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Updated: June 2, 2010, 2:40 AM ET

Blue Jays' power gives them presence

Kruk By John Kruk
ESPN
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The Toronto Blue Jays were on a four-game winning streak and seemed headed to make it five before the bullpen imploded against the Tampa Rays on Tuesday night. Still, despite the loss, the Jays stand just 3½ back of the Rays in what is becoming an ultra-competitive division … except for the Orioles. Although the hype in the AL East normally is centered on the Yankees and the Red Sox in this division, Toronto is causing quite a stir thanks to a 19-10 record in May.

[+] EnlargeVernon Wells
AP Photo/Nathan DenetteAfter hitting .260 with 15 homers a year ago, Vernon wells is hitting .307 with 13 home runs already this season.

The Blue Jays' performance this season is not a fluke. Toronto is known to rely on its ability to hit home runs, and this team has a legitimate chance to stay in the race with Tampa Bay, New York and Boston because of it. Last year, Adam Lind and Aaron Hill each hit more than 30 homers; Lind went deep 35 times, Hill 36. They are side-by-side again this season; each has eight so far. When these guys get their power bats going, they become a formidable force. The resurgence of Vernon Wells and Jose Bautista's 16 homers have come as a welcome surprise.

The Blue Jays' offense is very similar to the Phillies' offense. They have a couple guys who can run and who really hit well in situations. Still, they are up there to do one thing, and that's cause damage every time they swing the bat. Ultimately, Toronto will stick in the AL East race because they have a good mix of left-handed and right-handed hitters in the lineup. Hitting coach Dwayne Murphy was a teammate of mine in Philly. His mantra was: "I'm gonna swing hard and if I hit it, it's going out." I don't know if he's instilled that mantra in his players, but they all seem to swing that way.

The biggest misconception about this team is that since Toronto traded Roy Halladay to the Phillies, they no longer have any good pitchers. Well, erase that thought from your mind because their pitching rotation is deep. Shaun Marcum is putting together an All-Star season; he's 5-1 with a 2.59 ERA so far. Ricky Romero flirted with a no-hitter earlier this year and he's thrown two complete games, which is huge for a team with a bunch of young starters. Brett Cecil has been outstanding, and if Brandon Morrow, who flirted with a no-hitter for a while on Monday at home, can find a way to win on the road he has a chance to be great because he has the best pure stuff out of any one on the team. I'm sure they are waiting for him to come around -- right now he's 4-4 with a 6.00 ERA -- and if he does, that makes them four deep in their starting rotation and that's pretty good.

And don't forget, this club has help on the way. Toronto acquired Kyle Drabek from the Phillies for Halladay. He's pitching well so far in Double-A, going 7-4 with a 3.06 ERA with New Hampshire of the Eastern League. Some say he's ready to compete at the big league level now. Once he gets a half of a season under his belt in Double-A, he could get the call. The Halladay trade has worked well for the Phillies so far, and in time we will all witness what it has done for the Blue Jays. The key for Toronto moving forward is to hold on to star players, make shrewd trades and build from its own farm system.

I don't think the Blue Jays can win the division, but they will certainly make it difficult on everyone else. It won't be a two- or three-team race, but the Jays have joined the party. And it looks like they are going to stay there.

John Kruk is an analyst for "Baseball Tonight."

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Wednesday's Best Matchups

Phillies at Braves, 1:05 p.m. ET

The Phillies' free fall continued with another loss to the Braves on Tuesday. Philadelphia has lost eight of its past 10 games. Kyle Kendrick tries to get the Phillies a win. He tossed eight shutout innings against Atlanta in late April, though he walked away with a no-decision in a game the Phils lost 4-3.


Rays at Blue Jays, 7:07 p.m. ET

Toronto tries to recover from Tuesday's crushing loss. Shaun Marcum (5-1, 2.59 ERA) has the task of getting things back on track after the Jays sacrificed a 5-0 lead in a 7-6 loss. David Price (7-2, 2.57) takes the ball for the Rays. Price tossed a complete-game, four-hit shutout against Toronto on April 25.


Cubs at Pirates, 7:05 p.m. ET

The Carlos Zambrano-to-the-bullpen experiment officially comes to a close as the right-hander returns to the rotation. Zambrano last started April 14 against the Mets. He was 1-2 with a 7.45 before being jettisoned to a relief role. The Pirates' Zach Duke gave up 12 hits and seven runs in 5 1/3 innings in his last outing, a loss against the Braves.

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