What initially seemed like a strange experiment – Jose Bautista batting leadoff – ended up paying major dividends for the Toronto Blue Jays.
When the lineups were posted on May 19 for the Toronto Blue Jays, a new name was at the top of the order. Slugger Jose Bautista was in the leadoff spot. Traditionally, speed guys set the table at the top of the order. At the time, the Blue Jays – who had steamrolled their way to an American League East title in 2015, scoring 891 runs (five and a half runs per game and 127 more than the next team) – were floundering at 19-23. It was thought to be a good idea, though generally considered to be a temporary one until Devon Travis returned from injury.
When a team is not meeting expectations, sometimes a new approach is needed to inspire better play. When Terry Francona was managing the Boston Red Sox, occasionally he would slot J.D. Drew (lifetime .384 OBP) in the leadoff spot for the same reason that Bautista was in that leadoff spot. They could get on base. Drew led off 82 times in his career. Bautista has now led off a total of 126 times in his career, but before this season he had not done so since 2010. At the time of the change on May 19 of this year, the team had scored just 161 in 42 games, a 3.83 average
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The team now stands at 37-31, just two games back of the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox who are leading the American League East. That is a record of 18-8 since the change to Bautista at leadoff. Someone other than Bautista led off last night for the first time he was in the lineup since May 18 (he batted second) and the team rolled again to a 7-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. The team has now won five of six games, scoring double-digit runs three times in that short span and four times overall since the change. Before Bautista batted leadoff, the team reached double figures in runs just one time on the season.
Due to a .238 BABIP (batting average on balls in play – career is .266) Bautista’s batting average stands at a career low .230, but he is still getting on base at a .362 clip. He led the league in walks last season and is doing so again this season despite his low batting average.
Bautista cannot take all the credit for the resurgence, of course. Fellow slugger and free-agent-to-be after the season Edwin Encarnacion has six homers already this month and is slashing .295/.396/.773 for the month of June. Russell Martin, recovering from a terrible start (.391 OPS in April) is hitting .271/.373/.500 in last 28 days, including a .919 OPS in the month of June.
Darwin Barney is hitting a career high .295/.340/.402 while providing stellar defense at third base, second base, and shortstop. Left fielder Michael Saunders is also riding high with a .952 OPS this season, though this is sure to come down as his BABIP is currently at .396 (.301 for his career). Saunders already has 11 homers on the season. His career high is just 19.
Wednesday night, Ezequiel Carrera batted leadoff for the Blue Jays. While only logging 94 plate appearances, he has slashed a .333/.398/.452 batting line on the season. He has played sparingly throughout his career (this is his sixth organization) but perhaps he has found a home atop the potent Toronto lineup. When you have a basher like Bautista you want him to come up with men on base so the leadoff situation may have been just something to get the team scoring again.
It looks as if the Toronto Blue Jays are scoring runs in bunches again. While they are not likely to catch the Red Sox in run totals (371 to 296 through Wednesday’s games), from this point forward the Blue Jays are definitely a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the season.