Davidi: Challenge ahead for struggling Blue Jays

The revamped Blue Jays are 9-17 after a difficult opening month.

Somewhere between full-fledged panic and unchecked optimism lies the road to rational reason, and with the Toronto Blue Jays enjoying their first day off after 21 straight games Monday, it’s a good time for everyone to stroll down that path.

April is on the verge of turning into May, and with Alex Anthopoulos’s great off-season buildup at 9-17 so far, better only than the dreadful Houston Astros and the Miami Marlins he raided, the outlook isn’t particularly good right now.

Still, while things aren’t anywhere near the sunshine and lollipops as Anthopoulos depicted Sunday during an impromptu state of affairs chat with gathered media, neither are matters as doom and gloom as the torch-and-pitchfork set dominating on social media portray them.

At the end of reason’s road lies reality, and what reality tells us is that to win 90 games – a reasonable estimate at the plateau the Blue Jays must hit to make the playoffs given last year the floor for a post-season berth was 88 wins while Baltimore and Texas each needed 93 wins to earn a wild card – they must finish 81-55 the rest of the way.

By no means is that impossible, but it’s certainly going to be a challenge for a team that hasn’t been at .500 since the season started, hasn’t won more than two games in a row, and has only one series victory to its credit.

Turning things around at this point won’t happen in a day, or a week, or perhaps even a month, but rather will require a methodical and sustained effort to bridge the relatively wide gap between them and their rivals.

To those looking for easy answers, a mass firing spree and the calling up of a bunch of prospects and retreads won’t provide them.

“There’s never a quick fix, it’s never something you can just point to and say we’re not going to do that anymore, or now we’re going to do this and it’s going to change everything,” says starter Brandon Morrow. “It’s just doing the little things, it’s not one big glaring thing. There’s also some luck involved, I guess, and it just didn’t seem like things were going our way.

“It starts to wear on you a little bit, we obviously expected to have a much better month than this and it puts us in a hole. Now we’ve just got to play our way out of it. I believe we have the team to do that.”

A similar belief is essential across the roster, as the Blue Jays must trust in their talent in order to play up to it. At the same time, they have to look at statistical oddities such as a 3-7 record in one-run games, their awful batting average and on-base percentage, and figure that’s going to level out.

Some favourable lopsided results – their largest margin of victory so far is five runs, with two other four-run wins to go with three wins apiece of one and two runs – would certainly help ease the burden.

“Being the closer, I’ve been up at least getting the blood moving, tossing, because we’ve been within one swing of taking the lead numerous times in the ninth inning,” says Casey Janssen. “That’s positive, we’re fighting, we’re clawing. The downside is we’re always coming back, and coming back. We need to get out early and when we get that opportunity to put that team away, just put them away instead of letting them get back in. It puts a lot of pressure on the bullpen, no margin for error, and every pitch matters. We haven’t had a lot of breathing room, so to speak.”

No they haven’t, and that definitely goes for the standings, too, as the Blue Jays’ ability to absorb another prolonged slump has essentially been eliminated by the dismal start. For inspiration, they can look to the 1989 Blue Jays who rallied from a 12-24 start to win the AL East at 89-73.

“It’s not easy with the results we had in the first month, but we are positive, we’re staying positive, we know things are going to change, we know we have to improve, everybody, if we want to make that happen,” says Edwin Encarnacion. “Everybody has to focus on that, everybody has to work hard for that and we’re not here to lose games.

“We have to focus on the next five months and see what’s going to happen.”

A timely opportunity to rebuild some confidence and make a statement comes Tuesday with the arrival of the AL East leading Boston Red Sox for the start of a three-game series.

The matchups offer a stern, stern test for the Blue Jays, who start Morrow (0-2, 5.27) against John Lester (4-0, 2.27) in the opener, Mark Buehrle (1-1, 6.35) versus Clay Buchholz (5-0, 1.19), and to be announced (J.A. Happ moved up a day makes sense) against Ryan Dempster (1-2, 3.30) in the finale.

“I’m hopeful that we all individually will feel a sense of urgency,” says R.A. Dickey. “I can only speak for myself, and I think a few other guys in the room know that this next homestand is a big homestand for us, in the sense that we’re going to be going into a new month, it’s time to turn the page.

“Hopefully we can get going in the right direction. We’ve got the Red Sox and Mariners coming in, so hopefully we can start winning some series.”

Adds veteran reliever Darren Oliver: “Everybody says it’s early, it’s early – it is still pretty early, but we do need to get on a roll and do something to give us a spark. I think everybody is waiting for that day when it’s going to happen.”

The Blue Jays can’t wait any longer – the time for procrastination has come and gone.

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