MLB Baseball - INACTIVE

MLB Insider: Smoak lands in perfect spot with red-hot Blue Jays

High-fives all around for Justin Smoak, who has found himself playing for a World Series favorite.
High-fives all around for Justin Smoak, who has found himself playing for a World Series favorite. AP

Up 12-2 on Wednesday, the Toronto Blue Jays summoned Mark Lowe from the visitors bullpen at Globe Life Park.

“Mark Lowe?” a media member said, mildly stunned, in the press box.

“Mark Lowe?” followed a few others, in chorus.

It’s true. It’s true. The reliever who lives in Texas Rangers infamy, having surrendered the game-losing homer to David Freese in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, resurrected his career and finds himself on another contender.

Justin Smoak, the Rangers’ former first baseman of the future, feels like part of a legitimate contender for the first time. Smoak’s home run Wednesday broke a 2-2 tie and was met with less shock in the snarky press box among those who remembered that he was still in the majors.

He wasn’t for part of the season last year, his last in Seattle. The Mariners were in the wild-card hunt, though as much because Oakland was in collapse mode as the Mariners winning 87 games.

Smoak, for a few weeks, was optioned to Triple A Tacoma. After the season, he was designated for assignment. Toronto scooped him up in a move that didn’t seem all that becoming of a team that planned to contend, but Smoak and the Blue Jays have the look of a World Series team.

Granted, much has happened since April 6, when the season opened. It’s happened in the past month, since the trade deadline additions of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and David Price. And, of course, Lowe.

As the Sundance Kid once said, “They’re very good.”

“We’ve got a good team,” Smoak said.

No kidding.

The lineup features Tulowitzki, a multi-time All-Star for Colorado; Josh Donaldson, the possible American League MVP; Jose Bautista, an MVP runner-up; Edwin Encarnacion, a former Rangers prospect turned All-Star; and Russell Martin, one of the game’s highest-regarded catchers.

If a pitcher gets past them, Smoak can get him. So can Ben Revere. Even Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins have done something to win ballgames for a team that is 29-10 since the All-Star break.

The Blue Jays’ win Wednesday marked the third time in five games they scored in double digits. On the road. Against teams that fancy themselves as playoff contenders.

Toronto, which entered the weekend leading the majors with a run differential of plus-170, definitely looked a like a playoff team.

“We expect that, but at the same time, we expect to win every day,” Smoak said. “You don’t expect to score 10 runs every day.

“Ever since about three weeks ago, we’re a better team all around. We’re better defensively, we’re better on the mound, we’re better in the bullpen. Offensively, we knew we were good.”

Smoak hasn’t been much different than he was in Seattle, but the expectations are different. He’s not hounded as the can’t-miss centerpiece the Mariners acquired in 2010 from the Rangers for Cliff Lee.

He was batting .218 with 13 homers and 45 RBIs. He’s doing damage, though, with an RBI every five at-bats and a .352 average with runners in scoring position.

The Blue Jays were 54-19 when he started. He knows he fell into a pretty sweet situation after years of losing and getting booed in Seattle.

“Yeah, right?” he said, laughing about his good fortune. “I felt like when they picked me up, it was a win-win situation for me. Going to the American League East, better ballparks. Toronto’s a hitter’s ballpark. Why not?”

He’s no longer hounded by the question he got often: Did the Rangers rush him to the majors? Yes, he conceded, but at the time he felt like he was ready to contribute to a playoff team. He did, in helping to get Lee.

“It is what it is,” Smoak said.

And he is what he is, now for a contender for the AL East and to represent the AL in the World Series.

The Blue Jays can be beaten, and, though awfully tricky, opposing starters can navigate through the lineup.

But the remade Blue Jays have lost consecutive games only once since July 31. They have an ace in a veteran rotation, an improved bullpen, a solid bench, and oh, that lineup.

Smoak has become a big part of it.

“I’ve always done damage, but it’s just trying to minimize the lows,” he said. “Nothing’s better than winning. Nothing beats going to the field every day knowing you’re playing for something.”

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

Top five

Cardinals: First team to 80 wins could be looking at 100.

Royals: Not letting up with AL Central essentially locked up.

Pirates: Getting healthy, not letting St. Louis run away in NL Central.

Blue Jays: Winning combination of elite offense and veteran pitching.

Mets: Young pitching staff could be tough in a short series.

Bottom five

Phillies: Have surged into lead for No. 1 pick. Congrats.

Rockies: If this is a rebuild, need to trade Carlos Gonzalez, too.

Marlins: Why trade Sam Dyson? Owner Loria, that’s why.

Reds: Will be eliminated from NL Central this week.

Brewers: In tight race with Cincinnati to be first eliminated.

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