SAN DIEGO -- Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders entered the season a career .230 hitter. He played in nine games last season. He's now an All-Star for the first time and it's a pretty fun story how he got there. One of the Final Vote candidates, Saunders won the vote on the strength of his home country.

Born in Victoria, British Columbia, Saunders is Canadian.

Michael Saunders has lots of reasons to be excited this season. USATSI

"Being Canadian myself, we Canadians stick together, he said. "It's very special for me to be here, not only representing the Toronto Blue Jays, but really, the Blue Jays represent all of Canada."

Saunders isn't here without merit, of course. Quite the contrary, he's having an amazing season given where he was coming in at age 29. The slash line is now a robust .298/.372/.551 with 25 double and 16 homers. He's six doubles, three homers and 15 RBI from career highs.

Saunders, though, like any good and humble Canadian, won't personally take the credit.

"I'm a product of my environment," he said. "I'm in the middle of what I think is the best lineup in all of baseball. You know the old saying, hitting is contagious and you all feed off each other. We have MVPs, All-Stars, Silver Sluggers. The mix in our clubhouse is pretty impressive."

The Blue Jays enter the break second in the AL in runs, but they finished red hot, winning eight of their last nine games and creeping to within two games of the Orioles in the AL East. It's a deficit that was once within seven games and the Blue Jays now seem a strong bet to repeat at the AL East champions after having previously missed the playoffs every year since 1993. If they do pull it off, it'll be due in no small part to the work of native Canadian Saunders.