Blue Jays finding identity after sweep, 8th straight win

TORONTO — These are the Blue Jays you were waiting for.

Even as they dragged a winning record through April and May, the endless stream of close games brought a slow-burn anxiety along with them. Those were chess matches and photo finishes, but the 2022 Blue Jays are built to be a rock concert inside a carnival.

That’s what Thursday afternoon’s 8-3 win over the White Sox at Rogers Center looked more like. Make it eight in a row for the Blue Jays with back-to-back series sweeps, and finally, the stars are playing the hits.

It all started with Alek Manoah, who’s no longer just a hotshot right-hander making his name in the big leagues. With 7 2/3 innings of three-run ball, none of which should have scored after Manoah forced a ground ball that should have ended the eighth, his ERA sits at 1.98. This is one of the best pitchers in baseball right now, emerging as a cornerstone franchise.

“We’re showing a lot of heart,” Manoah said after the win. “There was a lot of chatter early on when the offense was struggling, but that was the game plan. Keep trusting and keep going forward. Now, we’re seeing how good they can be.”

Thursday was vintage Manoah, and it’s a compliment to the 24-year-old that he already has his own “vintage” one year in. After the first two batters he faced reached on plays that could have been made, Manoah buckled down and escaped the jam, freezing Yasmani Grandal with a breaking ball on the inside corner for the final out of the first inning before skipping off the mound and charging toward the dugout. He only got better from there.

Bo Bichette pitched in with one of the best defensive plays of his career, ranging all the way behind third baseman Matt Chapman to field a Josh Harrison grounder before firing across the diamond — somehow — for the out to end the top of the fifth inning.

In the next frame, as Manoah chewed through another section of the White Sox lineup, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was playing mini golf in the dugout, using trainer Voon Chong’s feet as the cup.

Meanwhile, Raimel Tapia was wreaking havoc on the bases, braids bouncing in a blur behind him as he helped manufacture the first two runs of the game. On the second run, he came around from first on a Santiago Espinal double and slide across home plate, stopping to do two pushups in the dirt before he popped up. Later, Teoscar Hernández homered, and came up to beat twice in the eighth inning as the Blue Jays beat around for four insurance runs.

“Everybody started to feel good, and then I started to feel good,” Hernández said. “My swing is getting back together and we’re having good at-bats. That’s the biggest thing for us right now. We’re developing everything that we want to do during the games, and the results are going to be there.”

These are the scenes that have been missing from Toronto’s games, even the wins. This roster spills over with talent, style and personality, but those don’t all show in 2-1 bullpen battles.

Now, we’re seeing the Blue Jays win in the Blue Jays’ way.

“Before this, we were winning two out of three and hanging in there,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “It’s tough to beat people by one run all the time. I’ve always said that the moment we started swinging the bats, if we keep pitching and catching the ball like we have been, we’ll start winning some games in a row. That’s what’s happening right now.”

This recent run has shot the Blue Jays from 22-20 to 30-20, still comfortably behind the Yankees in the American League East but in a far better spot as they enter the heart of the season.

April and May were grueling in terms of opponents, too. The Blue Jays saw plenty of the Yankees with a pair of series against the Astros mixed in, and even lesser teams with losing records managed to play them close. Now, Toronto can look ahead to a road trip next week against the Tigers and Royals, both of whom sit well below .500.

From here, the trick is sustaining it all. This is the first time that the Blue Jays have looked like they’re fully and completely on the right path, though, so it looks like the search for a ’22 identity is over.

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