Blue Jays have plenty of reason for optimism
The Blue Jays capped off a series win in convincing fashion Thursday, beating the Rangers 12-2 in an offensive breakout
The Toronto Blue Jays are riding high after another series win against the Texas Rangers, and especially because they head into a weekend series with the Dodgers riding a three-game win streak. Despite dropping the opener in a frustrating 2-1 defeat, the Jays rode solid starts from Marco Estrada, Aaron Sanchez, and J.A. Happ, and some encouraging signs from the offence as well.
Toronto entered Thursday’s game hitting .215 with runners in scoring position, 29th in the MLB. Not exactly what was expected from… well.. anyone. The MLB’s best offence in 2015 returned almost fully in tact, adding full seasons Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Saunders to an already potent offence.
That dangerous offence has been anything but thus far, and the bullpen has also struggled greatly. However, the series with the Rangers gave Jays fans a chance to exhale and even reason for excitement going forward.
For what feels like the first time all season, the Blue Jays are riding some momentum and there are several reasons to believe they may have finally turned a corner.
Encarnacion heating up
Entering Wednesday, the cleanup hitter was in the midst of a 1-for-21 slide. Arguably the most consistent hitter in the lineup, Encarnacion looked somewhat lost at the plate, uncharacteristically chasing bad pitches and missing pitcher’s mistakes that he would normally punish.
He turned a corner in a big way on Wednesday going 2-for-4 with a home run, and followed that with a monster game on Thursday going 3-for-4 with another home run and 6(!) RBI. The big finish to the series pushes Encarnacion’s slash line to .263/.325/.456, and after Thursday’s game he said, “When I have games like today I know my confidence gets up and I know my game is going to step up.”
That’s exactly what Jays’ fans want to hear from their slugging designated hitter.
First Doubt Digit Game This Season
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As stated above, the Blue Jays were the best offence in baseball last season, routinely pummelling their opponents. In fact, they scored double digit runs in a mind-blowing 27 games last season. Thus far in 2016, they hadn’t accomplished the feat before Thursday.
They had contributions from most of the lineup, had a season high in hits (15) and runs (12), and gave the bullpen a stress free evening on the strength of another quality start from Happ. They don’t have to score 10 runs to win every game, but seeing them do it against a quality team like the Rangers is definitely a good sign.
Martin’s Bat Starting To Come Around
Among the many struggling bats in April for the Blue Jays was catcher Russell Martin. Hitting below the Mendoza line, Martin has battled neck spasms and has generally looked out of sync for most of the season’s first month.
Entering Tuesday’s game hitting just .149, Martin managed to go 5-11 with a walk in the series, including a walk off hit on Wednesday night. He has looked much more confident at the plate, even making more solid contact even when he’s not reaching base.
After contributing 23 home runs and a significant offensive impact last season, the Blue Jays need Martin to contribute on offence, at least more than he was able to in April.
Production From 1st Base
Last season the Jays were able to play the strength of match ups, using both Justin Smoak and Chris Colabello effectively throughout the season. Colabello greatly struggled before his suspension, but also received the bulk of the playing time. After his departure, Smoak started to play a little more but was unable to initially find a groove.
The last couple of games in particular, the switch-hitting first baseman has started to look a lot more comfortable in the box. He went 7-for-16 with three walks against the Rangers, including two home runs in heroic fashion on Tuesday night. After hitting a game-tying shot in the 9th, Smoak added a 2nd blast for the walk off win and the beginning of the current win streak.
Next: Blue Jays rout Rangers for series win
Dickey & Storen
Granted it was just one series, but both R.A. Dickey and Drew Storen looked and felt much better against the Rangers. Dickey has had a typically difficult April, but turned the page with a 6.1 inning outing on Monday, allowing one earned run and six hits.
Storen threw a scoreless eighth inning on Wednesday, which followed a perfect frame during Monday’s game. Brought in to help shore up the back end of the bullpen, Storen had a horrific April. The last two outings are more in line with what both Storen and the Blue Jays expect, and could be a great sign of things to come.
One series doesn’t change everything, but this one had plenty of positive signs going forward. Maybe it’s because April has come to a close or because the Jays finally had an offensive breakout game, but the energy around the club feels a lot different today than it did on Sunday.
A couple walk off wins and a three-game win streak will help that sort of thing.