Game 131: Things Can Only Get Better

Sunday, August 29 2004 @ 11:26 AM EDT

Contributed by: Jordan

You know it's been a bad season when you look to Howard Jones for inspiration. Yesterday brought a fifth straight loss for the Jays, the latest an 18-6 home-field humiliation at the bats of the dreaded Yankees. It seems that taking a 4-0 lead over the New Yorkers only serves to get their attention.

But the fact is, things really can't get worse for Toronto. At this point, the games are as much mental as they are played out on the field, and the mental games are winnable.

The Jays are no doubt embarrassed this morning. But embarrassment is entirely a self-imposed state, and once you realize you're only gnawing on your own sense of injured pride, it's easier to overcome it and move on. In the end, yesterday's debacle registers as just another L in the books, no different than the ones the Jays have posted in much closer games earlier this week against these two powerhouse teams; even this match was close till the ninth inning.

The Blue Jays may be headed for 100 losses, but I don't feel like this is a 100-loss team at heart. Second-hand accounts from the clubhouse don't tell close to the whole story, but there seems to be more exasperation and bewilderment in there than there is hopelessness or when-will-the-season-end-itis. These guys know they're not as bad as this, and are probably as baffled as the fans are. John Gibbons seems to be taking the right approach: unhappy but not panicky, determined but not grim. He paid tribute to Kerry Ligtenberg, a classy move, and Ligtenberg himself took several blows for the team in the ninth and still faced reporters afterwards; give the man credit for that. These things count in the long run, which is where the Jays have now fixed their sights.

For Toronto fans inclined towards grim thoughts of their own this morning, I suggest taking a look at another team from which much was expected last year: the San Diego Padres. With a middle-budget mix of young talent and veteran support under the direction of an innovative young GM, the Padres were expected to be a surprise contender: instead, bad luck, a lack of depth and a boatload of injuries decimated them as they went 64-98. Today, the Padres are 70-59 and 5 games back of the division lead. I'm not predicting that position for the Blue Jays next year, but I want to demonstrate that the road to contention is never smooth, and if enough things go wrong (as they did for Toronto this year), the results can be catastrophic without scuttling the future altogether.

There is talent on this team, and heart. True, numerous positions on the 25-man roster are filled with players lacking one or the other of these key attributes, and I imagine those players have been identified by the front office at this point. I anticipate a busy October and November at Skydome. But as many things as have gone poorly this year, many others have gone well:

- Orlando Hudson is still on track to blossom into one of the league's best second basemen.
- Ted Lilly has been a widly successful investment, beyond the most optimistic forecasts.
- Alex Rios has had an extremely solid rookie season, and is surviving the adjustment period well.
- Jason Frasor has been a gift, and with more stamina and better usage, can help out in the bullpen.
- Dave Bush has had a very strong debut and projects to be a solid third or fourth starter next year.

Not many 100-loss teams can boast those kinds of solid developments. Throw in the major-league experience gained by players like Gabe Gross and Vinny Chulk, and there are genuine signs of hope. Even the bad news has silver linings: Roy Halladay is resting and recuperating during this lost season in order to come back strong next year, and Carlos Delgado's departure will allow for more than one position to be shored up considerably. This team may lose 100 games this year, but I will bet anyone who's so inclined that they will not lose 100 next year.

So take a deep breath, forget about yesteray's game if you haven't already, and get ready for today's match, Miguel Batista versus Mike Mussina. And if the Yankees should sweep the Jays today, why, wish them all the best as they leave. Because payback time is coming for the Blue Jays and their fans, and it will be fun when it gets here.