With their season in tatters amid a downward spiral that shows little sign of slowing any time soon, it would seem the primary question facing the Toronto Blue Jays these days is: How low can they go?
The Blue Jays have already slipped into third place in the American League East with the fourth-seeded Tampa Bay Rays in close pursuit. Only the overall ragged play of the Boston Red Sox this season is protecting Toronto from a possible basement plunge with 29 games left to play.
Talk to people such as Blue Jays manager John Gibbons and he will insist that the Blue Jays still have a shot at making the run at the postseason. Technically, Gibbons is correct, but he is also paid well to proffer such a Pollyanna perspective.
“We’re up against a big headwind but yeah, you’ve got to stay optimistic,” Gibbons said Wednesday night before the Blue Jays wound up their three-game set against the Red Sox at Rogers Centre. “Why wouldn’t you. What are you, going to quit?”
The Blue Jays desperately need to string together more good outings like Wednesday’s, where rookie pitcher Marcus Stroman (8-5) exhibited another impressive performance, spearheading Toronto (67-66) to a 5-2 victory to avoid what would have been an embarrassing three-game sweep to Boston (58-75).
Displaying poise far beyond his 23 years, Stroman delivered a gem and tipped his cap to the crowd of 30,285, who gave him a warm cheer as he left the game in the eighth inning after holding the Red Sox to just two runs off five hits. Stroman, who struck out six along the way, did not allow a hit until the fourth inning, where David Ortiz touched him up for a single.
After enjoying 48 glorious days in first place in the AL East, their lead expanding to as many as six games back in early June, the Blue Jays’ rapid descent down the standing since the all-star break in July has been alarming, to say the least.
And the longer the season drags on, the worse things seem to get for the Blue Jays, who are now flirting with a record of .500 after being 14 games up on June 6.
The month of August has been especially bleak.
Heading into Wednesday’s game, the Blue Jays record in August was 6-16, hardly the stuff that epic pennant races are built on and generates the kind of excitement that results in increased attendance in September.
The .273 win percentage currently represents the lowest for the month of August in franchise history.
With Boston winning the first two games of the three-game set this week against Toronto, the Blue Jays have now dropped six of their past eight series since July 31, getting outscored 121-72 in the process.
The team isn’t hitting much or pitching much better.
Among the AL in August, the pitching staff owns a 4.83 earned-run average, third-highest in the loop, while the offence this month ranks last in the majors in home runs (11) and runs scored (72).
The longer this nosedive continues, you have to start questioning the job security of both Gibbons and general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who are attached at the hip in this current endeavour.
Anthopoulos has been the team’s architect since October, 2009, and the Blue Jays have never finished better than fourth place under his reign.
And it was Anthopoulos who brought Gibbons back from obscurity in his hometown of San Antonio, where he was contentedly managing the Double-A Missions, to rejoin the Blue Jays as their manager heading into the 2013 campaign.
While the continued employment of both men in Toronto was not even on the radar as recently as a month ago, it most definitely is now with the season winding down and the collapse of the club in full swing.
You have to wonder how much more patience the suits at Rogers Communications Inc. are going to continue to have with the current status quo, after forking out a record payroll this season of about $140-million (U.S.) and then watching the team play at such an inconsistent clip late in the year.
On Wednesday, all was good at the ball yard, with Jose Bautista providing Toronto with an early leg up, knocking his second home run in as many games, and his 26th of the season, in the first inning to give Toronto a 1-0 lead.
Boston scored two in the sixth to pull in front 2-1 before the Blue Jays responded in the decisive seventh inning where they put four up on the board to regain the lead.
The telling blow was a three-run pinch-hit home run off the bat of Danny Valencia against Boston reliever Junichi Tazawa. For Valencia, who was obtained by Toronto in a trade with the Kansas City Royals in late July, it was his first home run in 25 games with the Jays.