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Blue Jays optimistic at season's quarter mark

Toronto currently riding four-game win streak after first winning road trip

TORONTO -- It may have taken a lot longer than anyone could have anticipated, but the Blue Jays are finally starting to prove why they were such a hyped team heading into the start of the season.

Toronto just reached the quarter mark of the season, and while the club is 8 1/2 games back in the American League East, there are suddenly signs for optimism. The offense has scored 36 runs in its past four games, while an injury-riddled starting rotation has done enough to give its team a chance.

Now the real test is about to begin, as the Blue Jays head to New York on Friday riding a four-game winning streak and ready for one of their most pivotal stretches of the season.

"It's definitely a disappointing start, no question, can't do anything about that now," manager John Gibbons said. "All we can do from here on out is play good consistent baseball. We've dug a pretty big hole, and there's a lot of good teams in our division, and good teams in the American League, so it won't be easy.

"There still is a lot of time, but you got to play better baseball from here on out. Let's face it, we've got to have some pretty good streaks in there, too."

A continued stretch of positive results could be just what the doctor ordered for the previously ailing squad. Toronto's next 10 games are against AL East rivals, with the road series against New York followed by a pair of home sets versus the Orioles and Rays.

The schedule might be tough, but it's also a prime opportunity to make up ground against three teams that are currently ahead of the Blue Jays in the standings. It would be a stretch to say that any week during the month of May could make or break a team, but considering the poor start, the Blue Jays simply can't afford to take their foot off the gas.

The margin for error is too small and Toronto can ill afford to lose any ground. The first goal is to inch closer to .500 and, while doing so, close the gap in the standings to put the Blue Jays in a prime position to make a run during the summer months.

"Obviously you'd like to be better, but I think we're starting to roll a little bit, we're starting to get things rolling," catcher J.P. Arencibia said. "The guys are starting to come around, swing the bat, do things that's going to make this team win. We have too many good players in here.

"Obviously you'd say, first quarter, we're not where we want to be, but that doesn't mean anything is out of the question. It's only a quarter in there, so we've got a lot of time left."

The start of Toronto's potential turnaround began during a recent seven-game road trip through St. Petersburg and Boston. The 4-3 record wasn't all that impressive, but it did mark the first winning road trip the Blue Jays had this year.

The mini-streak becomes more impressive when considering that on the same road trip, the Blue Jays seemed perilously close to being completely taken out of contention. After starting out with a pair of wins against the Rays, the club then proceeded to lose two heartbreakers.

Along the way, Toronto lost left-hander J.A. Happ to a scary head injury, while Josh Johnson and Sergio Santos had setbacks. But instead of wilting under the pressure, the Blue Jays responded with their best stretches this year.

"The wins and losses are what matter, but it's more concerning when you're winning games and you're not playing well, and you know the other shoe is going to drop," general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "We were 4-3 on [that] trip, but we actually played much better than we had earlier in the season.

"We just played cleaner games, and we're still going to make errors from time to time. But there's a lot of good things that happened. We had some quality starts, obviously we hit a lot of home runs and started to do some things. The key is now, is that going to carry over?"

The answer to that question likely won't be known for a couple of weeks, but the important thing is that the club at least has found a base to start from. Any potential success ultimately will be tied to reliable starting pitching, but it has been the offense that has carried the load of late.

Gibbons has been tinkering with his lineup in an effort to find something that works. He has used 31 batting orders in the 41 games this season, but he appears to have finally found the right mix.

The previously dormant Melky Cabrera has found renewed life at the top of the batting order, while Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion have been equally as effective in the No. 2 and No. 3 spots, respectively. During that four-game stretch, the trio has combined to go 21-for-46 (.457) with two home runs, 14 RBIs and 16 runs scored.

"That's a big part of our team to score runs," Gibbons said. "That's how we're built. Early on, we weren't doing that. The last week, couple of weeks, we've come to life a little bit.

"Regardless where those guys are hitting, those are our key guys. They're going to make our team go. They've always hit, they've always been big-time run producers. We need them to do that, and they will."

The timing of Toronto's possible turnaround ideally would have come a lot earlier, but with the looming stretch of games against divisional foes, the recent run also couldn't be more ideal.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB.
Read More: Toronto Blue Jays, Melky Cabrera, J.P. Arencibia, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion