A quarter of the way into the season, the American League East is shaping up as the bloodbath so many expected it would be. Anybody notice that the Rays, having won four straight, made it back to .500 after thumping the A’s last night? And that the Yankees, having stripped and sold the Twins for parts en route to a six-game winning streak, are now 21-17, a game behind the Red Sox? The Sox have done their part, holding steady despite shaky starting pitching, a rash of injuries, and the dramatic decline of David Ortiz.
The team still hovering above all of them remains the team coming into Fenway Park tonight: The Toronto Blue Jays, at 27-14, the proud owners of the best record in the American League. (Quiz: Who has the second best record in the AL? Answer at bottom.)
The Blue Jays have made a tough division even more dangerous from nowhere. A lot of people who predict things predicted even the Baltimore Orioles would beat them out for fourth place.
This series might test their legitimacy. The Blue Jays have not faced the Red Sox or Rays this season, and they’ve played 15 of their 41 games against teams that currently have a winning record. (They’ve gone 8-7.) They played three against the Yankees last week, losing two.
Other indicators suggest the Blue Jays are not playing over their collective head. First of all, 41 games is a full quarter of the season and nothing to scoff at in terms of a sample size. Their Pythagorean winning expectation is .644, less than a game difference from their actual .659 winning percentage. The Jays have scored more runs (234) than any team in the majors. They’ve done so with an ordinary batting average on balls put in play. It’s .312, 10 points above the league average, tied with the Red Sox for fifth in the AL.
How have they done it? Fist, The Amazing Roy Halladay, who has eight wins in nine starts, pitches for them. Like the Rays last season, they’ve assembled an imposing collection of young hitters. Second baseman Aaron Hill (27), designated hitter Adam Lind (25), and left fielder Travis Snider (21) have mixed with veterans Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, and Scott Rolen to erase the offensive ineptitude that for several seasons wasted the talents of Halladay.
The Jays are no longer languishing behind their AL East competitors. In a season when the division might be better than ever, they’re suddenly leading it. The series that starts tonight may provide insight as to how long they’ll stay there.
Quiz answer: At 23-14 (.622), it’s the Texas Rangers. The AL West leaders are currently on a seven-game winning streak.