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Expectations skyrocket for red-hot Blue Jays
By THE SPORTS XCHANGE

TORONTO — The unreal rise of the Toronto Blue Jays is built on a solid foundation of reality.

It is called preparation and whatever the results this season, from struggling in May to soaring in August, there has been a consistency in the approach of the team each day.

This steadiness, they hope, means they are not about to flame out any time soon.

“The thing that has impressed me about this team all year,” first baseman Chris Colabello said, “is that whether we were going good, or going bad, we came to the field and we did the same things every day.

“In the first half, there weren’t a lot of times when we weren’t in games. We lost a lot of games by one run and we could have easily been 10 or 15 or 20 games over .500 in the first half.”

Despite a 21-6 August and a rise to first place in the American League East, the Blue Jays are 13-24 in one-run games.

The Blue Jays also have had the type of hitting than can blow away the opposition, so when they win it is often by a big score. Entering Sunday, they had outscored the opposition 737-544, the biggest run differential in the majors.

Yet through July 28, they were spinning their wheels at 50-51, and general manager Alex Anthopoulos got busy — spectacularly busy.

It cost a bundle of top prospects but from July 28 until July 31, the deadline for trades without waivers, Anthopoulos dramatically improved shortstop by acquiring Troy Tulowitzki, obtained an ace for the starting rotation in left-hander David Price, filled a hole in left field with Ben Revere and bolstered the bullpen with experienced right-handers LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe.

“We were doing some good things this season,” manager John Gibbons said. “Offensively we were swinging it all year. We had a nice streak (11 games, June 2-14). But we were .500, you can’t get around that. We couldn’t gain any traction.

“Then we made trades and got Tulowitzki, and Price, a couple of guys in the bullpen and Revere. Tulo hasn’t started hitting yet, but defensively he’s been unbelievable. It’s been big. That’s the kind of stuff that gets overlooked.”

And, for good measure, after the deadline, Anthopoulos traded for Cliff Pennington to add infield depth on Aug. 8.

The Blue Jays celebrated their general manager’s coup with another 11-game winning streak, Aug. 2-13.

“The biggest thing I talk about all the time is chemistry and the way guys are with each other in the clubhouse, on the field and off the field,” Colabello said. “When we made those moves at the deadline those five guys made a really seamless transition.

“It’s tough to say we didn’t have a good clubhouse environment before, but I think we all felt a little extra urgency and were excited. I don’t think anything changed in the way we went about our business, but it’s nice to see the results on the field.”

The clubhouse climate, and the team’s talent, already had been improved with offseason moves that included acquiring third base Josh Donaldson, who is the front-runner for the American League MVP Award, and signing free agent catcher Russell Martin. Another offseason acquisition, second baseman Devon Travis, was an early rookie-of-the-year contender before injuries sidelined him.

In each case, offseason acquisitions, and deadline deals, Anthopoulos carefully screened each player for makeup and character. Talent and production are obviously still vital, but Anthopoulos decided at the end of last season to increase his emphasis on the intangibles, as well, obtaining players who were a good fit for the club.

“I think we’ve become extremely selective, more so than we ever have,” Anthopoulos said.

The turnaround has coincided with an improvement in fielding and pitching.

“This team is clicking on all cylinders,” Pennington said. “When you’re an outsider looking at this team you look at offense. The runs scored are unbelievable. Since I’ve been here, the starting pitching and the bullpen are as good as I’ve seen. Imagine that with this offense.”

No one expects them to keep playing with the same success rate as they had in August.

“When you’ve been as hot as we have, the law of averages says you have to cool off a little bit,” Gibbons said. “But you don’t want too cool off too much. You still have to play steady baseball. And we might keep playing great baseball the rest of the way, you don’t know.”

Expectations have skyrocketed for the Blue Jays and that can put pressure on a team.

But they do have players such as left-hander Mark Buehrle, Tulowitzki, Martin, Pennington, Price and Hawkins, who have postseason experience.

“I think there’s some value to it, I don’t know how much,” Pennington said.

“We’ve added some seasoned hardened guys,” Gibbons said. “It’s got to help. They’re guys who aren’t going to panic.”

“Who wouldn’t want to have experience?” Anthopoulos asked. “It’s always good to have experience. I don’t know if it’s a prerequisite for success. It would be nice to have but I don’t know if it’s imperative to have it.”

Colabello, who has delivered some big hits this season, said team chemistry is a strength.

“It’s a special group of guys,” Colabello said. “Whether that means we’re going to win the World Series or not, I don’t know. But I’ll you what, I know that when this thing’s over, whether it’s after Game 162, or 163 , or the playoffs, or the World Series, there’s not a guy in that clubhouse who’s not going to be sad not to be around everybody else the next day.”