Success is contagious as Blue Jays sweep White Sox

Kikuchi kicks off shutout from pitching staff; offense breaks out for eight runs

April 26th, 2023

TORONTO – Talent always finds a way, and when the stars align with some fortunate timing, you get a week like the Blue Jays’ starting pitchers just had.

rounded out a dominant run through the rotation in Wednesday’s 8-0 win over the White Sox, continuing his own personal renaissance that is quickly becoming one of the stories of the season for the Blue Jays.

The aces are pitching like aces again, and the question marks, like Kikuchi and José Berríos, are exceeding their every expectation. The duo just led the team to back-to-back shutouts, like precisely nobody predicted a month ago, and the rotation is suddenly on another planet after some early-season woes that seemed a little too contagious.

“All five of us have really bonded,” Kikuchi said through a team interpreter. “We’ve been eating together, and in the bullpens, we’ve been giving each other advice. It’s really good to see each and every one of us succeeding so far.”

This is what the Blue Jays’ rotation just did in one trip through the order:

• 33 innings pitched
• 2 earned runs (0.55 ERA)
• 16 hits
• 6 walks
• 37 strikeouts

“We have the talent. We have the pitching staff to do that. Start by start, we’re doing it,” Berríos said Tuesday. “For me, [Chris] Bassitt threw last night and threw well, so I took that to motivate myself and keep rolling with that streak. We have really good chemistry. We all have the same goal, to win every ballgame we can. We want to keep rolling, keep pushing, more and more.”

The value of the rotation’s synergy goes beyond the obvious for the Blue Jays. Yes, starting pitching can “set the tone” and “you can never have enough of it,” but you can count those among old adages in baseball that are said often but mean little. A rotation pitching this well should produce at least the 4-1 record the Blue Jays have enjoyed this turn through, but the real kicker is how it sets up this offense.

In the early days of the season, the Blue Jays opened every game in a hole. The first inning became a hole from which to escape, and with the addition of some unexpected struggles from Bassitt and Alek Manoah out of the gate, Toronto’s offense was forced to chase opponents all too often.

That led to some of the poor situational hitting in those early days, something that has improved significantly alongside the rotation’s rise. Just look at , who says he was “chasing hits” earlier this season, but has since taken Brandon Belt’s advice and is chasing good at-bats instead. The result was two home runs on Tuesday and another over the weekend in New York.

“With the way we’re built offensively, it gives us a little bit of time to get through the order once,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said. “These guys battle out of holes, but now it’s easier to add on once you do break through.”

was the engine powering the offense, going 3-for-4 with his fifth home run of the season, a golf shot that he kept just fair down the left-field line. Bichette is batting .340, and while he’s never been one to look far beyond the next at-bat, he’s pleased with the level of intent and focus he’s seeing from the lineup around him.

Of course, that’s easier with the other team staring at a zero for the second straight day.

“It makes it easy,” Bichette said. “If they don’t score, we’re going to win. They’ve been special.”

This is what it looks like when a team is clicking in all phases. It’s rare to see those separate elements of the game clearly impacting one another, but that’s why the Blue Jays rebuilt themselves in this specific way. Teams this talented should be out in front, padding leads and handing them over to stacked bullpens. Toronto can chase wins when it needs to, and those days will come again, but it all looks so much more choreographed and seamless this way.

It’s difficult to overstate just how valuable a continued run like this from Berríos and Kikuchi would be. Berríos ranked dead last among qualified starters with a 5.23 ERA last season and Kikuchi wasn’t far behind, posting a 5.19 ERA with worrying control. They looked nothing like the pitchers they’ve been so far this season.

Sustaining their performance is the trick, but as two good outings become three, four and five, the Blue Jays can finally start to believe that the rotation they’re rolling out matches the one they envisioned from the beginning.