Is the Blue Jays offense for real?

Sure, a 15-8 record and a spot atop the AL East division standings is pretty impressive – especially for a team whose pitching staff has been wracked by injuries to start the season. 15-8? Even devout followers of the team are no doubt surprised by the quick start.

But the Toronto Blue Jays know they’ve got a long way to go before critics begin to take them seriously as a contender in baseball’s most competitive division.

Manager Cito Gaston has surely already heard much of the chatter from the skeptics. ‘You haven’t even played a team in your own division yet,’ they might say. ‘Look at the records of the teams you’ve played so far.’

And certainly there’s a lot of truth to those statements. Following action Thursday, the Blue Jays had played a series against each of the AL Central teams, and had also played a pair of three-game sets against the Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers — both squads in the AL West. Combined, those opponents had posted a record of just 69-76 (.476 winning percentage).

And, the Blue Jays have avoided facing some of the top-tier pitching in the AL East so far – pitchers like C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Scott Kazmir.

That said, they’ve still gone up against some good American League arms, including Cliff Lee, Mark Buehrle, Francisco Liriano, Gil Meche and, of course, the league’s best pitcher right now, Zach Greinke. Of those five, they only lost to Greinke and Buehrle.

Meanwhile, the Jays have beaten other pitchers who have put together good numbers in the early part of this season, including Edwin Jackson (1-1, 2.25 ERA, 8 BB, 21 K), Kevin Millwood (2-2, 2.13 ERA, 8 BB, 22 K) and Dallas Braden (2-2, 2.52 ERA).

Overall, the 23 starters who have faced the Blue Jays this season have posted a cumulative record of 31-34 along with a 4.46 ERA in 94 starts. Those numbers may seem mediocre, but they’re actually better than the league average. In fact, the 83 pitchers who have started a game in the AL this season have an average ERA of 4.79 (928 ER in 1,744 IP).

So, contrary to what many of the skeptics have said, the Toronto offense – which entered action Thursday leading the majors in runs (136), hits (242), doubles (56), extra-base hits (88), total bases (391) and batting average (.290) – has not simply feasted on weak pitching to compile those impressive numbers. In fact, it has done so against better than average American League pitching.

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