The Toronto Blue Jays got off to a hot start in the 2014 season. One June 6 they owned a 38-24 record and enjoyed a six game lead in the American League East. As late as July 2 they were in sole possession of first place. However, things have unraveled from there.
The Baltimore Orioles have all but clinched the division, while the Jays are clinging on to slim hopes in the Wild Card race. At 76-69, they are 3.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers for the second wild card berth.
One player that has helped the Jays stay in the race is right-fielder Jose Bautista. The 33 year-old has stayed mostly healthy for the first time since 2011, and is having a fantastic season. He’s posting a .286/.398/.529 slash line that comes out to a 156 wRC+, which ranks 6th in the major leagues. Along with Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez, he’s one of two players that has walked more than he’s struck out.
Bautista burst onto the scene in 2010, mashing 54 home runs for the Jays and posting a .617 slugging percentage. Previously he had hit just 59 home runs in parts of six largely mediocre seasons. He followed up his remarkable 2011 season with an even better 2011 year in which he hit 43 home runs while walking in an astounding 20.9 percent of his plate appearances. His .447 on-base percentage led baseball.
While on the field, Bautista was a productive offensive player in 2012 and 2013. However, his wRC+ marks of 137 and 133 were not on the same level as his 2010-11 performances. Injuries hampered him and he missed over 100 games in that span.
Bautista isn’t quite the same hitter now as he was in 2010-11. While he still brings a lot of power to the table, his .243 isolated slugging percentage doesn’t jump off the page like his .300+ marks. But, he’s compensated by bringing his strikeout rate down to 14.5 percent in a time when league strikeout rates are hovering around 20 percent. His contact and plate discipline skills are exceptional, particularly for someone that swings with the ferocity that he does.
In nine September games, Bautista has mashed the ball to the tune of a .324/.390/.622 slash line with three home runs. The Blue Jays have not made the postseason since 1992. Along with Edwin Encarnacion, he’s formed a very formidable duo in the middle of the Jays lineup. With 3.5 games to make up and only 17 games remaining, they are a long shot. Bautista is doing all he can to get them there.