Blue Jays bungle opportunity they could ill afford to miss

Nick Ashbourne

Mathematically speaking, every loss is the same. They all go into the same ledger. April losses, August losses, one-run losses, and 10-run losses aren’t appreciably different to the bottom line.

Even so, for the Toronto Blue Jays, Tuesday’s night’s 8-7 defeat at the hands of the Boston Red Sox was a little bit more painful than usual as the team slid to 2-11.

“I don’t know if there’s a word to describe it,” centre fielder Kevin Pillar said after the game. “It’s going to continue unless we start playing better.”

All of the circumstances surrounding the game gave them the best possible chance for a win. Home field. Their best starter in 2017 on the mound. Dustin Pedroia on the bench for Boston. Perhaps most importantly, the Red Sox ran Brian Johnson out to start the game – a 26-year-old lefty tossing 86-89mph fastballs in his second-ever big league outing.

Throw in the looming dark cloud that is the Blue Jays’ record, and it’s not hard to see why this was an important opportunity for them to seize.

To the Blue Jays’ credit, they did take the opportunity to beat up on Johnson, tagging the southpaw for four runs over five innings, with long flies from Justin Smoak and Russell Martin. The team even came to life in the ninth to put three runs on the board, including two courtesy of an improbable Ezequiel Carrera pinch-hit opposite-field home run. However, just as the offence woke up, the pitching unexpectedly sputtered.

Marcus Stroman put together one of the worst performances of his career on the night, serving up six runs on 11 hits over 4.2 innings. He wasn’t taken out of the park, but the Red Sox made his life miserable by spraying line drives all night.

“It looked like his stuff dropped off a little bit,” manager John Gibbons said. “The ball came up in the zone a little bit, maybe the breaking ball wasn’t as sharp or as tight.”

Stroman description of his start was on the succinct side, but not inaccurate.

“Some balls found early and they capitalized on some bad pitches later on,” he said. “That’s baseball.”

The Blue Jays missed a golden opportunity to get on track on Tuesday – something they can ill afford given their record. (Fred Thornhill/CP)

The bullpen wasn’t exactly spotless either. Aaron Loup allowed an inherited runner to score while Joe Smith and Ryan Tepera were both touched up, helping the Red Sox widen the gap and allowing the two runs that would ultimately be the difference.

While finding a new way to lose has to be frustrating for the Blue Jays, their larger issue is the outlook for the rest of the series with the Red Sox. This was a game seriously tilted in their favour. They will not be so lucky on Wednesday and Thursday when they face off against 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello and arguably the American League’s best pitcher in Chris Sale.

“It gets real tough the next couple days,” Gibbons said. “But that’s the big leagues, that’s just the way it is at this level.”

From a big-picture point of view, 2-11 isn’t markedly different from 2-10. Both records are downright awful, but the mountain the Blue Jays have to climb has gotten higher by inches not feet. The club would certainly have preferred a little erosion on Tuesday night, but the scale of the task ahead is largely unchanged.

Where this one hurts is on a micro scale. If the Blue Jays are going to start turning things around, they need to win a few series. Taking a three-game set – especially against Boston – for the first time this season would be a nice morale boost and a good starting point for the kind of rebound the Blue Jays need. It’s not impossible that the club will do just that with two straight wins, but that’s not where the smart money is right now.

Winning is always hard at the major-league level, although perhaps not as hard as the Blue Jays are making it look. That’s why when the Baseball Gods grant you an easier-than-usual road to victory, you absolutely need to make the most of it.

On Tuesday night, the Blue Jays failed to take advantage. In 2017, that’s become a pretty familiar theme.