Low expectations working for Jays

No, the Toronto Blue Jays don’t want to have any part in that infamous “Saturday Night Live” skit.
Instead, they’ve set the bar high despite expectations being very low to start the season, which has translated into their best start since 2001.
Go figure.
It’s also the first time in franchise history the team has ever won four-straight series of three games or more to start a season, and the best part is they are comfortably ahead of the big spending N.Y. Yankees in the AL East so far.
Surely this can’t last, can it?
Well, you’d have to think things are going to slow down eventually, but in all honesty, the offensive pieces always have been in place.
A healthy Vernon Wells is a top-10 hitter in the American League, Lyle Overbay always has had a capable bat, and veterans Kevin Millar and Scott Rolen, who looked to be past their expiration date, have given the Jays some power and experience.
The emergence of sophomore Travis Snider gives the team some added pop, and if he can manage the ebb and flow of a long season, he could be a huge key to whether or not the Jays can sneak into the playoffs this fall.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, I’m thinking playoffs!
The most pleasant surprise so far has been the resurgence of Aaron Hill. The second baseman missed all but 55 games last season but has barely skipped a beat, heading into last night with a team-best .365 batting average and 14 RBIs. He also was tied for the team lead in homers with Marco Scutaro (four apiece).
But just as important to the Jays’ fortunes is the ability Hill and Scutaro have to turn double plays as the middle infielders. After all, the better the defensive play behind them, the better the pitchers
will look.
Despite Alex Rios’ struggles at the plate, the Jays were leading the AL in batting average, runs scored, hits, and walks heading into last night’s game against the Texas Rangers.
The bullpen was expected to be strong and has been to date, but the biggest question mark coming into the season was the starting rotation, which falls off dramatically after former Cy Young Award-winner Roy Halladay in the No. 1 spot.
However, rookie Ricky Romero has filled the shoes of the departed A.J. Burnett with an ERA under two while Canadian Scott Richmond has been surprisingly efficient.
A promising sign came Sunday afternoon when Romero led the Jays to a tight 1-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics, helping bail out the Jays’ bats in a rare off-game.
An injury to pitcher Jesse Litsch, who was pegged to be No. 2 behind Halladay in the starting rotation, is cause for some concern, especially with last year’s starters Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum already on the long-term injury list.
The Jays haven’t needed lights-out pitching so far with the way the bats have been firing, but eventually things will level out and the true mettle of these youngsters will be tested. Romero passed the first test—but many more are to come.
And optimism should be subdued further by the fact baseball’s 162-game season is more of a marathon than a sprint.
The Jays (10-4 heading into Tuesday’s action) have the third-best record in the Majors, behind only the L.A. Dodgers and Florida Marlins, who Sports Illustrated had pegged to finish fourth in the NL East (for the record, the Jays were predicted by SI to finish dead-last in the AL East).
With a roster that collectively makes less than Alex Rodriguez, the Marlins aren’t going to overwhelm anybody with star power, but were off to an 11-2 start, nonetheless.
Will it last? Not likely, but last year’s Tampa Bay Rays are a perfect example of the old mantra that “anything can happen” after their run to the World Series.
The best part about this Jays’ team has been their unwavering confidence.
Seasoned manager Cito Gaston preached high expectations in spring training when the glass looked half-empty to everyone else—and that is paying dividends so far.
“Surprised? No, not surprised. Happy? Very,” Gaston told the Canadian Press after his team’s 1-0 win over Oakland on Sunday.
“We’ve done things right, we’ve caught some breaks here and there, the guys have pitched well, and the guys have hit well.”
Seems like a simple enough formula to me—and something Toronto’s other major sports team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, should take a page from.
The Leafs stressed the playoffs were a pipe dream way back in training camp, and it ultimately was their undoing all season as they lacked the killer instinct needed to squeeze into the post-season.
Sure, the Leafs weren’t very good on paper, but when you set the bar low yourself, you can bet you’ll stay underneath it.
Here’s hoping the Jays can ride the wave of a long season and deliver a playoff berth.
It’s been a long time coming.

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