The Toronto Blue Jays acquired Troy Tulowitzki in the late hours of July 27. They lost the next day to drop to 50-51, falling eight games behind the New York Yankees in the American League East. In his first game with Toronto on July 29, Tulowitzki homered and doubled twice as the Jays beat the Philadelphia Phillies 8-2. Then on July 30, the team acquired David Price.
I'd suggest those trades look pretty good right now.
With Tulowitzki in the starting lineup, the Blue Jays are 11-0, and they've gone 11-1 since the trade. They've won eight in a row and just handed the Yankees their first back-to-back shutouts since May 1999, ending the longest stretch between consecutive shutouts in major league history. Price has won both of his Toronto starts, and the Yankees' lead over the Jays has dwindled to a mere 1.5 games ... and the teams still have 10 games remaining against each other, including three this weekend in Toronto.
It's not as simple as just adding Tulowitzki and Price. Here are 10 reasons the Jays have won 11 of 12 and why the Yankees are suddenly checking that rearview mirror:
1. The offense is on fire.
Already the league's best offense before the Tulowitzki trade, the Jays have hit .273/.349/.481 since the deal, with 22 home runs. That's 5.6 runs per game, up from 5.2 BT (before Tulo). While Tulowitzki has done his part, hitting .244/.358/.489 with 12 runs from the leadoff spot, it's Josh Donaldson -- batting in the 2-hole behind Tulo -- who has shredded opposing pitchers with seven home runs and 15 RBIs in 12 games. Edwin Encarnacion has hit .394 and Jose Bautista has five home runs and 12 RBIs in that same 12-game stretch.
2. The rotation is on fire.
Price has allowed one run in 15 innings in his two Jays starts, but others have stepped up as well: The rotation is 11-1 with a 1.92 ERA AT (after Tulo). In their sweep of the Yankees, Marco Estrada tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings on Sunday, Price allowed just three hits in seven scoreless frames on Saturday and R.A. Dickey allowed one run in seven innings on Friday. Estrada has been the secret weapon of late, with a 2.24 ERA over his past 10 outings. Remember, this was the guy who led the National League with 29 home runs allowed last season with the Milwaukee Brewers -- in just 150 innings. The Blue Jays got him in the offseason for Adam Lind, a deal that looked mostly like a payroll reduction as much as anything, but even when Estrada gave up all those home runs, his ERA was 4.34. He has limited the home runs this season -- just three in those past 10 starts -- and has become a solid starter, going 10-6 with a 3.21 ERA.
3. The bullpen is on fire.
AT: 1.72 ERA, .157 batting average allowed. While general manager Alex Anthopoulos added depth at the trade deadline with veterans LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe, the key addition has been Aaron Sanchez. Since moving back to the bullpen -- where he posted a 1.09 ERA in 33 innings in 2014 -- he has allowed one hit and one run in eight appearances. He pitched scoreless eighth innings against the Yankees on Saturday on Sunday.
4. Rookie closer Roberto Osuna.
With Sanchez, who's still classified as a rookie, now in the setup role, the Jays are going with rookies in the eighth and ninth. Osuna's rise is pretty remarkable. He had Tommy John surgery in 2013, when he was with Lansing in the Class A Midwest League (and where he had a 5.53 ERA in 10 starts). He made it back in 2014 to pitch 23 innings in A ball. Despite his lack of experience, the 20-year-old made the Opening Day roster and has a 2.13 ERA and .184 average against. His fastball, which he throws 72 percent of the time, averages 95.3 mph, and he mixes in a changeup (16 percent) and slider (12 percent). He's 10-for-10 in save opportunities since becoming a closer.
5. Speaking of Donaldson, he's also an MVP candidate.
His recent surge has certainly raised his stock. Here's a quick comparison of Donaldson and Mike Trout:
Trout: .302/.394/.608, 33 HR, 69 RBI, 78 R, 6.8 WAR
Donaldson: .297/.365/.578, 31 HR, 83 RBI, 82 R, 6.3 WAR
There's also this: In high-leverage situations (when the game is closest), Donaldson has hit .366/.448/.704 in 87 plate appearances. Pretty impressive. Except Trout has hit .350/.452/.733 in 73 such plate appearances. Anyway, the MVP race is much closer than it looked a few weeks ago.
6. Jose Bautista is still feared.
He's hitting only .240, but his overall line of .240/.361/.512 means the on-base ability and slugging is still there. He's one of the few hitters with more walks (71) than strikeouts (70). You can try to get him on off-speed stuff away, but don't leave anything over the plate or inside. As Matt Gwin of Blue Jays Plus writes, don't forget about Bautista.
7. Did we mention that Edwin Encarnacion is heating up?
Yes, we did. He hit .205 in April and .225 in May but is .288/.396/.516 since, including that .394 mark in the AT era. Sure, the top of that order is all right-handed -- Tulowitzki, Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnacion and Russell Martin -- but that doesn't make it much easier for pitchers to navigate.
8. Kevin Pillar's defense.
Overall, the Jays are about an average defensive team with three big strengths -- Donaldson at third, Martin behind the plate and Pillar in center. Pillar's 18 defensive runs saved between center and left rank second in the majors among all fielders and earned him regular appearances on the highlight reels. Pillar's defense has allowed the Jays to continue giving more outfield time to the defensively challenged Chris Colabello, who continues to hit (.318/.364/.494).
9. They were good before the trades.
Even though the Jays were 50-51, they had outscored their opponents by 94 runs when the Tulowitzki trade was made, which had them tied with the Kansas City Royals at the time for the best projected winning percentage in the AL. In other words, the underlying talent of the team was much better than that of a .500 team, something Anthopoulos was certainly banking on while making the two big deals.
10. Now they have an ace.
Before his start Saturday, Price had allowed eight runs in each of his previous two starts against the Yankees (one in April, one in August 2014). Price got some revenge the other day and will start against them again on Friday. John Gibbons could align his rotation to make sure Price gets two more starts against the Yankees -- starts that could be the difference between a division title and a wild card.
For more Blue Jays coverage, check out Blue Jays Plus.