Yes, the Toronto Blue Jays are hitting and winning, but the work of their bullpen throughout this month, and particularly during this nine-game winning streak (which got them to .500 for the first time all season), should not be overlooked.
The numbers may be slightly distorted by six unearned runs this month, but they’ve been impressive nonetheless.
During the winning streak, Blue Jays relievers are 3-0 with four saves and have pitched 22 innings, allowing two unearned runs and seven hits. They haven't allowed an earned run in their last 27 innings.
Let’s take a look at the two relievers who have been big keys to their run of success.
The closer: Casey Janssen
Casey Janssen picked up the role of closer last season and has taken the ball and run with it through 2013. He has 16 saves in 17 opportunities, with saves and a win on Friday in his last five appearances since the season’s only blown save.
JanssenJanssen earned his first save of last season on May 9. Since that date, his WHIP of 0.80 ranks third among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched, trailing only Craig Kimbrel and Koji Uehara.
Kimbrel and Grant Balfour are the only two pitchers with a better opponents’ OPS in that stretch than Janssen’s .495.
Janssen does this without posting hugely above-average numbers when it comes to getting swings-and-misses.
But his rate of taken pitches that are called strikes, a big factor in his success, is 40 percent since last May 9, considerably above the big-league average of about 33 percent.
Unsung star: Brett Cecil
Perhaps the most amazing work has been done by Brett Cecil, who has held opponents hitless over his last 43 batters faced (Elias notes this is a team record). Cecil got all six batters he faced in the seventh and eighth inning on Friday, including Chris Davis, who hit his major-league leading 27th homer earlier in the game.
Cecil has become much more than a lefty specialist (left-handed hitters are 7-for-71 against him this season). He’s now faced 142 hitters this season in total and held them to a .132/.193/.217 slashline (all best in the majors among pitchers who have faced that many batters.
CecilCecil is winning with a fastball that is not overpowering (he throws it 92 mph on average). He locates it at the top of (and above) the strike zone more often than any other pitcher (60 percent of his pitches are to the upper-third of the zone and above).
He also nets misses on about half of the swings against his breaking pitches, including a curveball that he’s throwing nearly three times as often as he did the past two seasons.
The other noticeable improvement for Cecil —- a jump in his ground-ball rate of nearly 10 percentage points from the previous two seasons, up from 40 percent (in 2011 and 2012) to 49 percent, and with that a significant reduction in hard-hit contact against him.
Looking ahead: Closing in on a record
The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that this is the Blue Jays' longest streak without allowing an earned run since a 1993 run of 27 1/3 innings.
That bullpen helped lead the team to the World Series.
The team record is 28 innings, set in 1989.