Blue Jays Quickly Changing Landscape of AL East, Have Golden Opportunity While Facing Red Sox

R.A. Dickey, Jose ReyesBOSTON — When the Blue Jays last visited Fenway Park in mid-May, they were in shambles. Despite taking two of three from the Red Sox, the Jays left Boston with a 15-24 record and 9 1/2 games back in the American League East.

That’s not the same team dropping by Fenway this weekend.

The Blue Jays have climbed back into the thick of things, and they enter a four-game series against the Red Sox with a golden opportunity. Not only can the Jays make up even more ground in the congested AL East race, but a good showing will also go a long way toward showing whether their ongoing hot streak is legitimate or fraudulent.

The Jays enter Thursday’s series opener with a major league-best 16-6 record in June. They won 11 in a row from June 11-23, they’re just 6 1/2 games behind Boston for the division lead, and everything seems to be coming together for a team that many considered to be the class of the AL East following an active offseason.

“I think everybody in the game saw them to be a very strong team,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “Just from the outside looking in, they’re pitching much more consistent. Their bullpen has been outstanding. Obviously the guy we’re going to go up against tonight in [Chien-Ming] Wang [who] has given them a lift. So the fact that they’re above .500 [and] they’re clearly in the hunt in this division is not surprising I don’t think to anyone.”

The Blue Jays’ resurgence isn’t all that surprising given the talent in place on the active roster. The lineup is extremely potent, and the pitching staff consists of hurlers who have had success at the big league level. But a rough start to the season — which saw the Blue Jays fall to nine games below .500 and 12 games back in the division on June 10 — created questions about whether they had dug themselves too deep a hole.

The hole no longer seems bottomless.

The Blue Jays have posted a major league-best 2.11 ERA and 1.07 WHIP since June 13. The starters have a 2.57 ERA since that date, and Toronto’s relievers have posted a major league-best 1.02 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and .160 batting average against since May 29. All of the recent pitching success coincides with the usual powerful offense, which has Jose Reyes back healthy and leads the majors with 33 multiple-home run games.

The Blue Jays now arrive in Boston bearing shovels, as they look to continue working their way out of the depths of the AL East.

“I can’t speak to what the thought is in their clubhouse. I know that we’ll be challenged this weekend,” Farrell said. “We don’t look at any series differently than if it’s another club in our division. They come in having played much better in the month of June. I don’t think where we are today is a surprise to anyone around the game – and that is that you have five teams that are clearly within striking distance of a division title.”

Obviously, we’re only nearing the season’s halfway point, so standings shouldn’t be overanalyzed. But when you fall to the back of the pack as early as the Blue Jays did, you must take advantage of every opportunity to play to catch-up, and Toronto has an excellent chance of gaining ground against the Red Sox.

The Blue Jays will go up against Jon Lester, Allen Webster, Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster in the weekend series. Lester has been struggling, Webster is a rookie, Doubront is still making strides and Dempster surrendered six runs on three home runs the last time he faced the Jays. The Red Sox have pushed through unfavorable matchups in the past, but they’ll be trying to fend off a streaking bunch.

The Blue Jays proved earlier this season that they’re not perfect. Now, they’re proving that they’re also not as bad as they originally led us to believe.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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