NEW YORK -- The Blue Jays' lineup was supposed to be one of the club's biggest weaknesses. Instead, it's turning out to be a major strength and it's all happening while Josh Donaldson remains on the disabled list.
Toronto's offense stole the show again on Friday night as Teoscar Hernandez and Yangervis Solarte each homered while Lourdes Gurriel Jr. drove in three runs during his Major League debut. The end result was an 8-5 victory over the Yankees for a Blue Jays team that has now won five of its last six to move seven games above .500 (13-6).
The Blue Jays are scoring more runs per game (6.0) than any team in the American League except for the Red Sox (6.4 entering play Friday night). That has been good enough for a second-place spot in the AL East and early possession of an AL Wild Card spot. On the road, Toronto is 6-3 to start the year and has been outscoring its opponents 47-34.
"You need to hit home runs, there's no doubt about that, and we have a lot of guys who can do that," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "But there comes a time when a cheap little single is just as good and easier to do. I like the way we're approaching everything, and I also like our aggressiveness. It comes down to talent, and we're throwing out some pretty good talent on the field, too."
The Blue Jays have scored at least seven runs in nine of their 19 games this season. All of this from a team that finished last in the AL last year in runs scored and has been without Donaldson since April 10 because of a right shoulder injury. A lot of people expected Toronto's offense to be better this season, but few expected the start of the year to go quite this well.
The depth of the Blue Jays' roster has been one of the main reasons behind the turnaround. Solarte has five homers and a .996 OPS in 17 games. Curtis Granderson has taken over the leadoff spot against right-handed pitchers and is batting .319 with a .971 OPS. Kevin Pillar is batting .319 with eight extra-base hits. Some regression should be expected, but for a team that has gotten very little so far out of Donaldson and Justin Smoak, there's also optimism that the current production will continue.
Time will tell, but the way the Blue Jays are playing right now, opposing pitchers have to be concerned with the entire lineup, one through nine, and can no longer focus on just the heart of the order. That wasn't the case a year ago.
"I know a lot of people weren't expecting it and they're proving everybody wrong right now," Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada said. "You look at our lineup and it's a great contrast of different types of players, and I think we're putting it all together right now. We have a lot of guys who can hit homers. We have guys who go the other way and try to move guys over. I think we're doing the little things right, right now, and we have to keep doing them."
Estrada picked up the win thanks to that lineup after he allowed five runs on seven hits and a walk while striking out four. Christopher Austin, Giancarlo Stanton and Miguel Andujar all took him deep, and Estrada has now surrendered six home runs in four starts this season. Three of those home runs have come from Austin, who also went deep twice in one game off Estrada earlier in the year.
Yankees starter Sonny Gray had an equally rough night on the mound, but his outing did not last as long. Gray could not pitch his way out of the fourth inning and was charged with five runs on five hits and a problematic four walks over 3 1/3 innings. The loss went to Yankees reliever Domingo German, who allowed two runs and also walked four over 1 2/3 innings.
"He battled," Gibbons said of Estrada. "A couple of the balls they hit home runs on, I didn't think they were bad pitches, but they did what good hitters do. You shoot them the other way and take advantage of a short porch."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The debut: Gurriel was recalled from Double-A New Hampshire earlier in the day to make his Major League debut, and it didn't take very long for his presence to be felt. In his second at-bat of the night, Gurriel picked up the first big league hit with a seeing-eye single up the middle, which scored a pair of runs. That wasn't the last the Yankees saw of Gurriel, as he returned to the plate in the fifth and added another RBI single. Gurriel became the fourth Blue Jays player in franchise history to record at least three RBIs in their debut, and he's the first since J.P. Arencibia in 2010.
"It was amazing," Gurriel said through a translator after the game. "It was unbelievable, something I will never forget. … I was just trying to do what my brothers and my dad told me before, to just go out there and have fun. My teammates made it easier on me, too. They've treated me really well since I got here." More >
Manufacturing runs: The Blue Jays and Yankees combined to hit five home runs, but it was Toronto's ability to manufacture some runs that proved to be the difference maker. With the game tied at 5 in the fifth, the Blue Jays pushed a couple of big runs across the plate. The inning started with a walk, followed by a weak opposite-field single against the shift by Kendrys Morales and another walk to load the bases with one out. Gurriel came through with his second RBI single of the game and then Hernandez followed with a bases-loaded walk to give Toronto a much-needed insurance run.
Roberto Osuna tossed a scoreless ninth inning to pick up save No. 101 for his career. That broke a tie with Billy Koch for third place on Toronto's all-time saves list.
The Blue Jays will continue their four-game series against the Yankees on Saturday afternoon when right-hander Marcus Stroman takes the mound with first pitch scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET. Stroman has been uncharacteristically wild during his first three starts of the season with 10 walks over 14 2/3 innings, and for his career, he has averaged just 2.5 walks per nine innings. The Yankees will start left-hander Jordan Montgomery.