The Toronto Blue Jays are heading back on the road, looking to put the first homestand of the season behind them. After dropping two of three games to the Boston Red Sox, and seven of nine over all during a 10-day run at Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays begin a week-long road swing through Anaheim and St. Louis on Friday.
"I think it's a great time [to leave]. It's been a tough – and that's probably an understatement – homestand," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said after a 4-1 extra-innings loss to the Red Sox on Thursday. The defeat sunk Toronto's record to 3-12, the worst in the majors, as it lost its fifth successive series, a franchise record.
Take your pick at what's wrong with the Blue Jays, who have been a powerhouse in the American League East the past two seasons, but lacklustre in 2017.
Their best player, Josh Donaldson, could be lost for up to a month as he recovers from a persistent calf injury that he aggravated last week. Two key starting pitchers are on the 10-day disabled list. And Jose Bautista, once the the engine of the team's homer-heavy lineup, is hitless in his past 16 at-bats.
Kevin Pillar, typically known for his stellar defence, not his hitting, has been the most consistent hitter, going 14 for 33 on his current eight-game hitting streak.
"Any time you're accustomed to being a contributor, and you're not, it kind of weighs on you a little bit," said Bautista, who struck out four times facing Red Sox ace Chris Sale and has yet to homer this season. "But I've gotta get past that and just figure out a way to get back on track and start doing more at the plate and put us in a better position to win games."
Winning games has not been easy for Toronto. It had a shot to win back-to-back matches for the first time in the series finale against Boston, but relief pitcher Jason Grilli came undone in the 10th, giving up a three-run double to Mookie Betts, putting the game out of reach.
The mounting losses have left many Blue Jays players perplexed.
"It would be understandable if we were on a different team with different names, but you look at who we have here and start thinking 'how is this happening with a lineup like that?'" said right-hander Marco Estrada, who allowed three hits and no runs over six innings, but did not factor into the decision on Thursday.
"It's surprising, but anything is possible and we're facing pretty good teams," Bautista said. "We just need to continue to grind it out and wait for a better result."
"Losing only makes you appreciate winning, there's not much else to say. There's no words right now," Grilli said.
The wins won't be any easier for the Jays' in their four-game series in Anaheim.
A pair of call-ups from Triple-A Buffalo – Mat Latos and Casey Lawrence – will have the unenviable task of getting the Jays back on track against reigning American League MVP Mike Trout and the Angels. Latos, who has made 186 career starts over an eight-year major-league career, signed with the Blue Jays as a free agent in the off-season. Lawrence, meanwhile, made a pair of relief appearances for the team this season, and allowed three earned runs in two innings.
Injuries to left-hander J.A. Happ (elbow inflammation) and right-hander Aaron Sanchez (blister) necessitated the promotions, and while neither pitcher is expected to miss more than one game each, using farm hands as starters on back-to-back nights is not ideal.
Still, despite the negative outlook through 15 games, players maintain they are not worried. After all, there are still 147 to go.
Red Sox 4, Blue Jays 1
The Blue Jays fell in extra innings to the Red Sox on Thursday, dropping the rubber match of their three-game series. Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth, Kendrys Morales gave Toronto a lift when he launched a solo shot deep to centre field against Boston closer Craig Kimbrel, sending the game to the 10th frame. But after Jays reliever Jason Grilli loaded the bases, Mookie Betts cleared them with a double as Boston went on to win 4-1. The loss lowered Toronto's record to 3-12, while Boston's improved to 10-6.
Kevin Pillar's eighth-inning single extended his hitting streak to eight games. Jose Bautista, meanwhile, saw his batting average sink to .109.