Sports Baseball

Simmons

These Blue Jays must be delusional

By Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun

There is nothing wrong with the rather sad Blue Jays that a 10-game winning streak wouldn’t cure.

The delusional wide-eyed optimists in the Jays clubhouse will certainly tell you that. They believe it’s only a matter of when.

They continue to say they like this team with the slowest legs and weakest bats in the American League.

They continue to say they like this team that can’t play defensively in a contender kind of way.

They continue to say they like this team which lost 19-1 on Sunday afternoon, this coming after 11-4, 12-2, 12-4, 15-1, 12-2 losses since June began and the bad times were apparently over.

They continue to say they like this team that has attempted to get to .500 nine times in the first half, only to lose nine times: At the break they are 41-47, closer to last in the American League than they are to contention.

And yet, the players will tell you they believe. They believe in this group. Well, not all of them will tell you that. Josh Donaldson, for one, is the prince of pragmatism here, seemingly alone in thought in the Jays clubhouse.

“It’s not about believing,” said Donaldson. “Plain and simple, we need to play better.”

When asked if he’d have believed the Jays would be this terrible when he left Dunedin to start the season, Donaldson said: “You know the answer to that.”

He walked away, heading out of the clubhouse not heading to the all-star game for the first time in four years, not sure what this team will look like a month from now.

Marco Estrada was heading home, not certain of how much longer he’ll be a Blue Jay. He will likely get three more starts before the trade deadline. The better he pitches, the better it is for the Jays. And the better he pitches, the more likely a contender in need of starting pitching will want to trade for him.

It’s the ultimate dilemma for a team that is nowhere and hopes to be somewhere.

Estrada doesn’t want to be traded even though his contract is up and he’s aware he’s a target. “I’m not thinking about that,” he said. “I can’t control what happens.

“I want to stay here. My goal is to come back with a clear head and get back to pitching the way I know I can pitch. I don’t want to be traded.

“I’m going to take the break, hit the reset button. I still like our team. I still like our chances. Today hurts, it sucks, but it’s only one game.”

In this season of lost opportunities, this ‘only one game’ thing has been the Jays undoing. On another sellout Sunday, they were up against the sizzling Astros. They won two of the first three games in the series. They had a chance to finish the first half with a series win against the Astros, after a series win against the Yankees. But this has been the ongoing story of this Blue Jays season.

When they need a game to establish something is when they seem to disappoint the most.

“It’s only one game,” Estrada said again, trying to sound confident. It’s been only one game how many times in the first half?

“We have a really good team,” said Justin Smoak, the unlikely all-star. “We know it.”

He knows it. The rest of us aren’t so sure.

The top of the Jays lineup, with Jose Bautista and Russell Martin, might be the slowest 1-2 hitters in baseball. They have Smoak hitting fourth and statistically he’s slower than Kendrys Morales hitting fifth. You need three hits to score Morales from first base. And he’s signed for two more years. After him in the lineup is Troy Tulowitzki, who fields well, but doesn’t hit or run well any more.

Five of the first six hitters in the Jays lineup can’t run at all.

It’s probably why the club is last in the American League in triples, 14th in doubles hit and 14th in runs scored. And speed has little to do with the fact they’re 29th in all of baseball in hitting with runners in scoring position. The run differential on the two losses to Houston this weekend: Minus-28.

To recap: The Jays are on their way to a cycle of incompetence: They can’t hit, they can’t run, they don’t hit with men on base, they don’t field particularly well. Their record, as Bill Parcells might say, is who they are.

The public notion from management that this season is salvageable, and they are playing to contend, is a weak appeasement to the Blue Jays’ terrific attendance and television audience. This is where business interferes with baseball.

It’s time to begin to fix this team — which has only gotten worse since Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins took over as president and general manager — and to hell with the profit margins and the T-shirts sold.

Donaldson, their best player, seems to understand that. The rest of the clubhouse remains myopically trapped in mistaken optimism.