Perhaps Alex Anthopoulos knew what he was doing all along.
The general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays was a virtual human punching bag during the off-season, roundly criticized for doing very little in the way of orchestrating any substantial upgrades to a club that finished a deserving last in the American League East with a 74-88 record in 2013.
The starting rotation was a shambles and there was a belief that the roster could use another power bat off the bench in order to be in any way relevant in 2014.
After his team got off to a rocky start, Anthopoulos’s stand-pat policy is proving to be the correct approach as the Blue Jays return home from Boston with a swagger in their step and the knowledge that the next three weeks could prove vital to their ultimate success this season.
The Blue Jays (26-22) put the finishing touches on a very satisfying road trip Thursday afternoon, manhandling the Boston Red Sox (20-26) 7-2 at Fenway Park to cap a three-game series sweep against the defending World Series champion, Toronto’s eighth triumph in its past 10 outings.
For the reeling Red Sox, the loss represented their seventh in a row, their longest futility steak since they ended the 2012 campaign with an eight-game tailspin.
The Blue Jays have now won three consecutive series and the surge has lifted Toronto to the top of the standings in the AL East, which is usually baseball’s beacon of excellence.
Toronto began the day in a tie for first place with New York Yankees, a vantage point the Blue Jays have not enjoyed at this late stage of the season since May, 2009.
As none of the teams in the AL East have exactly displayed a willingness to break away from the pack, the timing of Toronto’s hot streak could be fortuitous. The Blue Jays return home to Rogers Centre, where they will play 16 of their next 19 games.
The Blue Jays will open at home Friday night with the first of a three-game weekend set against the AL West-leading Oakland Athletics, the highest-scoring team in the league.
As they did in the two previous games, the Blue Jays did not waste any time rattling the chains of the Boston starting pitcher, with Melky Cabrera and then Jose Bautista swatting home runs off Jon Lester in the first inning to provide Toronto with a quick 2-0 lead.
Toronto then tagged on five more in the second to eliminate most of the drama from the contest.
For Bautista, the home run was his 12th of the season. He would finish the game going 3-for-5 with two runs batted in, his average now up to .297.
Jose Reyes collected a hit in five at-bats but it was key, driving in two runs in the second inning that brought the score to 4-1.
Edwin Encarnacion, who had belted two home runs in each of the first two games against Boston, was restricted to a couple of singles on Thursday and made several fine defensive plays at first base. In the three-game series, Encarnacion went 6-for-15 with eight RBIs.
There is really no secret behind Toronto’s recent success; big bats supported by solid starting pitching.
COMPARISON OF STARTING PITCHING THROUGH FIRST 47 GAMES
|2013 Blue Jays||11||18||254.1||163||41||187||5.38||.273|
|2014 Blue Jays||20||13||264.1||123||21||211||3.88||.258|
RUNS=Runs Allowed; HR=Home Runs; K=Strikeouts; OBA=Opponent Batting Avg.
Veteran lefty Mark Buehrle was on the mound for Toronto and he continued his remarkable season, becoming the first eight-game winner this season against just one loss in 10 starts.
Buehrle was typically stingy, relying on his pinpoint accuracy to limit Boston hitters to just two runs off seven hits over seven innings, his ERA a solid 2.19. He has now allowed two or fewer runs in nine of his ten starts.
Buehrle didn’t win his eighth game last season until Aug. 10.
With the two home runs Toronto hit in the first inning in support of Buehrle, the Blue Jays have now out-homered the opposition 49-25 since April 25. Over all, Toronto leads the Majors with 67 homers on the year.
But it is on the mound that the Blue Jays have seen the most dramatic improvement this season.
Last season after 47 games, the Blue Jays were already comfortably ensconced in last place with a 20-27 record, 8.5 games off the pace.
The starting pitching was already in disarray with an overall record of 11-18 and a combined ERA of 5.38. Toronto’s starters finished with season with a collective ERA of 4.81, the second worst mark in the Majors.
This season through the first 47 games, Toronto starter have gone 20-13 with a collective ERA of 3.88, the sixth-best total in the AL.