Blue Jays’ .500 ‘curse’ just a case of a team losing games it shouldn’t

Three Rangers players went deep to beat the Blue Jays 6-1.

ARLINGTON, Texas — The suggestion that the Toronto Blue Jays can’t crack the .500 mark due to some kind of mental hurdle is, of course, ridiculous. Blue Jays pitchers do not take the mound thinking about the team’s record — they think about getting outs. Blue Jays hitters do not step into the batter’s box contemplating their club’s winning percentage — they contemplate how to get hits.

That said, here are some facts. The Blue Jays lost Tuesday night, 6-1, to the Texas Rangers. It was the eighth time the club has attempted to level their record at .500 this season, and the eighth time they have failed.

The Blue Jays have been outscored 61-20 in those games. The pitchers who started those eight attempts — Joe Biagini twice, Marco Estrada twice, J.A. Happ twice, and Tuesday night’s starter, Francisco Liriano, twice — own a 10.58 ERA, allowing 52 hits and 38 earned runs over 32.1 innings pitched.


That’s not good. In fact, it is bad. But there is no logical explanation for the Blue Jays remarkably poor performance in those eight games other than mere coincidence. Their opponents have been better than them eight times. There is no magic, no mental blockage, no curse. This isn’t the movies.

The sheer fact the Blue Jays have had that many opportunities to level their record — currently 34-36 — after being 2-11 and 10-20 at earlier points this season suggests they will finally, mercifully, break through at some point. They are 24-16 over their last 40 games, a .600 pace.

But — and there is always a but — the fact the Blue Jays have squandered this many opportunities to pull level also suggests they’re wasting time. Of those eight losses, two have come against the Tampa Bay Rays, and one each has come against the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics and, now, the Rangers, all middling teams the Blue Jays can reasonably be expected to beat.

With next week bringing a string of video game boss levels against the best in the American League — including, but not limited to, the 38-30 New York Yankees and the 47-24 Houston Astros — as Toronto heads to the all-star break, opportunities to make hay now are being squandered.

And that’s what you can really take away from Toronto’s many failed attempts to reach .500. Not some imagined mental barrier. Not some curse. Just a team that’s losing games it really ought to win.

Anyway, let’s talk about how it all played out Tuesday. Things certainly could’ve started better, as Liriano served up four runs in a calamitous, 26-pitch first inning.

The first was scored when Rangers leadoff hitter Delino DeShields bunted his way to first, stole second, took third on a wild pitch, and crossed the plate on an Adrian Beltre ground out. The second was scored when Rangers cleanup hitter Carlos Gomez said screw all that work and simply launched a Liriano two-seamer over the wall in left for a solo shot.

And things only snowballed from there. Rougned Odor singled, Jonathan Lucroy doubled, and Mike Napoli singled as the Rangers teed off on Liriano and drove in a couple more. The inning actually could have been much worse had Napoli not run into an out at second while trying to stretch his single into a double, which gifted Liriano his third out.

That rough opening inning continued a recent Blue Jays trend of falling behind early. It was the seventh game in a row that Toronto’s opposition has scored first, and the 10th time in their last 11. The Blue Jays have coughed up first-inning runs to their opponents in three of their last five games, and Toronto pitchers now have a 6.30 ERA in the first inning this season.

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But that staff-wide ERA gets much better from the second inning on, and Tuesday was no exception as Liriano honed in and retired eight of the next nine batters he faced, with the lone man to reach base, Elvis Andrus, being erased as he tried to swipe third.

“I was just making up for my mistakes,” Liriano said. “I’m just trying to stay in the game and execute pitches — and not give up.”

But Liriano could only watch as his first pitch of the fifth, a 92-m.p.h. fastball up in the zone, was crushed 413 feet over the right-field wall by Nomar Mazara as the Rangers extended their lead. Two outs and two walks later, Liriano was lifted at 80 pitches, his shortest outing since May 10.

“I think I missed a couple pitches,” Liriano said. “But, at the same time, I feel like they were taking good pitches and hitting good pitches. They’re a good team. They play hard and they don’t give up. You’ve got to give some credit to their hitters. I’ll just find a way to get better the next time.”

And, hey, while we’re talking about trends in this Blue Jays season, now is as good a time as any to mention that Leonel Campos, who relieved Liriano in the fifth, exited Tuesday’s game an inning later with a right groin strain suffered while covering first base on a ground ball. He’ll be evaluated further on Wednesday.

Of course, the Blue Jays bullpen is hardly a concern these days. The club’s offence, on the other hand, struggled to get anything going against Rangers starter Nick Martinez, who scattered two hits and three walks over his 6.1 innings pitched.

“He wasn’t an overpowering guy, but he knew what he was doing,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “He changed speeds, did a nice job. But when you get a nice little lead to start, that makes it easier to breathe and relax.”

Aside from a Kendrys Morales lead-off double that was stranded in the second inning, the Blue Jays didn’t create anything close to a scoring opportunity until the seventh, when Justin Smoak, Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin worked consecutive one-out walks to load the bases for Steve Pearce.

The Blue Jays left fielder quickly fell behind 0-2 before belting a hanging slider from Rangers reliever Jose Leclerc deep down the left-field line that bent ever so slightly foul. Pearce’s plate appearance then went from plucky to epic, as he fouled off nine pitches in total before looking at a fastball—the 11th pitch of the at-bat—that just scraped the outside black for a called third strike.

“It’s a punch in the gut, I’ll tell ya that,” Pearce said of the near grand slam. “It was so close. I’d rather have yanked it way foul so I wouldn’t have had that little bit of hope. But the count didn’t change. It was still 0-2. So, I just dug my cleats in there and battled.”

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Pearce’s plate appearance slowly shifted from plucky to epic, as he fouled off nine pitches in total before looking at a fastball — the 11th pitch of the at-bat — that just scraped the outside black for a called third strike.

“I was just trying to throw the bat out there and live for another pitch. It was a fight,” Pearce said. “It was a tough at-bat. Battling, grinding. It just unfortunately didn’t go my way.”

That brought up Ryan Goins, who had seen enough of Leclerc’s offerings to feel confident swinging at the first pitch, a 96-m.p.h. two-seamer that he drove into left field to score a run. Next up was leadoff hitter Kevin Pillar, who worked a 2-0 count before expanding the zone and swinging at three more pitches off the plate to strike out and end the threat.

And that was all for the Blue Jays offence, which put two runners in scoring position in the eighth, but couldn’t cash either, before going quietly in the ninth. For the eighth time this season, the .500 mark will have to wait for another day.

“No, no, not at all,” Pearce said when asked if the Blue Jays’ repeated failures to reach .500 ever creeps into players’ heads. “We go out there day in and day out. We’ve got a good team.

“We’ll get over the hump. It’s just a matter of time.”

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