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Long-Awaited Triumph in the Bronx Revives October Dreams

kawa

The Blue Jays have won seven of ten games since the all-star break. They just snapped a 17-game losing streak at Yankee Stadium. They currently hold the second wild card spot by a full game over said Yankees. And they’ve done so without Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie, and Colby Rasmus’ talent.

Ok, that last part was cold. The man has done his best, despite the return of his feast or famine tendencies.

What’s made the difference? One could provide a number of answers, and I’m no different.

1. The Kids are Alright.

I love looking back on the previous incarnation of Jays Balk a few years back, when I basically stated that a winning team does not have Jose Bautista in its starting lineup. He then proceeded to hit 54 home runs and cement himself as one of the marquee players in the game. There’s a reason I’m not a seer.

I also thought that the Jays would be foolish to rush top prospects Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez to the majors, citing how teams like the Rays choose to have their prospects play a full year at each level of the minors to groom them properly. I think of guys like Travis Snider, rushed up at the age of 21, developing a sense of entitlement, and ultimately having his development stunted. He’s never lived up to his massive potential.

Well, as I was with Bautista, I was (so far) dead wrong about the fellas in their early 20s who have essentially saved the season for the injury-riddled Jays.

We talk a lot about small sample sizes on this site, so why not do it some more? Aaron Sanchez’ major league debut was a rousing success, freezing two Red Sox with his nasty curve ball, and hitting 99 on the radar gun, while barely looking like he’s breaking a sweat. Seriously, have you ever seen such effortless-looking mechanics for a guy who nearly touches triple digits on the radar gun?

Yes, he blew the save yesterday, but he also picked up his first major league victory – and at Yankee Stadium too. No biggie. He’s provided the Jays with a (so-far) reliable right-handed power arm at the back of the bullpen, which is very necessary with Steve Delabar and Sergio Santos failing to reach expectations this year.

In a significantly larger sample of games – starts, too – Stroman has not only looked comfortable in the majors; one could argue that he’s taken over the role of ace of this staff.

Consider that in ten starts, the Stro-show has given up only 46 hits in 61 innings, allowing only 15 earned runs. He’s walked 14 and struck out 55. Opposing hitters are only batting .207 off him. He’s only allowed 13 extra-base hits. Oh, and he had a no-hitter through six innings on Thursday. His ERA as a starter? 2.21.

So, right now, I’m going to pledge to not tell Alex Anthopoulos how to use his assets anymore – until the next time I’m inclined to.

2. The New Deck Chairs Seem More Comfortable

When a team experiences this many injuries to this many key pieces, it’s the depth on the roster that can make the difference between completely fading out of the playoff picture, and treading water.

Obviously, in the last couple months, we’ve seen a little of column A, and a little of column B.

AA has been forced to experiment with some guys, and he’s obviously seen mixed results. Brad Glenn was a bad idea, and was probably given more chances than he deserved, as a result of that string of lefties they had to face when they called him up. Darin Mastroianni is probably not a major league talent, and he was given far too many starts, thanks to the afore-mentioned struggles of Colby Rasmus (especially against lefties).

Fast forward to now, and a few more recent moves have worked out pretty well. Munenori Kawasaki has exceeded expectations at the dish, and has provided adequate defence at both second and third base. Waiver claims like Nolan Reimold worked out pretty well – for all of three games before he shockingly got hurt. He’s back now, and the jury is still out.

But one move that stands out is the off-season signing of Dan Johnson.

Is he a starting first baseman in the major leagues? Hell no – he’s a guy who has a disappointing .237 career average and has below-average power for a first baseman.

But what he does provide is a veteran bat that can play every day in AAA, who can play pretty good defence, who has a history of hitting clutch home runs (ask the Rays), and is a better option as a fill-in than some Brad Glenn-type who has had success in the minors, but not a lick of major league experience.

He had a huge homer on Saturday against the Yankees, and he provides a veteran presence in the dugout.

Now they just need to avoid over-exposing him like Juan Francisco has been.

3. Dioner Navarro – a Real Catcher.

I’ve raved about him in this space numerous times already, so I’ll keep this one shorter.

Why is the rotation better this season? You simply can’t under-estimate the value of a guy who actually knows how to call a major league game.

He’s also thrown out 24% of runners this season, has hit a very respectable .270 at the dish, and his 42 RBI are the most he’s had since 2008.

Should he be hitting clean-up? Absolutely not. But the battle of attrition that has been this season has seen some odd things happen. And you can’t argue with results.

Josh Thole and Erik Kratz also deserve honourable mention, as catching a knuckleball isn’t easy, nor is getting consistency out of J.A. Happ.

Obviously there have been other factors for the team’s success. We can make fun of guys like Happ and Francisco, but they’ve certainly provided value to the team this season, and it’s hard to imagine where the Jays would be without them.

And even though he’s made me shake my head a few times with his lineup choices, you’ve got to think Gibby has done a couple things right this season.

TONIGHT!

The Blue Jays open a three-game set at the field of dreams that is Fenway Park. And it’s a pretty ideal time to do so, as things are unraveling quickly in Beantown.

Just a week after the “red hot Red Sox” were surging, losing three of four to your Blue Jays has pretty much ended their season – for now. I mean, we all counted out the Rays a couple months ago, didn’t we?

Jake Peavy, dealt away. Jon Lester says he’s alright with being traded as well. Felix Doubront and his 5+ ERA are livid that he wasn’t handed a rotation spot after the departure of Peavy. David Ortiz has become public enemy #1 for daring to pimp a home run against a division rival.

Oh, and John Farrell might NOT be the messiah.

Tonight, the last place defending champs will throw the pitcher formerly known as Clay Buchholz (5.50 ERA and all) against R.A. Dickey and his losing record and ERA just above 4.

It’s a rematch of last Wednesday, when Dickey allowed the first three batters he faced to score, but still managed to pick up the win, because ole’ Greaseball was even worse.

Here’s tonight’s lineup:

1. Jose Reyes SS
2. Melky Cabrera LF
3. Jose Bautista DH
4. Juan Francisco 1B
5. Colby Rasmus CF
6. Munenori Kawasaki 3B
7. Josh Thole C
8. Ryan Goins 2B
9. Anthony Gose RF

Six straight lefties close out the lineup, and if the team wasn’t playing so well, I’d definitely bitch about Kawasaki hitting 6th – mind you, nobody below him is any more intimidating.

Let’s be honest, the bottom four of this lineup is hideous, and that’s being generous to Johnny McFrank and Colby.

Stay hot, fellas. Welcome back, everybody.

For Jays Balk, I’m @TheAsherRoth.

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