Cleveland Indians (18-20) @ Toronto Blue Jays (19-20)

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Blue Jays

May 12, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista is greeted by left fielder Melky Cabrera and catcher Dioner Navarro after hitting a home run in the first inning against Los Angeles Angels at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Indians Travel North to Take on Blue Jays

Much like the 2013 version of themselves, the 2014 Indians appear to be a team of streaks. After losing six straight road games on the west coast, the Indians have followed that up by winning seven out of their last ten games against the White Sox, Twins, and Rays. Unfortunately, this most recent streak hasn’t done much in the way of climbing up the standings. At 18-20, the Indians still find themselves 5.5 games back of the equally hot Tigers in the central.

This week the Indians will keep up their winning ways as they travel to Toronto to take on Mark Buehrle, Jose Bautista and the rest of the Blue Jays.

The early part of the 2014 season has been frustrating for the Blue Jays, to say the least. It’s the type of frustration that the Indians can relate to. Entering into their game on Monday against the Angels, the Blue Jays had compiled a record of 20-18 and also find themselves sitting in fourth place in their division. However, unlike the Indians, the Blue Jays problems have not been due to offensive ineptness. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite.

Offensively speaking, the Blue Jays have been among the best in the league at scoring runs. With a total of 187 runs scored entering play on Monday night, the Jays ranked 3rd in all of baseball. They’re aided by the fact that they are also among the best in baseball at hitting the ball out of the ballpark. With two more homers hit on Monday, they have hit 52 big flies, second only to the 57 home runs hit by the Rockies. As a result of all that power, the Blue Jays rank third in baseball with a slugging percentage of .433.

It’s no secret though that the Blue Jays can hit the ball out of the ball park. They are routinely among the league leaders in terms of home runs and slugging percentage. This is thanks largely in part to their dynamic duo in the heart of the order, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Bautista is once again the league leaders in home runs with 10 and while Encarnacion got off to a slow start powerwise (he has only belted 6 home runs so far), he has shown signs of coming around.

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May 3, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista (19) hits a home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the sixth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 8-6. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

However, the Blue Jays offensive dominance is not solely a by-product of Bautista and Encarnacion. They have had help. Actually, they have had a lot of help.

After struggling for much of the 2013 season, Melky Cabrera is once again playing like the player many thought he was. With the embarassment of a steroid suspension behind him, Cabrera looks like an all-star once again with a slash line of .333/.365/.525. His 54 hits are far and way the most on the team and when grouped with Bautista’s .287/.430/.537 and Encarnacion’s .252/.337/.483, that’s a daunting task for any opposing pitcher.

Also helping out are the role players. Colby Rasmus has come to life over the past two weeks with a .258/.315/.654 slash line and ridiculous 5 home runs and 12 RBI in that span. Brett Lawrie has also come to life a bit. His average and on base percentage continue to lag at .229 and .276 respectively, but he has contributed 7 homers and 23 RBI. Even Adam Lind was contributing prior to going on the DL. He was hitting .304/.429/.522 to start the season. He returned to action this past weekend and looks to continue where he left off.

One thing that hasn’t gone right for the Blue Jays offensively is Jose Reyes. More specifically, Jose Reyes’ bat. Expected to be the catalyst at the top of the lineup, Reyes has struggles mightily to stay healthy and find his swing. Both seem like they are coming around, Reyes has raised his paltry slash line to .213/.290/.393 and his past five games, a combined 6 for 17 with 9 runs scored is reason to be encouraged if you are a fan of the Blue Jays.

What’s not encouraging is the Blue Jays’ pitching staff, which ranks among one of the worst in all of Major League Baseball. Statistically speaking, there isn’t  whole lot to like. With a staff ERA of 4.49, 1.45 WHIP, and .260 batting average against, the Blue Jays rank 25th, 29th, and 23rd respectively. One of the biggest culprits of their lack of success has been the starting rotation, which has failed to make any real strides towards respectability, that is of course with the exception of Mark Buehrle.

Buehrle has been fantastic in 2014. After Monday’s victory over the Angels, he has run his record on the year to 7-1 with an ERA of 2.04 and 1.25 WHIP. He has been arguably the most consistent and dominant pitcher in the American League. It kind of makes you wonder why the White Sox were so willing to part ways with the veteran left hander.

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May 1, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Mark Buehrle (56) delivers a warm up pitch in the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Toronto won 7-3. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

However, after Buehrle things fall off drastically. R.A. Dickey, one of the key acquisitions heading into the 2013 season has failed to live up to expectations. His knuckleball has not translated well to the AL East. So far in 2014 he has posted a 3-3 record with a 4.72 ERA. By any other measure those numbers would be respectable, but after winning a CY Young and being one of the centerpieces of one of the biggest trades in baseball two offseasons ago, the bar is set much higher than where Dickey is performing.

Beyond that, it’s a real Pu Pu platter of mediocrity for the Blue Jays. Brandon Morrow, a once highly touted pitching prospect with a live arm has struggled with injuries throughout his career. Once thought of their ace of the future, the Jays would just like to see him make it through a season healthy. So far so good on that front, but a 5.93 ERA and one quality start to his credit leaves a lot to be desired. The same can be said for the rest of the rotation, which consists of Drew Hutchinson, J.A. Happ, and Dustin McGowan. All have posted ERAs over 4 and none has looked like a long-term solution.

Even the bullpen has raised questions. With the exception of Brett Cecil, no one is really all that reliable out there for the Jays. Sergio Santos, believed by many to be the team’s closer lost his job before the first month of the season was a distant memory. Three blown saves and an ERA over 9 will do that though. He did himself and the Blue Jays no favors and as a result has been demoted from the closer’s role.

It’s because of the pitching that the Blue Jays find themselves in the position they currently do. According to the theory of Pythagorean record, the Blue Jays should have a winning percentage of .540 (21-18). However, because the pitching has faltered so badly, they have only posted a .487 winning percentage (19-20). If the Blue Jays could put together even a respectable performance on the mound, how good could they really be? Unfortunately, we may never know as they continue to waste season after impressive season of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and company.

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