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At 56-49, the Toronto Blue Jays are in the thick of the postseason race, trailing the Athletics by only three games for the second wild card spot. The Blue Jays have the league's second best run differential at plus-111 (the Astros lead at plus-150 and the White Sox are right behind Toronto at plus-110), though they've been held back by a shaky bullpen and a 6-12 record in one-run games.

The Blue Jays returned to Toronto for the first time since 2019 last week and they've been energized, going 5-1 and outscoring opponents 32-18 in their first six games at Rogers Centre. They wrap up a four-game series with Cleveland on Thursday, then welcome the AL East rival Red Sox to Toronto for four games in three days this weekend (doubleheader on Saturday).

The Blue Jays have been energized by their return to the Toronto and also by George Springer, their big-money offseason addition. Springer missed the start of the season with an oblique strain, returned for four games in late April, then went right back on the injured list with a quad strain. He returned on June 22 and went 11 for 61 (.180) in his first 17 games back. 

Springer took a weak .194/.310/.417 batting line into the All-Star break and an 0 for 4 in the first game of the second half dropped him to .184/.295/.395 on the year. "This is already a hard enough game. The more you dwell on stuff, the harder it gets ... You have to go out there and attempt to have fun every single day," Springer told reporters, including SI.com's Ethan Diamandas, last month.

Since that 0 for 4 on July 16, Springer has been a one-man wrecking crew and one of the best hitters in baseball. He had four hits, including a double and a home run, in Wednesday's win over Cleveland (TOR 8, CLE 6), giving him a .424/.480/.924 batting line with eight homers in his last 17 games. He has four homers in his last five games and has raised his season line to .296/.380/.641.

"We knew that was going to happen," Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo told reporters, including the Toronto Star's Gregor Chisholm, when asked about Springer's hot streak earlier this week. "He just missed a lot of time, so it was going to take him a lot of at-bats to get back to where he is right now. But he's doing what we thought he would do. That's why we gave him that much money, because he's one of the best players in baseball, and he's showing it."  

Since the admittedly cherry-picked date of July 18, Springer leads baseball in batting average (.424), is second to Bryce Harper in on-base percentage (.490, Harper is at .569), and is second to Joey Votto in slugging percentage (.924, Votto is at .927). Only Votto has more homers (10 vs. 8). Once adjusted for ballpark, Springer has been 169 percent better than the league average hitter since July 18. That's tops in baseball.

"I was groomed to hit first my whole career," Springer recently told reporters, including MLB.com's Keegan Matheson, about moving back into his customary leadoff spot. "I understand how to navigate it a little bit. I know I may get myself out sometimes or not have the at-bat I want to have, but I just understand it's the same thing as any other at-bat. I just happen to be hitting first."  

The Blue Jays are 12-7 in their last 19 games, tied with the Yankees for the American's League's best record during that time, and they reinforced their pitching staff with José Berríos, Brad Hand, and Joakim Soria at the deadline. Hand and Soria are no longer the pitchers they were earlier in their careers, though they're better than some of the guys Toronto ran out there in the first half.

Ultimately, the Blue Jays are an offense-first team, and Springer drives that offense as the leadoff hitter. He and MVP candidate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. form a devastating 1-2 punch atop the lineup, and Marcus Semien and Bo Bichette are pretty excellent in the 3-4 lineup spots as well. It's no accident this lineup ranks third in baseball with 5.19 runs scored per game.

Because of the injuries, it took Springer a little longer to have an impact than the Blue Jays hoped, but he's healthy now and he's become a dominant force in his customary leadoff spot. He brings power and discipline to the offense, good defense to center field, and also championship chops to the clubhouse. The Blue Jays are in the postseason race and Springer's torrid stretch has helped keep the club relevant. 

"We're energized to have the guys that we do on our roster now, to be back home and in our home ballpark with our home fans," Springer recently told Matheson, deflecting credit away from himself and his hot streak for the team's success. "That's obviously huge. I just think that our team understands every game is important, and we're playing for our life every single day. We have to bring the same attitude, the same aggression every single day."