Looking at the AL standings this morning, only two things struck me as out of place. Seeing the Mariners in last is still a bit of a surprise, but one I’m growing accustomed to. The other, though, is seeing the Red Sox in fourth place. Heading into the season it looked like the AL East might host three of the best five teams in the league, if not the three best overall. Yet the Red Sox sit at .500, 3.5 games behind the third place Blue Jays. That, actually, makes three surprises.
I wasn’t the only person who thought that the Blue Jays would take their lumps this season. Their pitching became far weaker after trading Roy Halladay, and the main pitcher they received in return, Kyle Drabek, likely won’t be ready until next year at the earliest, and even then he’ll likely never reach Halladay’s status. Their offense also looked unimposing. Yet so far this season the Blue Jays have scored 5.17 runs per game, fourth in the AL. Their pitching staff has allowed 4.39 runs per game, a tick better than league average. These performances have propelled them to a 24-17 record, which is exactly in line with their Pythagorean mark.
The strangest aspect of the offensive explosion is where the Jays have received the production. Adam Lind has experienced a power outage, and has a .304 wOBA. Aaron Hill, who hit the DL after just two games, has barely hit since returning. Lyle Overbay, normally a solid contributor, hasn’t been driving the ball and has been largely unproductive. But still, the Blue Jays score. John Buck, Jose Bautista, and Alex Gonzalezhave essentially replaced the production, at least temporarily, that the team expected from Lind, Hill, and Overbay. Add in a Vernon Wells resurgence, and it’s a winning formula in the short-term.
In the long-term, the Jays will need Lind and Hill to start producing, since they can’t expect Buck, Bautista, and Gonzalez to maintain their current paces. Buck in particular has been the product of a hot May, in which he’s already produce a .513 wOBA. In April that was a more reasonable, for him, .320. The Alex Gonzalex honeymoon appears over after a wonderful April, in which he produced 6.4 wRAA on the strength of a .404 wOBA. In May he’s at -1.2 wRAA an a .305 wOBA, which is more reflective of his true talent.
What figures to hurt a lot is the absence of Travis Snider. After a slow start Snider has started to break out, posting a .477 wOBA in May before spraining his right wrist. That means certain playing time for Fred Lewis and Jose Bautista, both of whom are hot. Maybe Bautista is for real, too, as Dave examined earlier this week. It’s tough to say how well Snider will hit upon his return. His lack of experience in the league, combined with the power-sapping potential of a wrist injury, means they can’t expect he’ll continue his breakout. But maybe, as with the rest of the roster, they’ll receive an unexpected contribution from elsewhere. Just last night, for instance, Edwin Encarnacion, who swapped places with Snider on the DL, hit his second home run of the season. If he returns to his 2007 or 2008 production level, the Jays will more easily be able to weather the loss of Snider.
We’re only about a quarter of the way through the season, and plenty figures to change before we see Game 162. The Jays probably won’t stay in third place, as the top three in the AL East all feature better rosters. But given how well they’ve played this year, the Jays are one of the bigger surprises this year. Even when their best and most established hitters have slumped, others have produced in their steads. The first stage of the rebuilding plan, it seems, has gotten off on the right foot.