Hutchison fans 10; sweep helps Toronto gain in race

Blue Jays pull away late to finish off sweep of Cubs

Hutchison fans 10; sweep helps Toronto gain in race

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' offense has received most of the attention lately, but the starting rotation remains one of the main reasons Toronto still has an outside shot at the postseason. The starters were the only thing that kept the Blue Jays even somewhat competitive in August, and they continue to be a pleasant surprise during the club's late-season surge.

The consistency has been almost remarkable, and right-hander Drew Hutchison continued that trend during Wednesday night's 11-1 victory over the Cubs. The victory pulled the Blue Jays within 3 1/2 games of the second Wild Card after losses by the Tigers and Mariners.

Hutchison recorded his fourth consecutive quality start and the Blue Jays pieced together some timely hits and took advantage of some shaky fielding to complete the sweep over Chicago in yet another lopsided affair.

"They've really picked it up," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "Even coming into the season, that was really the question mark of the team, 'How was the rotation going to hold up?' ... They're pitching a lot better than I expected if you want to know the truth."

The Blue Jays have won four games in a row and eight of their last 10. It's still a longshot, but with 17 games remaining in the season there's at least a chance of making the playoffs.

A big reason why is that Blue Jays starters have tossed at least six innings in 17 consecutive games. That hasn't been done by a Toronto staff since 1998 when the streak was 19. There might not be a true ace on the staff, but everyone has done their part. On Wednesday night it was Hutchison's turn.

"What they do is give you a shot. Most of them give you a shot every time out there," Gibbons said. "They're not going to be good every time, but they're on a nice little roll. When we're pitching good, we're capable of scoring a lot of runs every night, and when we play good defense, we win."

Hutchison survived a scare in the first inning and then retired the next 14 batters he faced. His lone mistake came with one out in the seventh when he served up a 2-1 fastball to Jorge Soler that was sent over the wall in right field for his fourth home run of the season.

That Soler shot snapped a streak of 68 innings by Blue Jays starters without allowing a homer. It was the first home run allowed since New York's Brett Gardner went deep off J.A. Happ on Aug. 31.

Hutchison was pulled from the game later in the inning and was charged with the one run on four hits and one walk while striking out 10. That marked the fifth time this season a Blue Jays starter reached double digits in strikeouts, and the second time for Hutchison. The 24-year-old appears to have found a second wind down the stretch and has allowed five earned runs over his past 25 1/3 innings.

"I expected to pitch all year long and pitch well all year long," Hutchison said. "That's the way I prepared for the season, to put myself in that position, and as far as innings go I'm not real worried about. I'm worried about going out every time and going deep into games, and whatever it ends up being, it ends up being."

Toronto took advantage of several lapses by Chicago fielders during the first two games of the series, and that trend continued in the finale. The Cubs committed three errors and likely could have received a couple more as they didn't do much to help out right-hander Kyle Hendricks.

The Blue Jays scored one in the third as Kevin Pillar doubled and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Anthony Gose. Three more came around in the sixth at least in part because of a costly error by Soler in right field which allowed Gose to score all the way from first base on a single. Adam Lind added to the damage with an RBI single and Danny Valencia delivered another blow with an RBI double.

Hendricks was charged with four of the runs on six hits and two walks. When he left the game, Toronto took full control with five runs in the eighth to turn the score into a blowout. Cubs center fielder Junior Lake had an error in the inning, Edwin Encarnacion and Dioner Navarro each had two-run singles and Valencia added an RBI single.

"Sometimes you go through slumps, and you gotta have someone who can stop that," said Hendricks, whose team was outscored 28-3 in the series. "And it starts on the mound, setting the tone. Even though I didn't get out of the sixth inning, I made good pitches. But I realize I have to be better than that to keep my team in the game. Especially when the offense has been struggling."

Toronto has scored seven or more runs in six of its nine games this month. The Blue Jays scored seven or more just twice the month before.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.