TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays know they have the ability to outscore most teams in the major leagues.
Now they’re getting the starting pitching to go along with it and that has created optimism after an inconsistent first two months of the season.
Kevin Pillar and Justin Smoak drove in two runs apiece and Drew Hutchison turned in a quality start as the Blue Jays extended their winning streak to a season-high four games Saturday with a 7-2 victory over the Houston Astros at Rogers Centre.
Toronto (27-30) has outscored its opponents 28-7 during the streak.
“Even through the struggles this season, it’s a confident team,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “We’re very close to being back at full strength and we’re just doing a lot of good things. It’s pretty amazing. We can score a lot of runs in a big-league game and we’ve been doing it to this point in the season.
“I can’t even remember a team I’ve been with, and maybe I’m wrong, that scores that many that often. That’s been a big thing for us in winning some games.”
The Blue Jays lead the majors in runs scored and they used a balanced attack on a sunny afternoon in front of 31,809 fans.
Toronto opened the scoring in the first inning as Jose Bautista drew a walk from Astros southpaw Brett Oberholtzer (0-1), stole second and came home on Edwin Encarnacion’s flare to shallow right-centre field.
The Blue Jays added three more runs in the second inning to give Hutchison (5-1) a nice lead to work with. The young right-hander allowed one earned run, six hits and a walk over 6 1/3 innings while striking out five.
Toronto starters have gone at least six innings in 15 of the team’s last 17 games.
“They’re on a nice little roll,” Gibbons said. “Sometimes guys in the bullpen bitch and moan about getting worn down. That hasn’t been a problem for us the last couple weeks. You start to worry about these guys getting a little rusty because they haven’t pitched much. But that’s always a good thing.”
Chris Colabello had a double in the fifth inning to extend his hitting streak to a career-high 16 games. The Blue Jays outhit Houston 10-8 and handed the Astros (34-23) their third straight loss.
“That game — it didn’t start out well and it didn’t finish well,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch.
Houston’s Jonathan Villar hit his first home run of the season in the eighth inning off reliever Steve Delabar. The solo shot landed in the second deck in right field.
Toronto added some insurance runs in the bottom half of the frame. Smoak, who was pinch-hitting for Encarnacion, lashed a two-out double that scored Jose Reyes and Bautista.
Brett Cecil worked a 1-2-3 ninth for Toronto. Reyes had three stolen bases as the Blue Jays swiped a season-high five bags on the day.
Oberholtzer pitched 3 2/3 innings, allowing six hits, two earned runs and three walks while striking out a pair.
The Blue Jays will go for a sweep of the three-game series on Sunday afternoon.
Notes: Encarnacion had a cortisone injection in his left shoulder and is expected to be out for a day or two. He said the area has been sore over the last two weeks and got worse after a swing in the first inning. … The Blue Jays have won five of their last six games at home. … The game took three hours 16 minutes to play. … Colabello’s hitting streak is the longest active streak in the major leagues. It’s the longest streak by a Toronto player since Scott Rolen had a 25-gamer in the 2009 season. … Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (2-6, 5.53 earned-run average) is scheduled to start on Sunday against fellow right-hander Colin McHugh (6-2, 4.33). … The Blue Jays will continue their six-game homestand with a three-game series starting Monday against the Miami Marlins. … Outfielder Dalton Pompey, who spent the first month of the season with the Blue Jays, was sent to double-A New Hampshire from triple-A Buffalo on Saturday.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press