MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — It seems not to be a coincidence that the Toronto Blue Jays have been heating up since the arrival of Ryan Goins from triple-A Buffalo, and there’s good reason why his legend seems to be growins as each game passes by.
The young shortstop-turned-second baseman started his career like a house afire at the plate, racking up an eight-game hit streak to tie the Blue Jays’ club debut record set by Jesse Barfield back in 1981, but it’s been his work in the field that has helped out his new team so much more.
It feels as though we gush about Goins’s defensive work every day, and we may well, but it’s not a case of going overboard on a guy because the truth is that Goins does so many things that are eminently gushworthy.
He made two dazzling plays on defence in the Blue Jays' Sunday afternoon win at Target Field. With one out in the fourth, he ranged far to his left on an Oswaldo Arcia grounder, slid to haul it in, transferred the ball to his throwing hand mid-slide and fired a strike to first. With any other player the Blue Jays have had at second base this season (with the exception of maybe Brett Lawrie, but he was already on the field at third), that's an easy single and perhaps the start to a rally in what was, at the time, a tie game.
In the sixth Goins came up even bigger, although the play he made showed less of his terrific range and more of his baseball smarts, his strong, accurate arm and the ice that appears to be flowing through his veins.
In a game that was still looking for its first run, the Twins had men on first and third with nobody out and the Blue Jays infield was playing back, willing to trade a run for two outs. Chris Herrmann hit a hard grounder to second and Goins fielded it cleanly. Instead of flipping to Jose Reyes to start a double play, though, Goins fired a perfect strike to J.P. Arencibia at the plate, easily cutting down Pedro Florimon, who was coming home with what would have been the go-ahead run for the home side.
That one play showed Goins has a great inner clock, strong baseball savvy and the proverbial guts of a burglar, and all those things will stand him in good stead as he tries to make the case for a big league job beyond this late-season audition.
It didn't hurt, either, that the 25-year-old went 2-for-3 to raise his big-league line to .314/.327/.373.
The offence is something that Goins hasn't brought to the table in his pro career to this point, having hit just .257/.311/.369 with Buffalo this season to drop his career totals to .273/.330/.376 in five minor league seasons. He's had 2,165 plate appearances as a minor pro and hit just 19 home runs. He stole 30 bases in 58 tries and hasn't attempted one yet in the big leagues. So there are a lot of things that, historically, Ryan Goins doesn't do well.
What we know that he does do well, though, is make a first impression. It's pretty much impossible to have made a better one than he has with the Blue Jays.
More importantly, he really does appear to have solidified the infield defence, and right or wrong, it feels as though it's more difficult to be tricked by a first impression of fielding prowess than it is by offence.
Is it a coincidence that the Blue Jays have gone 10-5 since Goins took over at second base in the absence of Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio's less than stellar work at the position? More than likely, it is, just as much as it's a coincidence that the Blue Jays are 43-40 with Munenori Kawasaki on the roster and 24-36 without him.
But what is readily apparent is that with Goins taking the field alongside Jose Reyes and Brett Lawrie, each of whom missed about half the season on the shelf, the Blue Jays' infield defence has gone from sub-par to really, really good. Teams now have to earn their ground ball hits, and that has given the pitching a boost as well.
Is Goins the answer at second base for the Blue Jays into 2014 and beyond? If he's looked at as a glove-first, bottom-of-the-order guy, then maybe indeed.