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Lineup consistency yields great success

Lineup consistency yields great success

TORONTO -- There is comfort in stability. When players wander out of the Blue Jays' clubhouse and check the lineup card that hangs on a wall just around the corner, they have been finding a familiar batting order on a daily basis.

On Tuesday, there it was again, the same lineup that Toronto manager Cito Gaston used on Opening Day roughly two weeks ago. It marked the sixth time in 15 games that Gaston has utilized the same batting order. On the days when it has changed, there have been only slight adjustments to the lineup's Nos. 5-9 slots.

It has been a change from when former manager John Gibbons was at the helm. Prior to Gaston's arrival last June, the Blue Jays' starting lineup went through frequent changes, depending on pitching matchups and how Toronto's hitters were performing.

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Granted, the Blue Jays' offense has stormed out of the gates this season, giving Gaston little reason to alter the order. That being said, there are some within Toronto's clubhouse who believe the lineup might have performed better in the past with more stability.

"It helps that our team is just raking," Blue Jays designated hitter Adam Lind said. "When things are going the way they're going, things aren't going to change -- it's going to be the same every day. On the other hand, things probably could've been better if we would've had a set lineup before.

"You never knew who was going to play or what the lineup was going to be, where you were going to hit. It's easier on your mind now."

Entering Tuesday's tilt against the Rangers, the Blue Jays boasted one of the top offenses in baseball, leading the Majors in runs scored (87), hits (146), extra-base hits (56) and total bases (248). Toronto also ranked second overall with a .290 team average -- the top mark in the American League -- and second in home runs (22) and doubles (32).

The Jays have done so with the same hitters in the top four slots of their lineup. In each of Toronto's 15 games, shortstop Marco Scutaro has led off, followed by second baseman Aaron Hill, right fielder Alex Rios and center fielder Vernon Wells. Scutaro and Hill have helped lead the charge, hitting .283 and .365, respectively, with four home runs apiece.

"Obviously, you wouldn't expect those two to be driving in the bulk of the runs and hitting the bulk of the homers," Wells said. "But they've done an unbelievable job and it's kind of been a trickle down effect from there. When you have your top two guys starting off games and getting on base and being the engine to this whole thing, it's fun to watch."

Gaston's method also shows hitters that he has faith in their abilities.

Consider Rios, who entered Tuesday's game with a .207 average, no home runs and only six RBIs. Gaston said he has been starting late with his swing and the coaching staff has been working with him on his swing mechanics. Still, Gaston hasn't removed Rios from the lineup's important third spot, leaving him there for every game so far.

"That allows guys not to stress too much when they're going through bad times," Wells said. "They don't have to look over their shoulder. You know that you're going to be in that spot and the guys behind you understand.

"The man who is making out the lineup understands -- he's played the game before. He knows how hard it is to hit at this level at times and sometimes you just have to be patient with it."

There's also the case of rookie Travis Snider, who was hitting .290 with three homers and nine RBIs, entering Tuesday. Even in light of Snider's strong start, Gaston has kept the young left fielder in the ninth spot, trying to eliminate as much pressure as possible.

"I think it's great," Wells said. "It allows him to get comfortable. He's probably one of the better nine-hole hitters to grace this lineup in quite a few years -- let alone in baseball right now. He's done well and he's going to continue to get better."

For the most part, when Gaston has changed the lineup, the switches have been straight up.

When first baseman Lyle Overbay has had a day off, Kevin Millar has moved to first and taken Overbay's spot in the seven-hole. If Snider is off, Jose Bautista takes over in left and hits in the ninth spot for him. Bautista has hit sixth, but only when he was filling in at third base for Scott Rolen. And, with the exception of one game, the catcher has batted eighth.

It's Gaston's way of keeping things as stable as possible.

"I think it's easier for guys to come to the ballpark," Gaston said, "and either know that they're playing or not playing, and also know where they might be hitting in the lineup. It's just something positive for themselves. In the long run, it's a lot better.

"Usually, players write out the lineup. You really don't write it out -- they write it out in the way that they play. Right now, things are going pretty good with that lineup, so I'm pretty much going to stick with it."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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