Jays' woes at home continue with loss
Former mate Lilly latest Cub to quiet bats with solid outing
TORONTO -- There has been nothing friendly about the confines of Rogers Centre of late for the Blue Jays. Even on Sunday, storm clouds gathered over the open dome, darkening what had started as a sunny day in Toronto.
In the third inning of the Jays' finale against the Cubs, the players stood on the field and watched the stadium's lid slowly close during a brief game delay. Toronto then waded through another dismal showing, dropping a 7-4 decision to Chicago to end a forgettable homestand.
Over the past nine games in front of a noticeably quiet home crowd, the Blue Jays pieced together a 3-6 record in games against the Orioles, Mariners and Cubs. With that performance, Toronto fell to 18-17 this season at Rogers Centre, where the Jays have dominated foes for the past few years.
Typically, teams look forward to boarding flights that escape brutally long road trips. In an unfortunate twist for Toronto, the Blue Jays might actually be counting the minutes until they bolt across the border to begin a six-game Interleague journey that includes stops in Milwaukee and Pittsburgh.
"We're scuffling -- that's probably an understatement," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said after his club's latest debacle. "Maybe it's good to hit the road -- change of scenery. Hopefully, that'll help us."
There's no denying that the Blue Jays (35-36) aren't where they thought they'd be at this point in the season. With the loss to the Cubs (45-25) -- owners of the Major Leagues' best record -- Toronto slipped into last place in the American League East.
The Blue Jays sit eight games behind the first-place Red Sox in the loss column and seven back of the Wild Card-leading Rays. Toronto can consider itself fortunate to be one game below the break-even mark, thanks to a pitching staff that's shouldered the load.
"Thank goodness our pitching staff has pitched the way they have," said Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells, who went 0-for-4 in the loss to the Cubs. "We don't need to worry about anybody else. If we're not playing well, you know where you're going to be sitting.
"The standings are the furthest thing from our mind right now. We just need to worry about ourselves and start winning ballgames and later on, after we're where we need to be, we'll look up and see where we are in the standings."
It's the Jays' offense that's hindered any progress. After a 20-win showing in May, Toronto has limped to a 4-9 record in June, averaging 3.9 runs per game and a .190 average with runners in scoring position over that span, entering Sunday's game.
Against the Cubs on Sunday, the Jays went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, and Toronto finished its homestand with a .242 team average and 30 runs over nine games. It'd be easy to characterize that showing as "disappointing," but Gibbons was willing to take it a step further.
"Disappointing? It was just a bad homestand," Gibbons said. "We won a couple games, but you've got to play good at home and we're not doing that. That's no secret. The top teams in the league win at home. We have in the past, but we haven't done that this year."
The problem on Sunday rested in the arm of Cubs left-hander Ted Lilly, who was making his first appearance in Toronto since leaving the Jays via free agency after the 2006 season. Lilly limited the Jays to one hit over six innings, though Toronto had ample opportunities.
Lilly (7-5) issued five walks, including a trio of free passes in the third inning that loaded the bases for the Blue Jays with two outs. Even with Lilly laboring with his control, Wells offered at the first pitch he received, sending a high fly ball falling into the glove of Cubs second baseman Mark DeRosa to end the inning.
"We need to do a better job," Wells said. "That's the bottom line. We need to start swinging the bats better and taking advantage of opportunities that we have. The problem hasn't been getting guys on, it's just driving them in."
Wells' flyout preserved the 3-0 lead Chicago had built against Jesse Litsch (7-3), who took the loss after being charged with five runs over 6 1/3 innings. Two of those runs came after Litsch left the mound in the seventh, when reliever Shawn Camp gave up a two-run single to Derrek Lee and a two-run home run to Aramis Ramirez.
"We're not playing good enough to win," said Gibbons, whose club rallied for four late runs behind a two-run homer from catcher Gregg Zaun. "We're playing good enough to stay close, but not good enough to win. I don't know how to sum it up any more than that.
"We've been in a lot of games this month, but we're not getting that big hit or we're not getting that big shut-down out -- whatever it is. We're just not good enough right now -- that's all there is to it."
Gibbons was quick to shake off the notion that he had any doubts about the talent assembled within Toronto's clubhouse.
"These are my guys: I'll live and die with them," he said. "I'm not questioning the talent -- we're just not getting it done. We got it done in May. We're not getting it done now."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.