How do you spell relief? In the Toronto Blue Jays case, R-A-I-N saved them from having to play another game in Yankee Stadium where they have lost all six games this season and with their uncompetitive play, invited fans to question their mettle.
With Sunday's session against ace CC Sabathia postponed, the Jays have lost eight of nine games to the Yankees this season, leaving their overall record in the American League East at 9-17.
As a direct consequence, the team had a 0.4-per-cent chance of winning the AL East and a 2.9-per-cent chance of making the playoffs as of Sunday, according to a simulated season projected by Baseball Prospectus (baseballprospectus.com).
Why those odds may distort the prognosis at this point of the season: In the past 31 games, the Jays are 12-19 – Baltimore went through an identical stretch last season and made the playoffs; the Tigers went 11-20 and qualified for the World Series; the A's went 10-21 and won the AL West; the Cardinals went 11-20 and took World Series champion San Francisco to seven games in the National League Championship Series.
Still, simple math dictates that unless the Blue Jays turn around their divisional record, starting with seven games against Tampa Bay and Baltimore at home this week, general manager Alex Anthopoulos will be fielding many calls as trade talks heat up at the all-star break in two months.
"I haven't thought about that – we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Anthopoulos said in an interview.
Already, pitchers R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle are being rumoured as targets, and Josh Johnson (triceps strain), who is in his free-agent year, should be a hot commodity if he returns forcefully from the disabled list.
"There are no no-trade clauses in any of those contracts," Anthopoulos said. "It's organizational policy, to maintain flexibility either way."
Anthopoulos, presently preparing for the amateur draft, and predecessor J.P. Ricciardi have built the present roster primarily through trades and free-agent signings. Only designated hitter Adam Lind and in Monday's projected lineup will have come through Toronto's farm system, with right fielder Jose Bautista, centre fielder Colby Rasmus, third baseman Brett Lawrie, and first baseman Edwin Encarnacion coming in trades. Regular catcher J.P. Arencibia, who sits out when R.A. Dickey pitches, is the other homegrown regular.
"We should constantly be looking to evolve, to get better, like any big company," Anthopoulos said. "Some of most successful companies in the world – Starbucks, Coke, McDonald's – they're constantly looking to do things. They don't just sit there, and in this sport, you never stop looking."
Persistently active on the waiver wire, Anthopoulos picked up right-hander Thad Weber from the San Diego Padres on Sunday and transferred reliever Sergio Santos (bone spur) to the 60-day disabled list.
Two daggers in the Jays' postseason hopes are the division and home records. At Rogers Centre, the 9-12 mark is the AL East's worst. Inside the division, they are 3-5 in games decided by one run, 2-5 in games decided by two runs.
Sunday's rainout pushed Dickey's start to Monday afternoon at Rogers Centre. When Baltimore leaves on Sunday, Atlanta arrives to cap a nine-game homestand. The two games against the Braves kick off an inter-league set of nine. After this week, the Jays' next AL East game is scheduled for June 21, so this week becomes a precious chance to make up ground.
"This is our place where we have to start catching up and winning," Jack Morris, a 254-game winner in his career, said on the Jays broadcast Sunday, describing an attitude the team needs to embrace aggressively.
Mired in last place, Toronto went into New York on the momentum of a four-game win streak, with an opportunity to cut the margin behind the Yankees in the standings to five games. Instead, they left trailing by 10. Only Melky Cabrera and Encarnacion managed to get hits in the 5-0 loss on Friday. In a 7-2 loss on Saturday, they managed eight hits but went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and struck out 11 times. In the two games, the lineup averaged .190.
Disconcerting patterns of misguided base running, lack of timely hitting, and sloppy defence resurfaced on Saturday. With one out, Bautista and Encarnacion drew walks, but Arencibia struck out in the cleanup slot, and Bautista got picked off at second by David Phelps. Defensively, starting pitcher Brandon Morrow couldn't handle a chance for an inning-ending double play cleanly, leading to a Brett Gardner run-scoring single and Robinson Cano's two-run homer. Later in the game, shortstop Maicer Izturis made a throwing error before Travis Hafner hit a two-run homer.
Tampa Bay Rays (23-20) at Toronto Blue Jays (17-26)
Monday, 1:05 p.m. (EDT): RHP Jake Odorizzi (0-0, 0.00 earned-run average) vs. RHP R.A. Dickey (3-5, 4.83)
Tuesday, 7:07 p.m.: RHP Alex Cobb (4-2, 2.89) vs. RHP Ramon Ortiz (1-1, 2.35)
Wednesday, 4:37 p.m.: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (2-2, 5.82) vs. LHP Mark Buehrle (1-3, 6.33)
Notes: Tampa is 63-31 against Toronto since 2008, and 6-3 in Rogers Centre in three of the past four years. … The teams split a four-game series in Tampa, May 6-9. … Beginning with the 10-4 win against Ricky Romero and the Jays on May 8, the Rays have won seven straight, and nine of 11. … Third baseman Evan Longoria ate up Jays pitching, with nine hits in the four-game series earlier this month. … Jake Odorizzi makes his third major-league start and first for the Rays. Acquired from Kansas City along with highly regarded outfield prospect Wil Myers and two other players in December, Odorizzi was 4-0 with a 3.83 ERA at Triple-A Durham. … There's room in the rotation because left-hander David Price went on the disabled list with a triceps strain. … Alex Cobb held the Jays to a run on five hits over seven innings in his only career appearance. … At Tropicana Field, Jeremy Hellickson allowed six hits, four walks and three runs to Toronto in five innings.