Winning streak shows that Toronto could be tough to beat in October if pitching steps up
By Richard Justice
Can the Toronto Blue Jays mash their way into the postseason? Roll that thought around in your mind and imagine how much fun that would be.
If October is for teams that do something better than almost anyone, then pencil in the Blue Jays, because what they've done better than anyone this season is score runs.
At the moment, they've crossed home plate 50 more times than any other team. And with 325 runs in 61 games, they're on a pace to score 863.
It has been six years since a team scored that many runs -- the 2009 Yankees, who scored 915 runs on their way to championship No. 27.
Like these Blue Jays, the Yanks didn't have spectacular pitching, finishing 12th overall in ERA (4.26). Their starting rotation allowed 4.48 runs per game during the regular season, and during a six-game World Series against the Phillies, they got just three quality starts.
The 2009 Yankees make for a good comparison to the 2015 Blue Jays. Toronto's starters have a 4.45 ERA, which is slightly better than the '09 Yanks. The Blue Jays also have a marginally better bullpen.
If you're thinking those numbers reflect a decline in offense since 2009, they don't. That season, teams scored an average of 3.95 runs per game. This season, it's 4.15.
Back to Toronto's offense. The Blue Jays are enormously entertaining. They lead the Majors in doubles, slugging percentage and OPS. They're fourth in home runs, four behind the Yanks.
And there's that guy at the top of the order. Since Jose Reyes returned from the disabled list three weeks ago, he's hitting .348 with six stolen bases and setting a tone for the whole wall-banging show. The Blue Jays are 19-12 with him in the lineup, 12-18 without him.
The Blue Jays are relentless. They've scored at least seven runs 21 times and scored at least six seven times in the eight-game win streak they'll take to Fenway Park on Friday.
Here's one more: Toronto's plus-59 run differential is the highest in the AL. During the winning streak, the Blue Jays have outscored the opposition 57-21.
And yet …
Toronto has had trouble winning when the pitching hasn't been very good. When the Blue Jays' record sat at 23-30 last week, they were also leading the Majors in runs. Their pitching staff was the second worst in baseball, with a 4.55 ERA.
Since then, the Blue Jays have continued to score runs, but it's the pitching that has gotten them a game over .500 at 31-30.
Toronto's 2.14 ERA is the best in baseball this month. During the eight-game winning streak, Blue Jays starters are 6-1 with a 2.07 ERA.
If Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey and Marco Estrada keep rolling out competitive starts, Toronto might just have a path to its first postseason appearance since 1993. In a division in which there are no perfect teams, that could be enough -- especially for the club scoring all those runs.
"We've been scoring all year," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told reporters this week. "I've said it many times: This is a good team to pitch for. We're finding a groove right now."
If you're inclined to project how Toronto would line up in October, don't. It's way too early for that. Baseball's postseason isn't just about talent. It's about the healthiest team, the freshest team, etc. It's a different season.
Does good pitching usually dominate good hitting? Yes, it usually does. But these Blue Jays are an extraordinary offensive machine, and if they get decent pitching -- not great pitching, but decent pitching -- they're good enough to win the AL East.
That's also a conversation for another day. For now, enjoy the offensive show. There's not another one nearly as good.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.