The Toronto Blue Jays are all the rage in the month of August. They made the biggest splash at the trade deadline, acquiring both Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop and David Price to go at the top of the rotation. They’ve been the hottest team in baseball, having won 15 of 19 and all but erased a seven-game deficit in the AL East.
Las Vegas believes, having made the Jays the (-150) favorites to win their division and placing them at 6-1 to win the World Series, even with St. Louis and just narrowly behind 9-2 favorite Kansas City. I dove deeper into the Blue Jay numbers thinking I might find some cracks beneath the glittering façade. Instead, it’s impossible not to be impressed with just how complete this team is.
The power is what jumps out at you in the lineup and it’s the real thing, with Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarcion combining for 70 home runs and Toronto being tied for second in the American League for HRs. But it’s overall depth of the offense in areas that are more sustainable, especially against good teams that are truly impressive.
Toronto isn’t just a team of mashers. They’re even better at hitting the ball in the gap, and they lead the league in doubles. They’re patient at the plate and are second in walks. And they put it in play consistently, ranking second in batting average. Down the stretch and in October it’s tough to just overpower good pitching with the long ball, but the Blue Jays have the ability to attack every which way.
The pitching is seventh in the AL in ERA, though the vast bulk of those numbers were compiled without Price. In the meantime, R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle have been as consistent as they’ve ever been in a Toronto uniform, each with ERAs in the 3s and logging steady innings. Marco Estrada is becoming a force in the 4-spot, winning 10 games with a 3.20 ERA. Now you add Price to that mix as a legitimate ace and you’ve got a rotation that has everything necessary to win in October.
Without big names in the bullpen it would be easy to think this is a weak spot. But the Jays’ relief corps is coming on along with the rest of the team. Roberto Osuna has grabbed the bull by the horns to claim the closer’s role, with 13 straight save conversions and a 2.01 ERA. There is real length to the pen, good enough to rival Kansas City. Manager John Gibbons has six other arms that range from the steady to the spectacular, like Mark Lowe with his buck-56 ERA.
There’s good intangibles on this team, with Russell Martin behind the plate. For a guy who’s a pretty good hitter and positively influences a team wherever he goes, it’s hard to believe that contending teams—the Dodgers, Yankees and Pirates—have all let him get away over the past several years.
Toronto smartly used a couple of outfield spots for defense-first players, in Kevin Pillar and another trade deadline acquisition in Ben Revere. When you have this much firepower, you can give up some offense in places where most teams require more production.
And, as if all this weren’t enough, the Blue Jays have more help on the way—second baseman Devon Travis was having a great year, with a .361 on-base percentage and .498 slugging percentage before suffering a shoulder injury. He’ll be back in September.
So is Toronto the new favorite? First things first—they have to survive this AL East race, where they currently trail the Yankees by one game overall, but two in the loss column. The Blue Jays, as currently comprised, are better than the Yanks, but with the season hitting the home stretch and Toronto still likely to hit a bit of a cool-down phase after their hot streak, New York may be able to outlast them. Baltimore is also in the rearview mirror, just four games out.
So let’s assume the Blue Jays take a brief step back just in the natural flow of baseball and maybe end up three games out at some point between now and Labor Day. That same natural flow would suggest that this team then hits the gas again and it’s about whether they can survive what promises to be a dynamic September in the AL East.
What we can say for certain is this—if there were 162 games ahead of us, Toronto would be a heavy favorite. And if they find their way into the Division Series, either by an AL East title or winning a wild-card game (they have a 3 ½ game cushion to at least get in that one-game battle), then this team has no discernible weaknesses.