Jays just might be for real

From the ol' mailbag:

    Rob, the Jays are leading the AL in run differential by a fairly healthy margin. I took a look back to 2002 (as far back as the EPSN standings page will take me) and looked at all the teams leading the AL or NL on May 18. Of those 14 teams, 12 made the playoffs. The only two that didn't were the A's last season and the Mets in 2007.
    IOakland really wasn't all that good (+31) and there were four teams within five runs. The 2007 Mets lost six of their last seven to lose the division by one game.

    Interestingly, the Jays and Dodgers have the biggest differential leads at this point in the season since 2002.

    The Jays were +100 last year (second in the AL). I think there is a strong likelihood that they are simply one of the best teams in the AL, if not the best.

You know, that's a fair point, and one that I've not been smart enough to fully consider before now.
The Blue Jays did finish last season with an outstanding run differential. They scored 714 and allowed 610, which would typically lead to a 93-69 record rather than their actual 86-76 mark (which left them in fourth place). If I've said it once I've written it a dozen times: run differential is a better predictor than wins and losses. So why wasn't I more optimistic about the Jays this spring? Because aside from Roy Halladay, their outstanding pitching last season was anchored by A.J. Burnett, Jesse Litsch, Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan -- all of whom have combined to win exactly zero games for the Jays this season.

Should we have guessed that the Jays would pitch nearly as well this season and lead the American League in scoring? I'm not sure how we could have. But we're far enough into this season, and the Blue Jays are playing well enough, that we should not dismiss their chances of playing well through the summer and being a big part of the race in September. I'm not ready to anoint them as champions. I'm nowhere near that. Here's a bold prediction, though: the Jays won't finish fourth again.