TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays rolled out a new brand campaign this season built around the hashtag 'LetsRise.'
The club's marketing team sees it as a rallying cry for a squad with aspirations of returning to the post-season. The omnipresent hashtags at Rogers Centre are serving as a reminder there's nowhere to go but up for a team off to the worst start in its history.
A 6-4 defeat to the Baltimore Orioles on Friday night extended Toronto's losing skid to seven games and left the Blue Jays with a woeful 1-9 record.
"You've just got to keep grinding through it," said Toronto first baseman Justin Smoak. "It'll turn."
The signs indicate that may be wishful thinking.
The Blue Jays struck out 15 times Friday night and did not take a base on balls. The team offence has been anemic and only decent pitching has prevented uglier scorelines.
Let's Rise? So far it's what spectators say as they leave their seats an inning or two early to beat the post-game traffic.
Toronto is last in Major League Baseball's overall standings and sits in the basement in several offensive categories.
It's so bleak right now the Blue Jays have already been featured in a column from American website The Ringer titled 'How to Lose (Or Win) a Playoff Spot in 10 Days.'
The Orioles used the long ball for their latest victory, lighting up starter Aaron Sanchez (0-1) for three homers and adding another blast off reliever Jason Grilli in the ninth.
Chris Davis, Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy and Seth Smith went yard as Baltimore improved to 7-2, tops in the American League East division standings.
To their credit, the Blue Jays made a game of it.
Toronto brought the winning run to the plate in the ninth before closer Zach Britton struck out Steve Pearce to lock down his fifth save. That sent a groan through an impressive Good Friday crowd of 39,547.
There were a few positives on the night for the Blue Jays.
Smoak hit his first homer of the season — Toronto's first dinger in 38 innings — and the Blue Jays outhit Baltimore 10-9. Struggling catcher Russell Martin singled in the ninth and Devon Travis ended an 0-for-29 hitless streak with an RBI single in the frame.
"The one thing that's encouraging about tonight is we got some hits," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. "So that's definitely a good thing."
Wade Miley (1-0) threw six innings for the victory. He had eight strikeouts and allowed three earned runs and five hits.
Just 10 games in, hopeful Toronto fans are clinging to the "It's early" refrain. A popular player cliche of late is "It's not how you start, it's how you finish."
A positive for the club is many sports fans in the Ontario capital are not focused on the Blue Jays with the NHL's Maple Leafs and NBA's Raptors in the playoffs at the moment.
But when those respective post-season runs end, the Blue Jays will be back in the spotlight. In the meantime, the struggling side has to endure the odd chant of "Let's Go Raptors" or "Let's Go Leafs."
Definitely not what the Blue Jays want to hear.
The 10-game stretch covers just over six per cent of the long 162-game regular season. Who knows — a 9-1 run could very well follow and the skid will be quickly forgotten.
But already there are some areas of concern.
A nagging calf injury has slugger Josh Donaldson on the disabled list. Travis still appears to be favouring the right knee he had surgically repaired and slugger Jose Bautista is batting just .135.
Barring a sudden turnaround, a fanbase expecting a third straight trip to the playoffs may really start raising its eyebrows at the depth of this team's hole.
The question is whether the Blue Jays will keep digging or put the shovels away.
Notes: With Donaldson going on the 10-day DL, the Blue Jays selected the contract of outfielder Chris Coghlan from triple-A Buffalo. ... Home plate umpire Dale Scott sustained a concussion in the eighth inning when he was struck in the facemask by a foul tip. He was taken to a downtown hospital and will miss the rest of the series, Major League Baseball said via a Blue Jays spokesman.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press