TORONTO — Thursday night’s win against the Philadelphia Phillies couldn’t have gone a whole lot better for the Toronto Blue Jays, who are continuing to show impressive power up and down the lineup.
The 12-6 win included a bit of everything for the Blue Jays, now above the .500 mark after winning five consecutive games. On the pitching side, there was a quality start from R.A. Dickey and the impressive Rogers Centre debut of Marcus Stroman. On offence there was a home run from Adam Lind in his first game back from the disabled list, another round tripper for the streaking Colby Rasmus and yet another homer from Juan Francisco, who’s looking more and more like a valuable player.
But Edwin Encarnacion’s two-home run night was undoubtedly the most encouraging sign of all for the Blue Jays, who improved to 18-17 in front of 18,158 by sweeping the Phillies out of town. Encarnacion blasted his 200th career home run in the second inning and followed it up with a second homer in the seventh inning. By the end of the game, Encarnacion had three hits and a .257/.344/.493 batting line, erasing memories of a slow start.
“It’s something we knew we could do,” Encarnacion said with third base coach Luis Rivera interpreting. “We’ve got a good ballclub and we have a lot of guys that can swing the bat. If we continue swinging the bat the way we are now, we’re going to have a great year.”
Looking back a few years makes the 200 home run plateau all the more impressive. Though Encarnacion has established himself as one of the game’s top right-handed bats, it wasn’t all that long ago that he was battling for his roster spot. The Blue Jays designated Encarnacion for assignment four years ago and the Athletics non-tendered him after claiming him on waivers later in 2010. Encarnacion was proud to reach and surpass the 200 home run mark against some long odds.
"There were tough years and I had to work through it," Encarnacion said. "I learned from those years, but they made me a better player. I knew deep down that I was capable of being the player I am now."
More importantly for the 2014 Blue Jays, Encarnacion is hitting again. He started the season slowly, struggling to find his power stroke and striking out more than usual. But his .837 on-base plus slugging is well above the MLB average of .707, an impressive uptick considering Encarnacion’s OPS was hovering around .670 until two weeks ago.
Francisco, meanwhile, has started his Blue Jays career on a tear with five home runs in his first 17 games. While it'll be more difficult to work him into the lineup once Brett Lawrie returns this weekend, manager John Gibbons promises to find a way to get him at-bats nonetheless.
"He deserves it," Gibbons said. "We're better with him in there, I would say."
Francisco's power is just one of the many reasons that Toronto's lineup has averaged five runs per game this year.
“We’re some kind of hot right now," Gibbons said. "Realistically, if you look at the way the lineup is, there are some pretty good hitters in there and they’re all swinging it. It’s dangerous. Of course you put us in this ballpark, and it’s home run heaven.”
The Blue Jays aren’t going to out-pitch the best teams in the American League, which is why their lineup is so crucial to their success. With contributions coming from up and down the batting order and a breakout game from Encarnacion, the Blue Jays can legitimately hope to remain one of the best offensive teams in the league.