David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
We'd like to say the Blue Jays are nothing to worry about, that Toronto's footing atop the American League East is about as stable as a sand castle at high tide. For all the anticipation of the division's bully arriving Tuesday night in the Bronx, what we got instead was Masahiro Tanaka playing rope-a-dope with the befuddled Jays while the Yankees slowly drained the life from the pride of Long Island, Marcus Stroman.
But honestly, we learned virtually nothing about how the East race will shape up in the next 3½ months. Because evaluating the Yankees with Tanaka on the mound is different from any other day that features a Phelps, Nuño or Whitley. And Toronto with Stroman? Let's just say the 23-year-old probably was feeling a bit too jacked up on his home court -- in front of 150 family and friends -- to harness all that nervous energy.
"It was a battle," Stroman said. "Just one of those days."
No, this was a mismatch coming in, and that's precisely how the night played out, despite Jose Reyes smacking Tanaka's opening pitch into the rightfield seats. Before Reyes even stepped to the plate, his plan was to hack at whatever Tanaka threw him first. As the spearhead of an aggressive Toronto lineup, Reyes didn't want to be back on his heels.
"I know how hard it is to hit against Tanaka with two strikes," Reyes said afterward.
So history did repeat itself when Reyes -- like Melky Cabrera on April 4 at Rogers Centre -- took Tanaka deep for that leadoff homer. And just like that, this seemed to be following the Toronto script. The Blue Jays entered Tuesday with the most homers (92) in the majors and were third in runs (334) behind the Athletics and Rockies, but they've recently suffered through a bit of a power outage. Toronto had scored three runs or fewer in eight of their previous 11 games and were shut out in three of them.
For most teams, that's not a big deal. But with a beefy middle of the order anchored by Edwin Encarnacion (20 HRs, 54 RBIs) and Jose Bautista (AL-best .981 OPS), it qualifies as a worrisome dip. For Reyes, he's now followed by the best lineup he's been a part of since the 2006 Mets, and that team came within a Carlos Beltran swing of getting to the Fall Classic.
"Sometimes it goes through my mind," Reyes said. "Wow, how did we not make it to one World Series?"
It's too early to say Reyes is going to get another shot here with the Jays, but we see no reason to think they won't be in this for the long haul. You can say their pitching could be a concern -- especially after watching Stroman labor -- but Toronto's rotation is first in the AL in wins (33) this season and its 2.92 ERA this month was third.
A bruising offense can cover up numerous pitching warts, but the Jays bounce back Wednesday with Mark Buehrle, who at 10-3 with a 2.28 ERA currently is Tanaka's strongest challenger for the Cy Young.