Can the Blue Jays keep up their winning ways?

Can the Blue Jays keep up their winning ways?

Can the Blue Jays keep up their winning ways?
By DAVE CAREY

The team atop the American League East standings has the best hitting lineup in baseball.

But it’s not Red Sox. It’s not the Yankees. It’s not even the Rays.

It’s the Toronto Blue Jays.

The majors’ biggest early season surprise has been its lone team north of the border, as the Blue Jays (21-12 SU, 20-13 O/U) have feasted on opposing pitching. The team’s hitting is incredibly balanced, featuring Aaron Hill (.351 BA, 28 RBI), Adam Lind (.336, 31 RBI), Vernon Wells (.286 BA, 18 RBI) and Scott Rolen (.306, 12 RBI).

Those four have bolstered a lineup that leads the majors in batting (.292 BA), hits (353), runs (199), doubles (77), RBIs (190) and total bases (565). Blue Jay hitters also have smacked 43 home runs - third-most - and drawn 130 walks - sixth best.

But there are several notable flaws for the team that leads the American League in victories and has surpassed the over more times than any team this season, including a ridiculous 13-5 over mark on the road.

“The Blue Jays are a .500 level team masquerading as contenders here in early season play,” said Covers Expert Ted Sevransky. “Every facet of the team has overachieved through the first month of the season - the suspect starting pitching, the bullpen, the lineup…. This team is leading the major leagues in runs scored, and I certainly don't see that continuing indefinitely.”

The first issue with the Blue Jays is the pitching. The team’s 4.24 earned-run average is the 12th-lowest in the bigs, but the staff has allowed the seventh-most hits (287), the eighth-most home runs (36), the 10th-most earned runs (142) and has converted just six of 11 save opportunities.

Everyone knows Roy Halladay (6-1, 3.29 ERA) is a perennial Cy Young contender, but starters Scott Richmond (4-1, 3.29 ERA) and Brian Tallet (2-1, 4.95 ERA) have played above their talent level. And even when the team has several pitchers, such as Ricky Romero (2-0, 1.71 ERA) return from injury, it will take time to work them back into the lineup and regain their early-season form.

The Blue Jays have yet to face the Rays, Red Sox or Yankees this season, with a combined 54 games remaining against the past three teams to win the division. And don’t forget, Toronto began 2006 with a 31-23 record and was as many as 12 games above .500 in the second half, but ultimately finished with 87 wins and was again home for October as the club lost the division by 10 games.

“Even when guys like Jesse Litsch, Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan are healthy enough to rejoin the rotation, I'm not convinced that the pitching can be any better than it has been over the first month of the season,” Sevransky said. “I'll give [manager] Cito Gaston all the credit in the world - he's doing an amazing job with a fairly limited squad. But the reality is that even if Toronto exceeds my expectations -- I personally bet them under 80 wins prior to the season - I can't see them winning more than 85-86 games in a best case scenario.”

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