Before the season started, the Blue Jays were considered one the best offensive teams in baseball. So far, they haven't even been one of the best offensive teams in their own division, with Boston, Baltimore and even Tampa outproducing them in most major statistics. This, along with the difficulty of building a bridge between the starters and Osuna have been the two biggest disappointments of the Blue Jays season so far.
A pair statistics however really stood out 24 hours ago:
1) Before yesterday, the Blue Jays had not won a game all season in which their opponent scored more than three runs (0-21).
2) Before yesterday, Russell Martin had only one extra base hit all season (He now of course has three after blasting two home runs into the outfield seats last night).
I'm not sure which is more stunning, but the fact that both of those existed for the first 47 games of of the season goes a long way into telling you how problematic this area has been. More importantly however, seeing a game play out with both of those statistics erased gave you a glimpse of how this team could operate if the machine starts operating on all cylinders.
Here's a list of OPS numbers the Blue Jays have posted from each position so far this season:
Left Field: .949
Right Field: .886
Third Base: .817
Designated Hitter: .773
First Base: .674
Center Field: .635
Second Base: .583
I mention this because something else important happened last night; Devon Travis made his season debut at second base. Notice which two positions the Blue Jays have gotten the least amount of offensive production from so far this season.
If last night's game really is the start of a breakout for Martin, this really could be the turning point for the Blue Jay bats. This is because I would argue that the horrendous production at the bottom of that list has proved to be an anchor to the unit as a whole. Automatic outs at the bottom of the lineup, lots of runners left in scoring position when the big sticks get on in front of them, and increased pressure on guys like Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to come through every time their spot comes up. Take away the anchor, and I think you start seeing good things happen all over the place.
It remains to be seen if Martin can build off of his two long balls last night. It was a very warm and muggy night in the Bronx (l live just over a 100 miles to the northeast of where this game took place I can tell you that it truly felt like summer for the first time all year). The ball really travels in this weather, and I'm not sure both of those balls get out in April.
However, sometimes all a player needs is a little bit of confidence to get going. You could see the relief on Martin's face when he got a hold of the second one. There was almost a bit of a "Hey, I'm still a good hitter" expression, which is a nice. It can't be a "He's back!" game unless he follows it up with more good at bats, but if he starts hitting like the Russell Martin of old instead of like an old Russell Martin from here on out (and Devon Travis fills the black hole at second base) this lineup will be stronger than it's been all season.
Add in a little more production from shortstop (Even if Tulo's not the hitter he used to be, I'm pretty sure he can pull that .661 number north), and all of a sudden the lineup is a strength again. Maybe not the lay waste to the league unit we thought it was going to be going into the season, but something that should pound the stuffing out of opposing teams a little more often than we've seen so far.
Last night's game was the perfect example of how valuable having the offense mash is to this team. When the Jays led 2-1 in the middle innings, it felt like that game we've seen a dozen times already this year. Toronto has the lead at the midway point, they can't add on, the starter reaches the end of their rope, and the game goes up in flames before it's passed to Osuna.
That didn't happen this time though. For once, the Jays added on and they added on big with one in the sixth, four in the seventh, and another in the eighth, and Russell Martin was right in the middle of it all.
The road was still a bit bumpy as the Jays had to use Osuna in the ninth, but the offense made the three runs the Yankees scored in the last three innings largely irrelevant. If they can do that more often, the bullpen struggles won't hurt nearly as much since they'll be put into more low leverage situations.
Can the Jays make a habit of winning more games like the one on Wednesday? We'll see. Baseball tends to be impossible to predict. I know one thing though, if this team has a run in it, it's going to include a bunch more wins of that variety.