Blue Jays drop home opener, off to worst start in franchise history
TORONTO — It was a home opener with all the usual trimmings.
But just as noticeable as the bunting in centre field was a whiff of desperation that permeated the Rogers Centre on Tuesday night in a less than triumphant return to the dome for the Blue Jays.
The smell turned into something more pungent after a 4-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers plunged the Jays record to 1-6, the worst start in franchise history.
The Jays have now lost six consecutive home openers, extending another dubious club record and barely a week into the season are 31/2 games out of first in the American League East.
“We’re not in a good spot, that’s for sure,” said starter J.A. Happ, who lasted 4.2 innings, throwing 102 pitches. “We’re just not playing good enough to win games.
“We’re going to come tomorrow and a 154 days after that and we’re going to try to change that."
It’s one thing to say it and quite another to do it, however, as the Jays just can’t seem to get runs when they are needed most. Short stop Troy Tulowitzki’s bat woke up as he drove in all three Jays runs, but there wasn’t much else happening at the plate.
And starter J.A. Happ, the 20-game winner from a year ago, was shaky early giving up nine hits and all four runs to fall to 0-2.
“There’s times we start off slow, individually and as a team,” a clearly subdued Jays manager John Gibbons said afterwards. “It’s better to be a finisher than a starter. We’re pretty good at that.
“We’ll get it going. We can reel off some wins in a row. We’ve been known to do that.”
The sellout crowd of 48,456 was anxious to see the Jays for the first time since their loss to the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS last October and the home team stuck around until the end.
They rose to their feet in the bottom of the ninth when Josh Donaldson came on to pinch hit — having spent the rest of the game in the dugout nursing a sore calf — only to strike out.
“I don’t think it’s that tough,” Jays would-be slugger Jose Bautista said prior to the game when asked about the challenges of climbing out of such an early hole. “We’re a group of experienced guys that don’t pay attention to that sort of stuff.
“We know it’s a long haul and we try to take it one day at a time.”
The one day at a time mantra may, in fact, be living on borrowed time.
The Jays entered the contest having scored two runs or fewer in four of their six previous game and carrying a miserable 5-for-40 mark with runners in scoring position.
A team that has built its reputation on offence has been slow to get up to speed and while losing streaks can happen at any point in a 162-game schedule, the stench is certainly stronger early on.
“Everything is magnified at the beginning of the season because if you’re a hitter you’re stating at the board and seeing what your average is,” Gibbons said prior to the game. “Those important things in win-loss record. Ideally everyone wants to get off to a good start. There’s nothing you can do that but play good baseball starting (now).”
As has been the case in most of the Jays losses so far this season, there were some positives. Closer Roberto Osuna came off the disabled list and pitched a strong ninth to set the stage for some heroics.
The company line remains that it’s early, but before long that commentary could become as muted as the Jays bats if this doesn’t turn around soon.
And after Wednesday’s conclusion of the short series with the Brewers, the Jays will have four games against the AL East leading Orioles then three against the division favourite Red Sox.
The Brewers blasted Happ early and though as Gibbons said his starter battled, the early damage was never erased. The second batter of the game, Keon Broxton, rocked a solo shot over the left-field wall to put the Brewers on the board first.
Two batters later, Travis Shaw tripled to left field and was promptly driven in by a Domingo Santana single. Just like that, the sellout crowd had barely settled in their seats and the Jays were down 2-0.
The Jays kept it close but never took a lead over the three hours and 31 minutes it took to complete this one.
With a veteran team there might not necessarily be panic going forward. But with lofty expectations, there will certainly be pressure despite Gibbons’ assertion after that it’s better to be a strong finisher than a strong starter.
Everyone knows the division they’re playing in however and how difficult it can be to make up ground whether the calendar says April, July or September.
“We’re going to have to put a couple of good weeks together to get back to even,” Happ said. “We know we can do that, but we’d like to get it done sooner than later.”