Over the past couple of decades, there have been some spectacularly awful stretches of baseball in Toronto. Few cities in the majors have such a high bar for low quality.
But Sunday may have been the worst single day in the recent history of this organization.
The Blue Jays lost again, atrociously this time. It ended 11-4 for the Baltimore Orioles. The few thousand fans that made it until the end got a souvenir umbrella for showing up and a Purple Heart for suffering through this entire horror show.
The Toronto clubhouse afterward was funereal, if it were the sort of funeral where several mourners had dropped dead mid-service of carbon-monoxide poisoning. Outside that room, people are still in the “It’s early days” phase of baseball hysteria. Inside, they know that things are not right.
At 2-10, Toronto has the worst record in the major leagues. The Jays are dead last in most major offensive categories. As Sunday’s game ended, the Jays were four games out … of fourth place.
Amazingly, the Blue Jays early season badness is managing to overshadow the Leafs’ postseason goodness. That’s some really aspirational failure.
The Jays are missing their best player (Josh Donaldson) for who knows how long and, on Sunday, lost two-fifths of their rotation in the space of a few hours. Insert something here about Oscar Wilde and the difference between misfortune and carelessness.
In the morning, Aaron Sanchez put himself on the disabled list to deal with a persistent blister on the middle finger of his throwing hand.
How long has he had this problem? According to Sanchez, two years. Thank goodness it’s not pernicious or anything.
“We don’t really know when it comes, how it comes, why it’s coming,” Sanchez said disconsolately, while shielding his right hand from view with his left.
Sanchez thought he’d be out “not too long.” Later, manager John Gibbons said that these sorts of things can be figured out quickly – “as little as two weeks.”
For a team in freefall, losing its best pitcher for two weeks will seem like forever and a day.
Then it got worse.
In the fifth inning of the game, starter J.A. Happ threw a routine fastball, felt something pull in his elbow, did an awkward little hop off the mound and, after a gloomy medical conference, left the game.
At the best of times, Happ is a stoic figure, but after Sunday’s setback he’d gone full-Easter Island statue.
“It’s a little concerning and definitely frustrating,” Happ said stonily.
How long has it been since you felt anything like this?
“A long time,” Happ said.
It’s good to see that the Jays’ shrilly promoted “high-performance department” is paying early dividends.
For now, the Jays are calling Happ’s injury “left elbow soreness.” He’ll get an MRI on Monday.
It’s the sort of thing that often starts off “a little concerning,” and then ends in a surprise e-mail from the club’s PR department telling you so-and-so has just had successful reconstructive surgery.
Last year’s grind into the playoffs was down to several factors, but the most important of them was healthy pitching. Put aside the Jays’ current record and statistical wretchedness. If Sanchez and Happ are laid up for any length of time, you can forget about 2017.
Of course, the Jays aren’t going to say that.
Though manager John Gibbons already has his longest-part-of-August look going – eyes glassy, cap tipped way back on his head, a lot of weary face stroking – he described himself as “concerned” as opposed to worried.
“We’ll lean on [pitchers] in Triple A and see how that goes,” Gibbons shrugged.
I suppose that’s a plan. Not a good one. But it does meet the definition of the word.
Since it’s April, we must keep up the baseball charade that no amount of consistently terrible play by the Toronto Blue Jays may yet lead us to the conclusion that they are a bad baseball team.
But after the two weeks just past, only Rogers’ shareholders and tinfoil-hat types will be suggesting that, on evidence, this team is any good.
They are not as bad as their record – post-1900, no Major League Baseball team has ever been this bad over a complete season.
Instead, the Jays look bad in an average and depressingly familiar sort of way – banged up, inept, uncertain and, most of all, unlucky.
When you lose 10 of 12 in June, you can take comfort in the law of averages and tunnel your way out of it. But when it starts out this miserably, a tone is set for an entire year.
So far, this is the year the Blue Jays begin coming apart.
It was obvious that team president Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins wanted to start that process this off-season. They talked up getting younger, bulking up the farm system, and very clearly wanted rid of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista.
When the fans revolted, they got cold feet, made up with Bautista and reaffirmed their faith in the current core. This ‘no changes required’ approach made fans happy, while allowing Shapiro and Atkins to invest nothing extra in the team. They can still blow it up any time.
This result of this neither/nor-ism was a wafer-thin roster, one or two injuries from disaster. On Sunday, disaster walked through the door and hung up its coat. It may be staying a while.
We don’t know how long Sanchez, Happ or Donaldson will be gone, but it’s already too long if the goal is the division. The Jays can’t grind their way out of this. To make the playoffs, Toronto will probably need to play something like .580 baseball the rest of the way. The last time the Jays did that was 25 years ago.
Mathematically, I suppose it’s possible. Certainly, stranger things have happened.
But is it likely any more? No.
It’s early, but even the Jays wouldn’t be dumb enough to tell you that now.Report Typo/Error
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