Blue Jays turn things around in big way in May

After starting season 8-17, Toronto hopes to keep rolling after 18-10 month

Blue Jays turn things around in big way in May

TORONTO -- April was the month the Blue Jays wanted to forget. May was the month they turned their season around.

Toronto closed out the productive month with a 5-4 win over the Reds on Wednesday afternoon at Rogers Centre. Following an 8-17 start to the year, the Blue Jays bounced back with an 18-10 May and now find themselves just one game under .500 at the start of June.

Teams have overcome slow starts before, but very few have done it quite like this. The Blue Jays spent almost the entire month without three-fifths of its starting rotation and without major offensive pieces such as Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki. It's safe to say very few people saw this record coming, although the Blue Jays insist they did.

"We felt like we had that in us," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "It was a really rough month of April. That's no exaggeration. We could have buried ourselves. A couple of guys went down, and the guys filling in did a nice job. Hopefully from here on out we play good, steady ball over the next four months and see where it takes us."

Toronto didn't just survive in May with all of those injuries, it thrived. Devon Travis, Justin Smoak and Kevin Pillar were three reasons why on offense. Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes and Joe Smith established themselves in the bullpen, and even a make-shift rotation did enough thanks in large part to Marco Estrada, Marcus Stroman and Joe Biagini.

The Blue Jays finished play on Wednesday with the most home runs in the Major Leagues in May with 49. They were third in the American League with 148 runs and second in OPS with an .809 mark. The pitching staff ranked fifth with a 4.03 ERA and while that might not sound impressive, it should, because it was done almost entirely without Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano.

Baseball players always try to avoid riding the highs and lows of the season. It's a long grind, but even most guys in the clubhouse concede it looked pretty bleak for a while. The atmosphere has since changed entirely.

"Gibby was preaching to us the whole time to stay the course," said Travis, who hit 20 extra-base hits in the month. "Don't fall off. Keep plugging. Things are going to turn around. The guys really took to that, and it was a fun month for sure. Looking forward to keeping that going."

Toronto will get even more help later this week, when Liriano returns from the DL. Add in the recent returns of Donaldson and Tulowitzki, and suddenly there's a lot to be optimistic about.

Donaldson joins fifth-deck club

The Blue Jays completed a three-game sweep of the Reds on Wednesday and have now won eight of their past nine games. With the first-place Yankees coming to town on Thursday, the opportunity for even more gains is there.

"Really, our whole game has been better," Gibbons said. "That month of April was tough in a lot of different phases. The month of May was the complete opposite."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.