ARLINGTON -- The Blue Jays are starting to show flashes of a team that might have to be taken very seriously in the American League East.
Toronto has won three consecutive games and nine of its past 13. The club finds itself two games over .500 with a 23-21 record and perhaps the most positive news of all is that despite some early season struggles the Blue Jays are only a half game out of first place.
If the Blue Jays are going to be considered legitimate contenders they'll have to win a lot of tight ballgames and for the second consecutive night the club found a way to get some timely hitting and pitching in a 4-2 victory over the Rangers on Saturday night at Globe Life Park in Arlington.
"I just have a good feeling, the guys are feeling good out there," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "We've been playing some pretty good baseball all year if you want to know the truth. But to win some tight games, and it's tough to win on the road too, those kind of ballgames, that's big for us."
At this time last year, the Blue Jays were a woeful 17-25 and dead last in the AL East. They also found themselves nine games back of first-place Boston and with injuries to several key players, the club was on its way to getting buried in the division.
There have been injuries this year too but one of the biggest differences between 2013 and 2014 is that the replacements have come in and helped fill the void. There was the early production of Juan Francisco while Adam Lind was on the disabled list. Now there's Anthony Gose and even Kevin Pillar stepping up during Colby Rasmus' absence to keep the team above water.
That was the case Saturday night as Gose was a difference maker for the second consecutive game and Pillar had a pair of hits, including a key double in that eighth that would eventually lead to the winning run.
"It seems the last couple of games guys are coming in here and having fun," said veteran left-hander Mark Buehrle, who tossed 6 2/3 quality innings vs Texas. "When you are winning it makes it a lot easier. It makes it fun coming to the park every day, in the dugout, in [the clubhouse] before and after the game.
"We're like 50 games in, we're at a good point. There have been a few times when I thought we were 10 games out of first and somebody said we're only a game and a half and I was like 'there's no way.' It seems like we played worse than that but we have to feel fortunate nobody has taken off in this division yet."
On Saturday night, the Blue Jays and Rangers were locked in a 2-2 tie in the eighth when the recently called up Pillar hit a one-out double to right field off left-hander Neal Cotts. Gose then struck out but Reyes came through with a bloop double down the right-field line.
That was easily enough to score Pillar and gave the Blue Jays a boost after the club squandered a lead in the previous inning. For Reyes, it marked the eighth time in his past nine games that he had at least one hit and he's slowly starting to come around after a slow start to the season. His average was .176 on May 7 but has since gone up to .215.
Buehrle was in position to pick up his Major League-leading eighth victory of the season when he departed with two outs and two men on in the seventh. The lead quickly vanished when left-hander Aaron Loup entered and promptly surrendered an RBI single to No. 9 hitter Luis Sardinas, which tied the game at 2.
That cost Buehrle a shot at another victory but his outing still marked a continuation of his strong start to the season. Until that seventh inning, he was relatively flawless with the exception of an RBI single by right fielder Michael Choice in the third.
Buehrle scattered seven hits and one walk while striking out four over 6 2/3 innings. He was charged with two runs and his 2.11 ERA ranks third in the American League behind only Detroit's Max Scherzer (1.83) and Oakland's Sonny Gray (2.10). Buehrle's numbers on the road have been even more impressive this season with five earned runs over 36 innings for a 1.25 ERA.
"It's too bad that he didn't get a win out of that but that's the way it goes sometimes," Gibbons said. "Shoot, all I can say is that he has been great all year. He has been great his whole career too so that shouldn't surprise anybody."
Toronto opened the scoring in the first inning when Jose Bautista hit a deep home run to left field off left-hander Robbie Ross Jr. for his 11th of the year. That was all the Blue Jays could generate until the seventh when Gose led off with a double down the left-field line. Gose eventually stole third base and came around to score on a grounder by Melky Cabrera.
The Blue Jays have won six consecutive games and nine of their past 12 in Arlington. Toronto swept Texas in four games last year and will have an opportunity to go for the three-game sweep in the series finale on Sunday afternoon.