TORONTO – George Springer’s Blue Jays career didn’t start according to plan, but after spending 66 of the team’s first 70 games on the sidelines, his introduction to Toronto could hardly be going better.
On Friday, in Springer's first true home game with the Blue Jays, he contributed three hits. The next day he hit two home runs. An RBI double followed Sunday, before a two-hit game Monday and a homer and a double Tuesday.
Then on Wednesday he had his best game yet. He homered on the first pitch he saw and didn’t stop there. By the fifth inning, Springer had a four-hit game, his first with his new team, and the Blue Jays were well on their way to an 8-6 win over Cleveland.
"We're for sure energized to have the guys that we do on our roster now," Springer said. "To be back home in our home ballpark with our home fans is obviously huge. Our team understands that every game is important and we're playing for our life every single day. We have to bring the same attitude, the same aggression every single day and whatever happens at the end of the day happens."
Though he’s played in just 38 games, Springer’s making up for lost time with a .296/.380/.641 batting line and 13 home runs. With numbers like that, it’s no wonder the Blue Jays are playing their best baseball of the season since Springer’s return in late June.
"He's getting more at-bats. He's more comfortable now. I knew that was coming. I didn’t know he was going to be that good, but I knew he was going to get hot sometime," manager Charlie Montoyo said after the game. "He's doing it now. It's been impressive. It's fun to watch."
With the win Wednesday, the Blue Jays improve to 56-49 on the season and climb a season-high seven games above .500. Springer said he doesn’t look at the standings, but if he did, he’d see there's more work to be done on that front. The Blue Jays still trail the Oakland Athletics by 3.0 games for the second wildcard berth with the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners in between.
Still, nights like this illustrate how good the Blue Jays can be. Steven Matz pitched six scoreless innings while striking out eight, Corey Dickerson made some hard contact, including a two-run double, and Springer made sure there was plenty of margin for error.
In all of baseball, only the Houston Astros, Chicago White Sox, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers had better run differentials than the Blue Jays entering play Wednesday. And granted, no one hangs banners for run differential, but it still tells us something: this team is better than its record might first suggest, especially now that Jose Berrios is on the roster and Springer is healthy. So if the Blue Jays – now 5-1 since returning to Toronto – continue gaining real ground in the standings, it would hardly be surprising.
Also critical to the Blue Jays’ win was Matz, who kept Cleveland's hitters off-balance on his way to 24 called strikes on a night he walked just one. The left-hander’s outing was significant not only because of the breathing room it created Wednesday, but because of what it means going forward.
Before the game, Montoyo said the Blue Jays are expecting to return to a five-man rotation later this month once they’re through a tough stretch of 25 games in 24 days. That leaves Matz and Ross Stripling as candidates to move to a relief role and adds intrigue to each of their upcoming starts. While there’s no need to rush that decision, Matz certainly helped his own case Wednesday.
"I really was trying to get my curveball going and right from the jump I was able to get that pitch going," Matz said. "The curveball today was the big separator."
If there’s a weakness on this Blue Jays team, it’s a bullpen that lost Joakim Soria to the injured list with a finger issue before first pitch. Tayler Saucedo, who was recalled to take Soria’s roster spot, allowed four late runs to score in what was starting to look like a blowout. Later, Jordan Romano would allow two solo homers while recording the final three outs.
"I don't want to speculate," Montoyo said when asked about Soria's timeline back to the majors. "(But) that's a big loss."
In the end, none of those runs cost the Blue Jays the game, but they do underscore the vulnerability of their relief corps. With Nate Pearson expected to start pitching in rehab games soon, the Blue Jays can dream about adding some overpowering stuff to a bullpen that still includes some significant question marks.
It’s certainly not ideal, but with strong starting pitching and one of the best lineups in baseball, the Blue Jays are still winning far more often than they’re losing of late and making up significant ground in the standings as they go.