TORONTO - Time for a Canada Day reality check.
First the smiley-face part. An enthusiastic red-clad crowd of 45,512, reminiscent of the franchise’s World Series glory days, showed up and everything was fine until the Toronto bullpen — with an assist from some suspect outfield play — did a Mitch Williams.
There were Canadian heros of the past such as Rick Hansen and Fergie Jenkins dotting the Rogers Centre landscape. Roy Halladay carried out the Phillies’ lineup card to a standing ovation. There were soldiers carrying flags, the real heroes of today. And, there were sporting heroes of the future such as Jays’ Eric Thames, who bounced a home run off the facing of the third deck.
All of which is very nice on a weekend when warm and fuzzy is the order of the day.
Upper deck fans even tried to recreate that ’90s fad — The Wave. It sputtered in the fourth inning, then actually got moving in the sixth. Sort of like this Jays‚ team; full of great intentions but short on execution.
Reality is, with the all-star game just over the horizon, that despite a better record than many experts predicted this is a team sinking inevitably towards mediocrity. Jose Bautista is a joy to watch and Adam Lind is a blue-collar beauty but otherwise the offence far too frequently goes AWOL.
Yesterday’s loss leaves them 10 games behind the Yankees and, reality is, all that public fervor that accompanied a frenzied first week of the season seems so very long ago. They were the comeback kids that first month. Even John McDonald hit a walk-off homer to beat Tampa and Toronto was within 21/2 games of first on April 29. Playing every position McDonald was Mr. Everything. Reality has him now hitting near the Mendoza Line.
Listen to the call-in shows and Rajai Davis was drawing comparisons that first month to Rickey Henderson with his basepath exploits. Speed is only useful if a player can reach base and reality is he’s been dropped from the leadoff spot and has four hits in his last 33 at-bats. Early season adoration was replaced yesterday by scattered boos when, after the leadoff hitter got aboard, he hit into a double play.
Aaron Hill has been a disappointment and Travis Snider has spent more time in Las Vegas than as the club’s resident left fielder of the future. Edwin Encarnacion delivered with a two-out, two-run double in the first inning. Reality is a designated hitter needs more than 17 RBI coming into July.
This team has some good pieces, but not enough good pieces to remain a contender. It has players that can do good things, but not enough things that are good.
The starting rotation is talented but young and inexperienced — so one start Jesse Litsch, Kyle Drabek and Brett Cecil are world beaters. The next they get beaten up like that rusty Ford someone’s grandpa has got parked in the the back 40 with weeds growing through the front grill. Catcher J.P. Arencibia is a keeper, but tomorrow’s star more than one for today.
By the All-star Game the numbers no longer lie. Those numbers say this is a .500 team. They’ll win one, lose some; win some, lose one. Other than Bautista, Lind and Ricky Romero, the future has not yet arrived. It is in Las Vegas. It is in New Hampshire. It lives in the dreams of Jays’ fans. For too many games it does not yet live at Rogers Centre.
Injuries have forced efficient utility players into semi-regulars with the inevitable result that they’re trying too hard and so, Cory Patterson runs over Jose Bautista chasing a pop fly ball. Can’t really blame Patterson. He’s been told to be more aggressive, then it still turns out wrong. This team has heart, it has desire, it has enthusiasm. And then Juan Rivera clanks a Chase Utley fly ball. Another game is lost. And, a little more of the dream dies as closer Frankie Francisco sits with his head buried in his locker.
So it is. In the end, after 162 games, it will almost always come down to talent.
Reality suggests to buy tickets now; this weekend looms as the last Big Hurrah.
Reality says there is no September playoff drive.
Reality suggests that despite all the good things general manager Alex Anthopoulos has accomplished there is still a long road ahead.