TORONTO – Right about when the Toronto Blue Jays were hitting the high point of their season at 38-36 after an 11th straight win June 23, the Los Angeles Dodgers were arriving at their low point, dropping to 30-42 after a 6-2 loss at San Diego on June 21.
The recovery for baseball’s most expensive team started immediately after and manager Don Mattingly remembers noticing the Blue Jays’ surge and thinking, “there were some parallels for our club … but we wanted to make sure that at that point we got to keep momentum.”
“If you let it get away,” he added, “it goes the other direction.”
Just how true those words are were on display in brutally harsh fashion Monday night when the two teams going in opposite directions met at Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays finding a new nadir in a 14-5 loss during which they made five errors, while the Dodgers won their fourth in a row and 21st in 26 outings.
The grim numbers for the hosts extended well beyond the miscues – they also established season-highs in runs allowed, consecutive losses (five).
Even worse, at 45-53 they have now given back all but one of the games they made up during their 11-game win streak in June, and now sit 11 games out of a wild-card spot, and 13.5 games behind the AL East leading Boston Red Sox.
This is as bleak as things have been in 2013.
“You don’t quit competing, you keep fighting, you never know what can happen, but obviously we’ve put ourselves in a significant hole. I don’t know if we’re capable of coming out of it. I don’t know,” veteran Mark DeRosa said during a thoughtful and heartfelt chat with media. “We won 11 in a row and everything was looking right, and then we come out of the break and drop four quickly, and not pretty. Frustration all around.
“That being said you see people’s true colours when stuff like this is happening, so we’ll try to keep it together, try to keep the clubhouse together, we’ve got good people in here, good coaching staff, and keep fighting.”
The fight is becoming more and more difficult, with the unfriendly realities of the rapidly eroding schedule juxtaposed against the chasm they face in the standings, an additional burden atop their internal issues and the tough opposition at hand.
Since the 11-game win streak came to an end June 24 with a loss at Tampa Bay that spurred the 21-4 run the Rays are currently riding, the Blue Jays are 7-17 and have yet to win back-to-back games.
The culprits behind those woes run across the board, although starting pitching has been a season-long problem. That’s where the trouble started Monday, with Josh Johnson allowing five runs on seven hits in two innings of work, an outing he described as “pitiful.”
He’s now allowed 25 runs, 20 earned, over his past five starts, all losses, and the Blue Jays are 3-10 when he starts. The imposing 6-7 righty can’t remember struggling for so long this way before.
“This is terrible,” said Johnson. “I don’t even know how to explain it, it’s really bad.”
Even with J.A. Happ due to make his first rehab start for triple-A Buffalo on Tuesday, help for the Blue Jays isn’t really on the horizon. There’s no timeline for Brandon Morrow, after a gem last time out Ricky Romero took a step back Monday by allowing five runs, four earned, on four hits and five walks in an inning-plus of work for the Bisons, and outfielder Kevin Pillar is the only prospect near the majors making a case for himself.
So, there’s no Yasiel Puig hanging around waiting to rescue the season the way the Cuban outfielder helped save the Dodgers, who are 28-15 since his arrival.
While in some ways it’s far too simplistic to point to Puig as the sole reason the 51-47 Dodgers are back vying for the NL West lead – Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp and A.J. Ellis all returned from the disabled list in June – Mattingly says his rookie deserves plenty of the credit.
“I think Yasiel is a big part of this change,” he said, “but if you look at the big picture, Yasiel came and brought energy, it seemed that there was an energy that energized the city and got everybody excited about our club again. With Yasiel, Hanley kind of came at the same time, I think we were getting Ellis back off something, we got healthy together all of a sudden.
“That’s really when we took off, when we got healthy.”
And while the Blue Jays came into the season with loads of hype and plenty of expectation, the buildup surrounding the Dodgers and their roughly $217 million payroll made that seem like nothing by comparison.
As they stumbled about into late June, Mattingly’s fate became the subject of constant speculation, and the team was being labelled a colossal bust.
Asked how he kept the club from collapsing under the burden of expectations, he quipped, “besides drinking?”
“We had a lot of injuries and it was trying to stay on track and not let guys lose perspective on the length of the season, how much time there was left, and that we had to continue to hang in there through that stretch of getting guys back,” Mattingly continued. “You’ve always got to have hope that you’re going to get your guys back, you’re going to be at full strength, you’ve got time, so you’re trying to maintain that perspective on the season, but at the same time ask your guys to continue to work, not to give in to any of the negativity and keep going.
“That’s all we tried to do, keep it basic.”
Really, that’s the only option remaining for the Blue Jays, who need to find a way to win together for the sake of 2014 and ’15, if not this year.
Maybe the expectations got to them, maybe it was the injuries, or maybe they just aren’t good enough, as Mark Buehrle wondered Saturday, but the best thing the Blue Jays can do is win as many games as they can and see where that takes them.
“One thing I have learned from all my years in the big-leagues is the AL East is no joke,” said DeRosa. “There are some quality teams and you’ve got to play really, really good to beat these teams. It’s just been one of those situations where if our bullpen is good, our starting pitching is off, if our defence is off, our hitting is on. Besides that 11-game streak it hasn’t all gelled for whatever reason, and we sit here in late July still searching for those answers.
“All you can do is come to work every day and fight and keep it together, keep the clubhouse together, keep working. A guy like myself, I don’t know if this is the end but for the younger guys, they’ve got to fight. You get to know a lot about people. It’s easy to win, super easy, everybody is laughing, the music is blasting, but when you lose like this and you get embarrassed on your own field, you see the make of who you are as a person.”
In that case, the Blue Jays are about to get a good view into what they’re all about, and they’ll all be in some trouble if they don’t like what they find.