We should never be surprised by regression to the mean.
It's fair, though, to be surprised by particularly dramatic regression to the mean. And the Toronto Blue Jays are regressing hard.
Usually, that does seem like a good thing. Usually when we're talking about regression, we're talking about a player or a team coming down to the mean. For instance, the Pittsburgh Pirates last summer. And the summer before. And maybe this summer. But this is different, because the Blue Jays are regressing up.
Three months ago, the Blue Jays were the consensus choice to win the tough American League East, largely because they transformed their starting rotation with the additions of Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and N.L. Cy Young Award winner Robert Allen Dickey.
Of course what happened instead was that pretty much everybody, those guys and the holdovers too, pitched horribly. Exactly two weeks ago, the Blue Jays lost to the White Sox. That dropped their record to 27-36, and they fell a full dozen games behind the first-place Red Sox. You wouldn't have been out of line to suggest the Jays were finished, at least in terms of a division title; their dreams dead, five weeks before the All-Star break.
They haven't lost a game since.
They've played 11 and they've won 11. They're five games behind the first-place Red Sox. And their run differential (+14), while not wildly impressive, is tied for second-best in the division.
The Red Sox have outscored their opponents by 69 runs. The other four teams in the division have combined for a plus-33 differential:
+14 Blue Jays
Three months ago, the Blue Jays were supposed to be as good as anybody in the division ... and in one fundamental respect, they've been as good as anybody in the division except the Red Sox ... who lost 93 games last year and didn't do nearly as much over the winter as the Jays. Sometimes it's a tough game to figure (and if you want to know how tough, just look at Mike Carp and Jose Iglesias this season).
So the Blue Jays are officially alive. How have they done it?
1. Outscoring their opponents
Right: Duh. But they've outscored their opponents by a lot: 70 to 27. Those eleven victories include just one one-run game, along with four two-run games, one three-run game, three five-run games, and two eight-run games. The Blue Jays have been winning the old-fashioned way.
2. Good starting pitching
Yes, finally. In the first game of the streak, Chien-Ming Wang gave up five runs. In the ninth game, Dickey gave up six runs. Yesterday in the 11th game, Johnson gave up four runs. But otherwise they've all been outstanding; even including those outings, Cyanocitta cristata starters have given up 2.9 runs (earned and otherwise) per nine innings during the streak.
Yeah, this is more like it. And they've done it without their No. 2 starter (Brandon Morrow), the No. 5 starter (Ricky Romero) and their No. 6 starter (James Anthony Happ). Wang's been good, and so has Esmil Rogers; it's debatable whether either can sustain their performances, considering their recent track records.
But that's a relative trifle. The Blue Jays are alive, but they've still got problems. The Blue Jays' three best starting pitchers this season were supposed to be Dickey, Morrow, and Johnson.
Dickey's still got a 5.15 ERA, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is 58 percent worse than last year.
Johnson's victory yesterday was his first of the season.
Morrow's 2-3 with a 5.68 ERA, and just suffered a setback in his rehab; now he's seeing a specialist (which usually isn't good news).
More than ever, it's worth remembering that we thought, just three months ago, that this team would win something like 90-95 games. The Blue Jays don't have that team on the field, though. In addition to Morrow, they're also missing Brett Lawrie, Jose Reyes, and the 2011-2012 version of Melky Cabrera.
Considering all those players, the Blue Jays are probably just about finished regressing hard. To actually become the team we expected, they need to actually have the team we expected.
For much more about the Blue Jays and their winning streak, please visit SB Nation's Bluebird Banter.