Toronto heading to Boston after completing a 5-1 homestand
By Alykhan Ravjiani
TORONTO -- It's been an up-and-down ride to start the year, but the Blue Jays are finally playing the type of baseball they expected to in 2016 and are starting to resemble a team that will contend as the year continues.
Toronto earned its first sweep of the year on Wednesday evening, knocking off the Yankees, 7-0, and finishing its homestand with an impressive 5-1 record. Early on, it was Toronto's rotation which shouldered the load as the team stumbled out of the gate, leading the league in innings pitched. But lately, the Blue Jays have also received contributions across the diamond, with the team's offense finishing the homestand averaging 5.8 runs per game and the team's bullpen elevating its performance to limit the Yankees to two runs in 6 1/3 innings during the series.
Much like last season when they chased down the Yankees, the Blue Jays will have to play catchup against the Red Sox, and the club will have an opportunity this weekend as it heads for a showdown at Fenway Park.
"Really, we're playing good baseball all the way around," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said after his team's first home sweep of the Yankees since September 2000.
"It's still early in the season and I still don't think we've fully hit our stride yet," Gibbons said. "The bullpen's starting to line up a little better and hopefully the starting pitching continues."
In 2015, Toronto received career-best performances from many of the club's role players on both sides of the ball, with surprising seasons from outfielder Kevin Pillar and infielder Ryan Goins, and contributions from bullpen arms such as Liam Hendriks and Bo Schultz.
The 2016 edition is starting to find its own role players who are stepping up. Darwin Barney produced another big night on Wednesday, finishing with three hits for the first time since 2014, and starter Aaron Sanchez turned in another stellar performance, shutting the Yankees down over 6 2/3 innings.
The duo agreed that the team is finally starting to play consistent baseball after a rough stretch to begin the year, and that the Blue Jays need to continue to receive contributions from all ends to compete for a second consecutive division title.
"I mean, we never really had any worries," said Sanchez, who has thrown nine quality starts in 11 outings. "It was one of those things where guys were taking a little more time to get into a groove. You guys are seeing it."
Toronto will head to Boston with a starting rotation that had the best ERA (3.40) in the AL in May, an offense that has come alive at the right time and a bullpen that has picked up some help with the acquisition of Jason Grilli and the return of left-hander Aaron Loup from the DL.
"Early in the year our pitching would be good and we weren't scoring runs, or the other way around, and I think no one in here doubted that we were a well-rounded team," Barney said. "It's starting to show a little bit. We've got a big series coming up. We have to keep it going and keep the pressure on our division.
Alykhan Ravjiani is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.