On Wednesday, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said the Jays had hit “rock bottom.” In that case, they went out to the West Coast and began drilling.
Toronto put up another terrible effort on Sunday, losing 4-0 to the last-place Angels.
Speaking mathematically, you can’t yet say the Jays lost the American League East in Anaheim. Speaking realistically, you know they did.
This was their best chance to climb back into the division race. A sweep would have put them in a decent spot. Three of four would still have imbued the team with some belief. Two wins followed by two humiliating losses remind the Jays of what they’ve become – a floundering organization that can no longer use the excuse of ‘slumps.’ It’s not a slump if it’s become a predictable state of affairs.
There are 13 games remaining. As of early Sunday evening, the gap between first and third was still only 3 1/2 games. Toronto gets Boston for three to end the year.
If you stare hard enough at the numbers in isolation, it’s still possible.
If you apply common sense – as in, how the Jays are playing in comparison to how everyone else is playing – it is not.
Toronto is now 5-11 in September – the worst run of form in the major leagues. The Angels, who held a weekend baseball clinic with the Jays as the only invited guests, are 6-10 – second-worst. Going into the Sunday night game, the Red Sox were 11-5.
There are bad bets and then there are ones so bad they pay out early. This has become the latter.
Given where Toronto is, the games on Saturday and Sunday were the most important of the season. This was the Blue Jays’ last cut at a genuinely bad team. From this point on, it’s nothing but postseason contenders.
Faced with that scenario, the Jays put up one run in two days. They were 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position. They had two extra-base hits – both doubles.
The pitching was fine. It wasn’t what you’d hope for at this point of the year – competing to your opponent’s level, rather than an arbitrary ‘quality-start’ measure – but it wasn’t bad.
Everything else was shocking. The box score cannot properly capture all the small mental errors that do not qualify statistically, but end up costing you games. All the poor throws and cut-off men missed and base-running snafus.
For instance, when it still could’ve gone either way on Sunday – both the game and perhaps the division – the Angels repeatedly victimized Jose Bautista in the outfield.
Mike Trout sliced a single toward him. Knowing Bautista has neither the speed to get to it nor the arm to make up for that lack, Trout did not hesitate in making the turn toward second.
When Albert Pujols hit another single straight at Bautista, Trout was always going home. He slid around the tag, leaving Bautista staring up at the replay on the scoreboard and smouldering so hard you could almost smell it.
At this point, Bautista must realize how much he’s diminished as a fielder, but this hard reminder from the best player in the game looked as if it hurt.
A couple of innings later, Trout was back on third. Bautista was determined to get him at home on sac fly. So determined that he ignored Pujols wandering foolishly off first on the pop-up. Bautista passed up a chance to end the inning for a chance to miss Trout by 10 feet at the plate. That was the game.
Afterward, Bautista was left standing bereft in right field, jerking his head about so angrily that a less athletic player would’ve snapped his neck.
There were many other boners like that one – Edwin Encarnacion sprinting from second to third on a ball hit straight up the middle, and needlessly caught out at the bag (In baseball argot, this particular brain cramp is know as a ‘Devon Travis’); Michael Saunders zigzagging slowly toward a bloop that fell under his glove, allowing another run; Kevin Pillar choosing this game to have a screaming match with first-base umpire Jim Reynolds over a check-swing third strike.
If the Jays were the team they always claim to be – an offensive juggernaut bulling its way through opponents and their meagre faith in tactics – this wouldn’t matter so much. But the Jays aren’t that.
Not any more.
They are now a scrambling, half-talented, good-on-the-right-day sort of team. Facing the worst half of American League staffs and teams that aren’t willing to grind every game until the last out, they still have a chance.
They won’t be seeing those sorts of pitchers or those sorts of opponents any more.
Functionally, the playoffs begin Monday in Seattle. A sweep by the Mariners would put Seattle in the second wild card spot and put Toronto’s season in need of extreme unction. It’s got that close.
Sunday was Toronto’s last chance to rediscover its form while running at an easy jog. It’s all uphill now. If it’s not a blowout early, every game will be a 3 1/2-hour campaign. Having no other choice, the bullpen will be at battle stations every night for the next month – if it gets that far.
As they continue to remind us, increasingly shrilly, the Jays still control their own destiny.
They should stop saying that.
It long ago stopped sounding reassuring. Now, it’s starting to sound like a threat.Report Typo/Error
Follow us on Twitter: