Will the Real Blue Jays Stand Up?

94 wins.

That was the predicted number of wins for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013 (Bleacher Report). Fresh off one of arguably the biggest off-seasons in franchise history, the Blue Jays created a team from top to bottom that was supposed to perform and even make it all the way. But the team couldn’t live up to the hype.

Looking back at a miserable 2013, there are many things one could point their finger towards for the disappointing season. From the loss of Jose Reyes to injury to a miserable performance from newly-arrivals Josh Johnson and R.A. Dickey the Blue Jays found themselves in a hole that was too big to be dug from. The Blue Jays ended the season with 74 wins, 23 games back from the AL East leading and World Series Champions Boston Red Sox.

Entering the 2014 season, the Blue Jays front office had a lot of decisions to make with the major question being the starting rotation. Would RA Dickey recoup to his CY Young form? Would the Blue Jays bullpen still be lights-out for the ball club? Who would be their 5th starter? These answers were unclear for many of the hopeful fans as well as players themselves, as the 2014 season begun in Tampa Bay on March 31st but GM Alex Anthopolous remained confident with what he had.

In a starting rotation that looked fairly similar to that of 2013, one new face appeared in Dustin McGowan who earned his spot after being plagued by injuries that kept him out of the rotation since 2008, a miracle story in itself. After a stellar performance in the bullpen the year before, McGowan was given another chance to start for a Blue Jays team who was desperate to find quality pitching in the rotation. Despite all the confidence and praise from manager John Gibbons, McGowan only lasted 8 starts posting a 2-2 record with a 5.08 ERA averaging less than 5 innings a start (Toronto Star).

This lack of success as a starter wasn’t only the bad news for Jay’s fans as Brandon Morrow found himself on the DL once again after straining his right index finger. His results weren’t any more impressive than McGowan’s holding a 5.74 ERA in three stars with the ball club. It remains unclear weather he will return to the rotation this year or ever again.

What seemed to be another miserable start and season ahead for Jay’s fans, didn’t seem as bad as the Jays maintained ground within the AL East. As pitchers couldn’t perform others had to step up if the Jays and that’s exactly what happened. Mark Buehrle wouldn’t let this happen once again.

Skip ahead two months into the campaign and you would find the Toronto Blue Jays riding a winning streak and leading the AL East. The team’s confidence keeps growing day by day with the limited expectations and all-star caliber play from players like MLB’s Player of The Month for May Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and the recently mentioned Mark Buehrle. If you had asked any expert going into this season many would say Mark Buehrle would continue to eat innings and give a solid performance at years end but he continues to dominate the MLB with a league leading 10 wins in only 12 starts – only Blue Jay to do so since fire baller Roger Clemens. But where did this come from?

Acquired in the mega deal with the Marlins, Mark Buehrle has been dominant from start to finish in the 2014 season after posting a 12-10 record with a 4.15 ERA last year. Mark Buehrle continues to succeed despite throwing a fastball topping 83 mph- joining team-mate RA Dickey as the leagues lowest. He’s points to his command of his pitches as a major player in his recent success saying “It ain’t just throwing as hard as you can … It’s trusting your stuff, especially when your stuff doesn’t appear to be all that trustworthy.” (ESPN). We also must not forget his terrific defense as a pitcher already with 4 Gold Glove awards to his name as well as the new man calling the signs at the plate– Dionner Navarro.

This success story has been written before but some believe this time is different. The Blue Jays are performing like many expected them to do so last year. One year late doesn’t hurt anyone but many fans wonder how long this will last. Though the Jays should be pleased to be a top of one of the most competitive divisions in the MLB, the Jays are more fortunate than their fellow teams in the AL East. The “Jacoby-less” Red sox are still trying to keep ground with the Blue Jays after bouncing back strong from a 10-game losing streak. Derek Jeter who makes his final run as a New York Yankee, has witnessed a loss of starting pitchers to injury including Ivan Nova and Michael “Pine-Tar” Pineda – a gruesome scene Jays had to face last year. Despite being home to league leading homerun hitter Nelson Cruz, the Baltimore Orioles still deal with uncertainty in their rotation including the lack of success from their off-season signing of Ubaldo Jimenez. The Tampa Rays also have dealt with injuries including losing Matt Moore to Tommy John surgery and 2013 Rookie of The Year Will Myers with a sprained right wrist. The Rays still believe they can make a run with David Price as their ace but his time as a Ray could be coming to an end soon.

The Blue Jays have seen a lot of things go their way this year and have stopped the injury-bug from attacking as of yet. Jose Reyes has bounced back and is all smiles after dealing with a disappointing 2013 campaign on the DL. Melky Cabrera has cooled off since his hot start to the season but is a totally changed man after receiving horrific news last year about a tumor in his back. Adam Lind and his beard haven’t seen as much playing time as usual but he continues to light up right-handed pitchers this year. Casey Jansen has been just short of perfect since his return to the closer role recently and has given the bullpen some much needed relief and structure. Opening day starting second baseman Ryan Goins finds himself in AAA, as the Blue Jays have managed with Steve Tolleson and Brett Lawrie sharing the duties at second base. Juan Francisco- who was picked up from waivers has shown his ability to hit fastballs, and hit them well out of the park. These signs of success have been welcoming to Jay’s fans and the boys of summer hope to continue to ride it out.

The Blue Jays still have many questions still to answer – Is Marcus Stroman here to stay? Will they continue to hold 3 catchers? What happens when Colby Rasmus returns from injury? Hopefully the Jays can execute this style of baseball of moving forward. Jay’s fans should be pleased, as there’s not much to ask for right now with the Jays performing this well.

Well maybe another Kawasaki walk-off.

Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera, Anthony Gose

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