The depth of the Blue Jays' lineup was billed as their greatest strength entering the season, but that wasn't the reality through April and early May. Things have changed.
Look no further than No. 9 hitter Danny Jansen, who entered Tuesday's series against the Red Sox with a .123 average. At first glance, it's not pretty, but it's a steady climb from the .045 average Jansen left April with, and in the Blue Jays' 8-0 win in the opener at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla., it was Jansen both driving in runs and turning the lineup over.
It started in the second when Jansen opened the scoring with the official hit of the 2021 Blue Jays: an opposite-field single. The Blue Jays' batters have been launching balls to the opposite field all season long, but it's really picked up lately as this lineup has gone from top heavy to a more balanced approach. This was just Jansen's third opposite-field hit of the season, and his offensive game has slowly been turning a corner since he homered in three consecutive games from May 6-8.
"That's what good hitters do," said manager Charlie Montoyo, always a fan of the opposite-field hits. "They use the whole field, and that's what we're doing. That makes our lineup a lot better when we can use the whole field. The approach has been outstanding the last couple of days, for sure."
Jansen was back at it in the fourth inning doing exactly what a manager wants to see from their catcher in the nine-hole. With two out and a runner on second, Jansen walked to keep the inning alive, turning things over to the red-hot Marcus Semien and the top of the lineup. Semien singled to -- you guessed it -- the opposite field, and Jansen came home all the way from first, making a heads-up baserunning play on a throwing error.
All nine of Toronto's starters had a hit and six had multihit games, coming together for 18 hits total. Teoscar Hernández and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. continued their tears with three hits apiece, but Lourdes Gurriel Jr. might be the most encouraging hitter of the bunch lately, with his double and two singles giving him nine hits over his last four games.
Gurriel's season follows the same narrative arc as Jansen's. He struggled through April, finishing the month hitting just .224 with a .572 OPS, but he's jolted to life since. And just like Jansen lengthens this overall lineup, Gurriel lengthens his pocket of the lineup, which can be a nightmare for opposing pitchers with a stretch of Guerrero, Hernández and Randal Grichuk ahead of him. Add in Semien and Bo Bichette atop this lineup, plus the pending return of George Springer, who has as much talent as anyone in a Blue Jays uniform, and once again, you can see why this lineup projects as one of the best in baseball.
Grichuk has noticed the opposite-field trend, too, and he sees a roster around him that's buying in to that philosophy. There's been plenty of talk about hitting being contagious with the Blue Jays lately, and while that's hard to quantify, Grichuk knows the feeling.
"With everybody hitting, you take a different [approach] in there, a different confidence, and not really knowing why or that you are," Grichuk said. "It's one of those crazy things about baseball. There are a lot of things you can't really explain."
Granted, when Hyun Jin Ryu is on the mound, any offense will do. The ace was at his best on Tuesday, carving through the Red Sox order over seven shutout innings. Ryu allowed just four hits and didn't walk a batter while striking out seven, and the trademark off-balance swings he was forcing from the Red Sox were a sure sign that he was locked in.
"I feel like everyone is doing really well and playing their part offensively and defensively," Ryu said through a team interpreter. "I'm going to say this on behalf of all of the position players and the pitchers: I feel like we're doing really well our last couple of outings."
From Ryu on the mound to Jansen at the bottom of the order, this was the cleanest all-around effort from the Blue Jays' regulars in 2021. Any number of players on this roster are capable of taking over a game, but when they all click at the same time, Tuesday's win over the division-leading Red Sox is what it looks like.