The last time the Blue Jays had a truly miserable start – before this one anyway – was in 2013.
That was the year of John Gibbons's return and the arrival of R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes. It was the first time in a long while that the Jays seemed to matter again. In retrospect, the theme of that year might be The Sun Also Rises. This time around, it's older, darker Hemingway – For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Like this year, that 2013 team pooched it in April (10-17 versus this year's 8-17).
Like this year, they pulled it together in May and June (30-24 versus this year's 28-22).
And like this year, they had to go through the ragged stretch of tough games that traditionally leads into and then out of the schedule's midseason all-star pause.
That didn't go so well in 2013. Toronto lost nine of 10 bookending the break and never looked right again.
In the midst of the slide, Buehrle – whose second-most-admired talent was needlessly aggressive bluntness – came out after a loss and said, "Maybe we were overrated." After that unusual attempt at a rallying cry, it got steadily worse.
If you are the sort of person who enjoys a "told you so," those were good times for bad times.
That season was different from this one in that it was the beginning of something. The Jays could still fall back on the (usually feeble) excuse of needing time to figure each other out. This year, we're heading toward last orders.
This iteration of the Toronto Blue Jays is not long for this baseball world. The question is whether the lights come up in July or in the off-season.
All the current roster can do about that is decide the manner of their parting.
Everything that's happened up until now – the injuries, the slack bats, the bullpen implosions and, it must be said, a battling refusal to give in to bad luck and ennui – ceases to matter. If the season is going to be saved, it's going to happen in the next few weeks – perhaps over the next four series.
On Tuesday, the Jays begin a homestand against the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox. After that, they head to Yankee Stadium for a quick three, then home again to face the American League-leading Houston Astros.
That's nine games in which to claw back some ground on their most direct competition, then four more to prove to themselves that they can stand in with the best talent on their end of the regular-season bracket.
One of the hardest moments to pinpoint in baseball is the one where "It's a long season" clichés tip into "We've made it awful hard on ourselves" platitudes.
(You can say exactly when that happened in 2013 – on July 20, when Buehrle signalled to the rest of the clubhouse that it was time to begin booking beach getaways in early October.)
In the last four weeks or so of a lost season, you edge into the final stage – the "We've got to figure this out for next year" stuff. That's the rhetorical province of players who are under long-term contract. Everyone else is too busy playing for stats and doesn't want to presume much about the future.
We're still in the "It's a long season" period. Starter Marco Estrada said that exact thing about a week ago. Nothing substantive has changed since then. The Jays are a neither/nor team – neither particularly good nor especially bad. They have all the potential in the world, for which there is currently no trophy.
If you're an optimist, they're poised. If you're inclined the other way, they're sinking. Until we know how this turns out, the Blue Jays are Schrodinger's cat – simultaneously dead and alive.
Someone is going to have to decide which it is before they open the box in September. That someone will be Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro. Is he a deadline seller or a buyer?
The Jays can neither lose nor win their season in the next month. A 15-game winning streak in August doesn't happen often, but it can happen.
This is the rare instance in which doing nothing is not a viable option. If Shapiro does nothing, he's effectively done something – committed himself to one of the oldest, least sustainable rosters in baseball when he could have infused the farm system with badly needed new blood. If the Jays finish 12 games out of a playoff spot, giving up on your tomorrows for today will look terribly foolish.
Going the other way is less risky. If you call the season in July, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You're proved right by the result.
At a guess, that's the way the Jays are leaning. Shapiro was hinting as much back in mid-May.
If that's so, the time for treading water is ending. If the Jays clubhouse wants to be given the chance to see this thing through till the end, they have to start doing it right now. A good target would be crossing the threshold of .500 by the break, which begins July 10. That's the point at which most teams begin firing up their loudest game-theory generators.
It's harder to explain that you are cracking up a winner, both inside and outside the organization. But enough people will buy the explanation if the team is a loser when you begin dismantling it.
The players are right – it is a long season. But it can end quickly, especially if you don't have the gift of timing it right. We're about to see if the 2017 Jays have that ability – one many other versions of this club did not.