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Kelly: The Jays’ real problem? Win, lose or draw, fans will still fill the seats

Two-and-a-half hours before Sunday's latest disaster against the Astros, Blue Jays fans were lined up for blocks waiting to get in. It was Aaron Sanchez bobblehead day.

Though the game was a casual encounter between a very good baseball team and a pretty bad one, more than 46,000 people showed up – a sell-out.

When Houston began laying an ugly beating on Toronto in the second inning, no one booed. Everybody stuck around when it truly got out of hand in the sixth. They cheered a ninth-inning Toronto home run like it actually mattered. Many were still wedged in their seats when it ended.

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The final score was 19-1. It was one out from being the biggest shutout loss in Jays' franchise history.

It is difficult to imagine how the 2017 season can any much lower than this, but the paying customers seemed happy enough throughout. A few cheered the team off the field. That's the problem.

Two weeks ago, people were discussing the 13-game run into this week's All-Star hiatus as a make-or-break stretch. The Jays went 5-8 and were routinely humiliated throughout. It's fair to say they were broken. Still, many will maintain the 'it's too soon to tell' posture that's floated this club all year long.

If you're one of them, please contact me. I have some very attractive investment opportunities in lunar real estate I'd like to discuss with you.

If surrender was the public's consensus position, expressed through their spending and viewing habits, what comes next would be simple to map out – an orderly teardown and rebuild.

But Sunday's example shows how difficult the idea of giving up will be to sell to the fan base, and how alluring it will be to maintain the dreary status quo. As such, only part of the Jays' difficulty is out on the field. The other issue is up in the stands, packing the stadium to watch a profoundly mediocre ball club that is starting to look like it's already given up.

Currently, Toronto is the fourth worst team in the American League, but has the fourth highest average attendance in all of baseball.

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This isn't a story of unshakable loyalty in bad times. On the analogous Sunday five years ago, the Jays were in a similar standings position – last in the East and 10.5 games out of first (though they did have a winning record). Only twenty-six thousand people showed up.

Toronto was a city of front-runners then, and it remains one now. But the tail on the city's front-running has extended out beyond this club's window of quality.

People who once believed the Jays could never win have flipped all the way over. Now the club can't lose, despite the fact that they do it with depressing regularity.

The team has been opportunistically indulging this fantasy for several weeks.

"I feel like we've been playing pretty good baseball as of late," said Justin Smoak, fifteen minutes after losing by eighteen runs. "We've got a really good team and we know it. It's just a matter of getting hot at the right time, and hopefully we can get hot here in the second half."

Yes. That sounds likely.

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Yet no matter how bad the Jays get, people are spraining their wrists trying to jam money in Rogers' pockets.

It brings up an important corporate planning consideration – Just how gullible are Toronto baseball fans? Exactly how many monorails can Toronto be sold?

You can see that wiggle entering team president Mark Shapiro's thinking as his finger lingers over the 'self-destruct' button.

"I think it's entirely possible that we, at this trade deadline, could be buyers and sellers," Shapiro said in a radio interview this week.

This is some truly delightful doublespeak. If the Jays had depth at any position at any level, they might be able to exchange a surplus of one commodity for the addition of another. But Toronto has nothing to barter. There is no selling and buying, unless you're selling what you've bought. Is this a baseball team or a boiler room?

Toronto has four options – give up and start over; go for it (insofar as that is possible) and put themselves into greater debt; make one or two cosmetic moves just to be seen doing something; or do nothing at all.

If the Rogers Centre was half-full right now and people were baying for management blood, you can see how both Options 1 and 2 are reasonable. Former general manager Alex Anthopoulos chose No. 2 a couple of years ago. That decision is both the reason so many people showed up on Sunday and why the Jays are in so much trouble.

Option 3 is dangerous because people might get wise to what you're doing and turn on you.

Given the circumstances, Option 4 carries the least risk. The room's full most nights. The people who should be pushing you to get better are instead rushing to make your excuses. And, hey, Justin Smoak just said things are looking up. Would he lie?

Plus, doing nothing doesn't put you in a much weaker position. It only extends the window during which you can fleece the rubes who still believe Jose Bautista is going to come out of a cryotherapy session and play like he's 30 again.

That's fine for the remainder of this year. Having spent so long drowning in cynicism, it's fun to watch Jays fans swimming in irrational exuberance. They earned that right the hard way.

But they should also realize that as long as they continue to pack the park and act as if this team can do no wrong, there will be very little reason for ownership to start trying to get anything right.

Video: Jays beer-can thrower receives community service, one-year ban (The Canadian Press)
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