan base, Andrew Wiggins could become the second consecutive Canadian to go first overall in the NBA Draft on June 26 and the anticipated war to permanently adopt the Buffalo Bills has officially begun.
However, the Bills are years away from being allowed to flee the States, the Raptors are just now beginning their ascent up the NBA’s steep hierarchy and the Maple Leafs are enduring a 46-year title drought. The Blue Jays haven’t been to the playoffs since winning their second consecutive World Series in 1993, but Toronto’s most legitimate shot to celebrate its first championship in 21 years may rest with a familiar suspect.