Last night marked the official halfway point of the season for the Blue Jays. 81 games down, 81 remaining.
And what a first half it has been. When the first pitch was thrown on March 31, expectations were extremely low, and only sunk lower a few hours later after the Jays were thumped by David Price and the Rays, and Jose Reyes was placed on the disabled list. A month later, after using a Jonathan Diaz / Ryan Goins double play combo, and watching a bullpen without Casey Janssen give away game after game, the Blue Jays finally hit last place. Another terrible season had begun.
But something funny happened. Maybe it was the return of Janssen that did it. Maybe it was the shuffling of the rotation, with McGowan moving back to the bullpen to stabilize the relief corps. Maybe the team just decided that enough was enough, and a second straight last place finish wasn’t good enough. Whatever the reason, the Jays took off, making this first half one of the most enjoyable in recent memory.
With 81 games in the books, Toronto is 45-36 and holds a two game lead over Baltimore in the AL East. They are on pace for their first playoff birth since 1993, and their first meaningful September games since 2000. And best of all, the team has evolved into one of the most exciting teams in baseball.
They have exciting young pitching in Stroman and Hutchison. They have crafty veterans in Buehrle and Dickey. They have a vaunted offense, led by Bautista and Encarnacion (who both sit in the top-10 in the AL in WAR, Slugging, OPS, Runs, HR, and Walks). They have power, speed, and patience at the plate.
What has been most impressive for me about this first half surge, is that they have been able to sustain it for such a long time. Yes they hit a bit of a bump on the recently completed 10-game road trip, going 3-7. But aside from a sweep in Yankee Stadium, they were able to grind a out a series split in Baltimore, then returned home to take two of three from New York. I don’t think last year’s edition of the Blue Jays would have been able to do that.
All we have to do is take a look back to last season to prove it. After going on a season saving 11-game win streak, the team played 7 of the next 8 series against potential playoff teams. They lost 2 of 3 to Tampa, 3 of 4 to Boston, 3 of 4 to Detroit, 2 of 3 to Cleveland, and 2 of 3 to Baltimore, before being swept in a pair of 3 game series by Tampa and the Dodgers. Just like that they were 10 games under .500 and buried in last place.
Call it character, call it desire. Give credit to the starters, to the hitters, even to manager John Gibbons who has done a heck of a job. But the 2014 Blue Jays have refused to roll over.
Are there still problems? Absolutely. With Lawrie injured, the infield is weakened. The club could use another solid starter to help with a playoff push. If Bautista misses much more time, that will become very problematic. The relievers still walk far too many batters.
But none of that can take away the fact that the Toronto Blue Jays are in first place halfway through the 2014 season.
That is as good as it gets.