Toronto Blue Jays – The Sweet Life

The Toronto Blue Jays celebrate another home run by Edwin Encarnacion

The Toronto Blue Jays are nine games above .500 and sit peacefully atop the American League East: I find it all so hard to accept.

If this was the very beginning of last season and you told me that Toronto would be sitting in such a position at the end of May, I can’t image myself carrying any doubts. After all, the Blue Jays were supposed to contend for the World Series in 2013 and it was easy to find yourself caught up in all the excitement.

The story is now familiar to most Blue Jays fans: the team loaded up on high-end talent before the start of last season, adding R. A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera among others, in the hope of reversing Toronto’s longstanding absence from the post-season. Add in the likes of returning superstars Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and you’ve got yourself a solid team on paper.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as planned when it came time to put all that talent on paper into action. The Blue Jays suffered a horrible fate last season – they finished at the bottom of the American League East with a disappointing record of 74-88 – and that’s why it’s so hard to understand and accept the team’s current success.

For the most part, the Blue Jays are fielding the same players as last season. Of course, Johnson is gone (though he was never really there last season anyway) and “future staff ace” Brandon Morrow has found himself on the long-term disabled list again (surprised?). The infield looks a bit different, too: Emilio Bonifacio is gone and Maicer Izturis is injured – a situation that has forced Brett Lawrie to spend some time at second base – but there was a hole here last season as well.

(There’s no point discussing the departure of J. P. Arencibia since like Johnson, he was never really there either.)

Beyond all this, however, there hasn’t really been a lot of change to the team. The bullpen, which was so dominant last season, is virtually the same while Dickey, Buehrle and J. A. Happ remain the only mainstays in the starting rotation. (In my opinion, the lack of depth here is the major problem confronting the team though it’s been obscured by the team’s recent run of strong play.)

If all this is true, then how do you explain the team’s sudden change in performance? It may be that the team as a whole hasn’t changed greatly in comparison to last season, but that certain players have really stepped-up their games.

You only have to look at Buehrle, Encarnacion and Cabrera for proof. The dramatic improvements in their respective performances (which isn’t to say they were horrible last season) has already had a huge impact on the team, propelling it ahead of the competition. If this trend continues, I might eventually come to accept it as well.

Follow me on Twitter for regular posts about sports (especially the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Blue Jays), politics and other news topics: @williamefwilson

Image courtesy of Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press