When a team has a month like the one the Toronto Blue Jays have built in May of 2014 (18-7), the credit is often handed to the bigger fish, the guys in the middle of the line-up going on a tear. And that’s justifiable, considering what Edwin Encarnacion (13 HR, 26 RBI) and Melky Cabrera (.298/16 runs/ 17 RBI) have done during the month of May.
But there are plenty of rewards to go around for the smaller fish as well. Monday’s rout of the Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto’s 7th straight win, was proof positive of that.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, and with the game knotted at 2, the Blue Jays got a lead-off home run from Dioner Navarro to start the frame. That was followed by second baseman Steve Tolleson, who took the very next offering from Erik Bedard into the second deck in left field.
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It was there again in the the top of the 5th. After giving up back-to-back home runs to Desmond Jennings and James Loney with one out in the inning, Drew Hutchison surrendered a single to center to Wil Myers. Myers tried to stretch the hit into a double, something the Rays are quite good at. Anthony Gose had other ideas. The Blue Jays center fielder came up firing, nailing Myers at second base for his second outfield assist of the season. The play turned into a big out, as Hutchison would settle down and get Cole Figueroa to end the inning, preserving the tie and enabling the Blue Jays line-up to do their job in the top of the next inning.
The little guy played the big fish again in the top of the 8th as well. After Todd Redmond had surrenderd a single to Yunel Escobar and issued a walk to David DeJesus, the Rays looked as though they were starting a little rally and had Evan Longoria coming to the dish. Redmond threw him a 1-0 sinker that Longoria hit for a sinking liner to right and appeared destined for extra bases. However Kevin Pillar, starting in right with Jose Bautista in the DH slot, made a nice sliding grab for the out.
Those examples are just from Monday night’s win, but Pillar and Tolleson have been playing key roles in the Blue Jays recent turnaround, especially over the course of the last 7 days.
May 25, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar (11) gets a base hit in the fifth inning in a game against the Oakland Athletics at Rogers Centre. The Toronto Blue Jays won 3-1.Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Over the course of the recent win streak, Steve Tolleson has appeared in all 7 contests, and while he has been platooned around and pinch hit for, he has made the most of his opportunities. In 18 plate appearances during the streak, Tolleson is slashing .389/.450/.722 and has hit 2 of his 5 career home runs during that span. Moving the bar back 30 days, Tolleson has hit .311 with a 1.014 OPS, a mark that is second to just Encarnacion over that time period.
Not to be outdone, Pillar has been equally as formidable While appearing primarily in a platoon rotation with Anthony Gose, the outfielder has put up a .467/.467/.600 slash line over the last 7 games (6 appearances). Over the last 30 days, that played out to a .333 average and a .778 OPS while making appearances in all three outfield slots.
Not to be outdone, Gose has put up his own slash of .321/.424/.429 with 3 RBI and 4 runs scored in the last month.
The play of these three, coupled with some solid management by Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons have given Toronto a new breath of life. The line-up is deeper from top to bottom. The bench is allowing platoon rotations that benefit the team rather than are necessitated by health. This has allowed the entire line-up to relax, knowing that the top of order doesn’t have to overcompensate for the short-comings the bottom exhibited earlier this season.
That has put a breath of life into both the Blue Jays and the fan base, helping to push another disappointing season into the rear-view mirror and the goal of once again being a contender once again into the present.