After the Toronto Blue Jays stumbled out of the gates with a 1-9 record and plummeted to the cellar of the AL East standings to start the season, fans from coast to coast started to doubt the 2017 Jays. Expectations are high in the Great White North after the Jays reached the American League Championship Series in back-to-back seasons. Despite being decimated by injuries to star players like Josh Donaldson, J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez and Troy Tulowitzki, among others, the Jays have managed to win four out of their last seven games as they look to climb their way out of the AL East basement.
The Jays have received some much-needed support from Kevin Pillar and Justin Smoak, who have both been on fire recently. Although neither player managed a hit against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday afternoon, Smoak and Pillar have both played well over the past few weeks and they will need to continue that play on Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field.
Blue Jays need Smoak and Pillar to Keep Swinging Hot Bats
Smoak Heats Up for Second Time this Season
After he managed only one hit in 18 at-bats for the Blue Jays last September and went 0-2 in his two postseason at-bats against the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians, most Jays fans lost faith in Smoak, especially since he ended his 2016 season with a career-high 32.8% strikeout rate. However, this season has been a different story for Smoak, and he’s provided some much-needed support for a Jays team that has struggled with injuries and poor on-field performances.
Smoak struggled on Saturday night against the Rays, but he’s still batting .271 with an .787 OPS this season, and he recorded hits in each of his last six games prior to Saturday’s game. His five home runs are second only to Kendrys Morales, who has six dingers. This also hasn’t been Smoak’s only hot streak this season. From April 14-24, Smoak appeared in 10 straight games for the Jays and recorded 11 hits in 35 at-bats, as well as three home runs and eight RBI.
Pillar of Strength
The acrobatics of Pillar in center field have continued to be outstanding this season, but it’s his bat that has been most important to John Gibbons and the Jays. Pillar’s batting .304 with an .834 OPS, leading the Jays in hits, doubles and stolen bases. The Jays leadoff man has also contributed four home runs this season. Pillar struggled at times in 2016, especially in the post season when he managed only one three hits in 32 at-bats, so his consistency has been key for the Jays this season. His three hits against the Rays on Friday night were crucial, but he didn’t manage to get a hit on Saturday afternoon. He will be an important piece of the puzzle against the Rays on Sunday.
"Definitely our biggest win of the year." Kevin Pillar was instrumental with one critical swing — https://t.co/Augad9Tjaf
— Arash Madani (@ArashMadani) May 6, 2017
Toronto lost 6-1 to Tampa Bay on Saturday afternoon. They will have a chance for redemption when Joe Biagini makes his first career start against Alex Cobb. The Blue Jays have struggled with injuries over the past few weeks, so they will need Smoak and Pillar to continue their hot streaks.