Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)
So the pieces are starting to come back together.
The Toronto Blue Jays will be reunited with two of the more pivotal pieces of their lineup in Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki to begin their series against the Rangers in Toronto. The importance of the duo returning to the lineup should not be understated, as their presence will not only provide a boost for a lineup that has held their own during their absence (to be fair), but also may provide a jolt of energy that the Jays may need to turn the corner and be the team we expected - and still believe them - to be.
However, let's not act like the Jays have been struggling too much without Tulo and Donaldson; they've actually performed better than we perhaps otherwise thought that they would. During the month of May alone, the Jays have won 13 out of 22 games, with their more notable players breaking out of their April woes, or carrying over their April success into the current month. Specifically, so far this month, Bautista has produced a line of .313/.421/.638, with an OPS of 1.059 in 95 plate appearances and 80 at-bats. Moreover, he has manufactured 25 hits, 18 runs, 7 home runs, 16 RBI's, with K% of 22% (21 total strikeouts), a BB% of about 14% (13 total walks), and he's reached base in 16 consecutive games going into tonight's against Texas. Compare this to his April performance, and it ought to be nothing short of encouraging. During April, Bautista had a line of .163/.302/.221, with an OPS of .523 in 106 plate appearances and 86 at-bats. His strung together only 14 hits, 12 runs, 1 home run, 6 RBI's, with a K% of 27% (29 total strikeouts) and a BB% of 15%. (16 total walks). If you thought that Bautista was washed up, or his age was catching up to him, or he just doesn't have it anymore, I hope that this evidence shows otherwise.
It gets better when you look at Devon Travis and how he has improved from April to May, as well. Looking at Travis' May numbers so far, he has a line of .362/.375/.609, with an OPS of .984 in 73 plate appearances and 69 at-bats. He's produced 25 hits, 11 runs,. 1 dinger, 10 RBI's, with a K% of 19% (14 total strikeouts), a BB% of 1% (1 total walk), and he's also riding a 9 game hitting streak going into tonight's game. Taking a look at his April numbers, and he's not dissimilar from Bautista in terms of being encouraged by the improvements. In April, Travis had a line of .130/.193/.195, with an OPS of .388 in 83 plate appearances and 77 at-bats. He managed just 10 hits, 5 runs, 1 home run, 4 RBI's, with a K% of 19% (16 total strikeouts) and a BB% of 7% (6 total walks).
Also, we can't ignore how well Kevin Pillar has been hitting, despite our projections before the start of the season. So far, he has been outstanding at the plate, laying off bad pitches and may have "figured it out" in terms of his approach and capabilities. What we perhaps thought would be short-lived success in April has carried over in the month of May. Thus far, Pillar has a line of .303/.353/.429, with an OPS of .845, producing 56 hits, 7 home runs, 13 RBI's, with a K% of 13% (27 total strikeouts), a BB% of 7% (14 total walks), over 202 plate appearances, and 185 at-bats.
With this type of production and improvement from three of the players the Jays would expect it from during the absence of both Donaldson and Tulowitzki, it's hard to ignore that perhaps the Jays are starting to turn the corner that we've all been searching for since the start of the season. When you add Tulo and Donaldson into the mix and combine the production we know they can give to the likes of Bautista, Travis, Pillar, and others in the lineup that have also contributed, perhaps this is the break we've been searching for.
As I mentioned in this week's collaborative hijacking of Jays Talk with Ryan of Jays Droppings, in order for the Jays to get back "in it," in terms of fighting for a postseason spot, they're going to need to string together some winning streaks in order to get out of the April Hole they've found themselves in; a sentiment echoed by Ross Atkins this week. It's not impossible and it's certainly not something we should regard as highly unlikely, either. With how well key pieces have been hitting, in addition to how the bench has picked up the slack for the most part, perhaps the Jays are approaching a golden opportunity to turn it around.
Now, all of this is obviously easier said than done. Prior to getting swept by Boston, the Rangers had won 9 of their last 10, but these were against some ill-respected teams, if we're being honest. It's not that impressive when you're able to win a stretch of games against the Padres, Athletics, Phillies, and Tigers. When they had to travel to Boston and face a team that - even though we hate to admit it - provides some real competition, they lost each game by an average of 4.6 runs, with the likes of Drew Pomeranz striking out 11 in last night's contest (and this is DREW POMERANZ!). With the history these two teams have, and with how the Jays were able to utterly embarrass them in last year's ALDS, and with how the club is coming back home for the next 10 games, and with the return of Donaldson and Tulowitzki, and with the team riding a 3 game winning streak after just sweeping Milwaukee in their home field, it's hard not to get a little giddy.
Looking ahead, the Jays have even more of an opportunity to gain some ground, as they host a struggling Cincinnati team for three games. The Reds have lost 7 of their last 10 (last night's game in Cleveland was postponed), Granted, they've averaged 5.6 runs per game during that span, so it's not something I would immediately scoff at. But with the Jays' lineup shaping up, and perhaps the addition of one of Happ and Liriano returning from the DL by the end of the month, the time is right for the Jays to take advantage of this opportunity.
So for now, let's get it! The Jays have been able to capitalize on the Rangers when it has counted before, and you better believe it counts right now!
They can see that corner, now they must turn that corner. Let's go!
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