Alex Anthopoulos is a realist and he knows full well that the hole his Toronto Blue Jays have dug themselves may be too big to clamber out of.
But the team’s general manager is also an optimist and suggests that recent history shows that the Blue Jays continued hopes for a playoff berth is not just wishful thinking.
Watch: Rangers beat Jays 6-4
“Slowly playing better,” is how Anthopoulos responded on Sunday when asked for his assessment on how his team has performed so far this season.
That was before the Blue Jays (27-35) went out and coughed up a four-run advantage in what turned into a 6-4 victory by the Texas Rangers (37-25) before 42,722 fans who were eager to see a three-game sweep by the home side.
“It’s frustrating,” Toronto manager John Gibbons acknowledged about the loss. “They’re in first place over there for a reason, they play a good brand of baseball. They pitch, they play great defence, they can make some things happen.”
That frustration was evident in the ninth inning when the Blue Jays got the first two runners on board with nobody out and the meat of the order coming up.
After a sacrifice bunt by Melky Cabrera moved both runners into scoring position, Jose Bautista struck out and then angrily confronted home-plate umpire Gary Darling, unhappy with a called first strike.
Darling quickly ejected a heated Bautista from the game and the right fielder continued his hissy fit by heaving his bat and batting helmet onto the field as he stalked off.
Edwin Encarnacion then popped out to second to end the affair.
After the game Bautista refused to talk with reporters.
The Blue Jays had been on a bit of a roll having won three straight heading into Sunday’s game.
The bad news is that despite the recent surge, the Blue Jays are making very little headway in closing the gap that exists between them and teams in serious playoff contention.
They remain in last place in the American League East, 11 games back of the Boston Red Sox for first place.
Anthopoulos said you only have to look back to last season, when the Oakland Athletics were in much the same situation as the Blue Jays, to gain some hope.
On June 10, 2012, the Athletics were wallowing in the AL West, in last place in the division with a record of 26-35, nine games back of the first-place Rangers.
All Oakland did after that was storm back, winning 68 of their next 101 games to finish 94-68 to win the division by a game.
“I know that’s the exception rather than the rule,” Anthopoulos said. “But we certainly have the talent to do something like that.”
That Oakland hot streak represented a healthy .673 winning clip, a success rate that this current Blue Jays outfit has shown little inclination of being able to approach.
Sunday’s game was a perfect example of why many believe the Blue Jays don’t have such a run of excellence in them.
After scoring four runs in the third inning, highlighted by a three-run smash by Adam Lind, his sixth of the season, the Blue Jays had the Rangers by the throat with a 4-0 lead.
But the team’s lack of a killer instinct was once again evident.
Starter Josh Johnson was quick to give back two of the runs the following inning, including a solo home run shot by Nelson Cruz.
Johnson, who developed a blister on his right middle finger and struggled with his control, only lasted five innings, throwing 109 pitches, before departing with the Jays leading 4-3.
Texas added single runs in the fifth and sixth innings and took the lead for good in the seventh on a home run by Adrian Beltre off reliever Neil Wagner, who was tagged with the loss.
“I think everybody agrees to a man, there’s a lot of talent on this team, “ Anthopoulos said. “And I think everyone has seen flashes of it.”
Unfortunately, for the Blue Jays, those flashes have been few and far between.
Toronto Blue Jays (27-35) at Chicago White Sox (27-34)
Monday, 8:10 p.m. EDT:
Toronto RHP R.A. Dickey (5-7, 4.66 earned-run average) vs. Chicago RHP Dylan Axelrod (3-4, 3.73)
Tuesday, 8:10 p.m.:
Toronto RHP Chien-Ming Wang (0-0, 0.00) vs. Chicago LHP Jose Quintana (3-2, 3.95)
Wednesday, 8:10 p.m.:
Toronto RHP Esmil Rogers (1-2, 3.60) vs. Chicago LHP Chris Sale (5-4, 2.68)
Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos confirmed before Sunday’s game that veteran right-hander Chien-Ming Wang will get the start in Tuesday’s game. For Wang, it will represent his first start in the major leagues this season and the GM made it clear if Wang doesn’t produce he won’t be around for long. … Injured Toronto shortstop Jose Reyes is about 10 days away from starting a rehab stint in the minors. … Injured Toronto starter Brandon Morrow (arm stiffness) will accompany the Blue Jays to Chicago, where he will throw a bullpen. … The 2013 first-year player draft came to a close on Saturday and the Blue Jays used their 40 draft selections to pick 19 high-school players and 21 college and university players. Topping the list was high-school pitcher Phillip Bickford. … Injured reliever Darren Oliver will be reinstated to the roster prior to Monday’s game. Bench coach DeMarlo Hale will be the manager in Monday’s game for Toronto as John Gibbons is returning to San Antonio to attend the high-school graduation of his son.