The all-star break was viewed by the Toronto Blue Jays as an opportunity to recharge their batteries and then show the rest of Major League Baseball they can still be a powerful force.
All it took was one game for all those nagging doubts surrounding the struggling baseball team to come racing back into focus.
Toronto’s aversion to offence continued unabated at Rogers Centre on Friday night where the last-placed Texas Rangers (39-57) emerged with a 5-1 win over the listless Blue Jays (49-48).
And if the listless seven-hit performance, including a telling 0-for-10 performance hitting with runners in scoring position, was not enough to lather up the decent gathering of 38,012, the events of the seventh inning only rubbed salt into the open wound.
That’s where J.P. Arencibia, the former Blue Jays catcher who was cut loose by the club following a dismal campaign in 2013, stroked a three-run home run off Toronto starter R.A. Dickey.
Arencibia started at first base and was playing in his first game after getting called up from the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock, Tex.
The loss was Toronto’s third in a row and ninth in its past 11 games, unsettling numbers for a group that continues to insist it has what it takes to be playoff bound this season.
But if the Blue Jays are to make a concerted run at this thing the conventional wisdom suggests that there might be no better opportunity than the present.
The All-Star Game has come and gone, signalling the beginning of the second half of the regular season where everybody knows the serious playoff contenders begin to exert their playoff muscle.
The Blue Jays have been exerting nothing but a lot of air the past month, now losers of 18 of their past 26.
That downward spiral turned a six-game lead atop the American League East into a second-place seating for the Blue Jays, four games behind the Baltimore Orioles.
Heading into the season’s second half, the Blue Jays’ schedule is more favourable than that of the Orioles, who on Friday night began a rugged 10-game west coast road trip that will see them play the Oakland Athletics, the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners.
After that, the Orioles will return to Baltimore to engage both the Athletics and Mariners in three-game sets.
The Blue Jays do not have it nearly that tough, beginning with the three-game series against the Rangers, who came to Toronto languishing in last place in the AL West with the worst record in the Majors. After that, the Blue Jays head out for what is viewed as a key 10-game excursion that will start out in New York and Boston against two struggling outfits that are staring up at Toronto in the AL East.
Then it is on to Houston for a four-game set against an Astros outfit whose only claim to fame is that they are at least not as bad as the Rangers.
Toronto’s John Gibbons tried his best to sound upbeat when speaking with reporters before the game about what the upcoming schedule represents to his team.
“We just haven’t played good for a few weeks – consistent,” Gibbons said. “We need to do that. We’re still in this thing and it can go one way or another.”
Toronto’s road to redemption will not be easy given that the Blue Jays are still missing several key players with injuries, including Brett Lawrie, Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind.
Gibbons said that their return is still a ways off.
The Blue Jays welcomed pitcher Brad Mills to the fold after claiming him off waivers from Oakland earlier in the week. To make room on the roster, the Blue Jays optioned reliever Chad Jenkins to their Triple-A affiliate. The lefty pitcher will be utilized out of the bullpen in long relief for the time being, with Todd Redmond’s role shifting more to a late-innings specialist.
Dickey, now 7-10 on the year, lost for the sixth time in his past seven outings, surrendering all five of the Texas runs off six hits, including homers by Arencibia and Adrian Beltre, through seven innings of work.
It was Beltre’s poke in the fifth, a leadoff home run shot to left field that put the Rangers on the board. A triple by Rougned Odor would follow, scoring another run that gave Texas a 2-0 advantage.
That proved to be a pretty comfortable margin for Yu Darvish, the crafty Texas starter who earned the win to improve to 9-5, allowing one run off five hits through 6 2/3 innings of work.
Darvish also struck out 12, tying his season high.
The one run he allowed was off the bat of Colby Rasmus, who stroked a solo home run for Toronto in the seventh.