Rounding Third: Blue Jays flourishing a year behind schedule

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Updated: 5/28 9:51 am

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - There was no trendier a pick in the American League last season than the Toronto Blue Jays.

And why not?

After an offseason that saw them bring in the likes of R.A Dickey, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera and Mark Buehrle among others, to be paired with established players like Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie and Edwin Encarnacion, it was hard to find a better team on paper than the Blue Jays.

Nothing, though, went right for the 2013 Blue Jays. And I mean nothing. They got off to a bad start, were ravaged by injuries and stumbled their way to a 74-88 record.

And that included an 11-game winning streak at one point.

"You knew it wasn't sustainable," Toronto manager John Gibbons said of last June's tear. "You knew sooner or later (it would go wrong)."

This past offseason, general manager Alex Anthopoulos essentially stood pat, leaving most to assume it would be more of the same north of the border.

In other words, another long season was expected.

But the plan he had put in place last year has finally started to come to fruition.

Buehrle is pitching like the guy who was a four-time All-Star with the Chicago White Sox, Cabrera is spraying the ball all over the field the way he was before he was popped for PEDs and the team is hitting home runs at a historic rate, while enjoying a three-game lead atop what was supposed to be a very competitive AL East.

"They're good right now," Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Instead of denigrating our guys, give (the Blue Jays) a little credit. They're playing really well. They're toasty right now. It happens."

The Blue Jays are currently in the midst of an eight-game winning streak. They have won 13 of their past 15 games and 18 of 23 overall. They own the best winning percentage in baseball this month at .731 (19-7) and are just two wins shy of the franchise mark for a single month, which was set at 21 in May 2003.

But unlike last year when Gibbons was just waiting for the other shoe to drop, he knows this stretch isn't some mirage.

"The offense is better this year," Gibbons said. "We have more weapons in there."

That offense has certainly been the driving force behind the Blue Jays' recent run, particularly Encarnacion, who tied a franchise record on Tuesday with his 14th home run this month.

"Eddie's on some kind of roll right now," Gibbons said.

The Blue Jays have scored at least six runs 12 times this month and five times during the current eight-game streak. And the long ball has been the biggest contributor to that. The Blue Jays lead the majors with 76 home runs, have gone deep in 10 straight games and in 29 of their past 34, while hitting 58 homers in that span.

"These guys are on fire right now," Buehrle said in reference to his offense.

As lethal as the bats have been, though, Buehrle's resurgence may be the most important ingredient to the Blue Jays' success. With Dickey continuing to struggle, Buehrle has assumed the role as de facto ace and has certainly pitched like it with a major league-best nine wins on the season.

"It seems like the ball is falling our way, and we're playing good baseball," Buehrle said. "I think the biggest key for us is, for a good team, when you lose a couple of games, and then struggle, how you bounce back and respond your next couple of games.

"We're having fun, we're winning games. Everybody's having fun, but we're obviously not going to win every game. If we lose a game or two, tough situation, how do we bounce back and kind of recover from that?"

Just how Anthopoulos drew it up ... a year and a half ago.

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