Harkening back to the Toronto Blue Jays a year ago at this time is enough to make one shudder.
Munenori Kawasaki was the de facto shortstop in the absence of Jose Reyes, who was still six weeks away from returning to the lineup after sustaining a nasty ankle injury.
Starting pitcher Josh Johnson was also on the disabled list, Emilio Bonafacio was seeing action at second base, and J.P. Arencibia was the everyday catcher who was turning the strikeout into an art form whenever it came his turn to bat.
And the Blue Jays fan base was in the throes of a mass depression, their heroes who were supposed to be World Series-primed already mired in last place in the American League East, their record a dismal 13-21.
“I think last year was a little bit of a shock to everybody,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said before his Blue Jays went out to battle the Philadelphia Phillies Thursday night at Rogers Centre. “I think they always had a good attitude but everybody was kind of like they’d got hit by a two-by-four.
“I definitely feel something different this year. They’re feeling good.”
And well they should with the Blue Jays on a bit of a roll – finally – and almost everything suddenly falling into place for a team that entered the season with what could best be described as tepid optimism.
The Blue Jays had their way once again with the Phillies, winning for the fourth straight time against the National League outfit – and for the fifth time overall – smothering their opponents with another lethal display of power baseball during a 12-3 triumph.
The Blue Jays crushed five home runs in the game, including two off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion, who is munching pretty much everything he hits these days in the sweet spot.
The Blue Jays, who counted three home runs during a 10-0 whitewashing of the Phillies in the opener of the mini two-game series on Wednesday, have now stroked 17 round-trippers in their last eight games.
With the win, Toronto’s record improved to 18-17, maintaining their presence near the top of the heap in the tightly packed A.L. East.
The win was made even more delicious in that it came at the expense of A.J. Burnett, the former Blue Jays pitcher who got the start for Philadelphia and looked very ordinary in the process.
Burnett was torched for seven of the Toronto runs off nine hits, including three of the homers. His counterpart for the Blue Jays, R.A. Dickey, was rocky at times but gutted it out and received a warm round of applause when he was lifted with one out in the seventh inning.
Dickey (3-3) allowed all three of the Philadelphia runs off seven hits while striking out eight, a season high. He also walked three and had two wild pitches.
The Blue Jays received additional good news earlier in the day when they activated Adam Lind from the disabled list, where he’d spent the last three weeks or so convalescing from a bad back.
And closer Casey Janssen (back) could soon be following suit, perhaps as early as Sunday.
Lind was immediately thrust into the lineup as the designated hitter, batting sixth in the order.
He celebrated his return by driving in three of the Toronto runs, two in the sixth inning when he stroked an opposite-field home run to left that broke the game open, lifting Toronto in front 7-2.
If Lind can quickly recapture the form that saw him hitting .324 at the time he was injured, his big left-handed bat will only give Gibbons an added weapon to an already potent offence that leads the A.L. in home runs with 49 on the season.
“Everything feels good,” Lind said. “ It’s kind of a whirlwind day but that’s how it goes when you get called up to The Show.
“100 per cent full go.”
After Philadelphia went in front 1-0 in the top of the second, the Blue Jays responded right away in the bottom of the frame, tagging Burnett for two home runs in a three-run outburst.
The first was muscled out of the park by Encarnacion, who went long for the second consecutive game, a moon-shot to the second deck in left field, his second in as many games and fifth of the season. The second one was tagged by Colby Rasmus, his ninth of the year.
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