TORONTO -- Didn't we see this game Tuesday night?
I'm thinking we did. Close game early? Check. Good pitching, for the most part, from the Cubs' starter? Check. A bullpen meltdown? Check.
The Cubs' 11-1 loss to the Blue Jays Wednesday night obviously wasn't a clone of Tuesday's, but it sure felt the same. The team's sixth consecutive defeat, which tied a season-high losing streak and, as it was loss number 82 of 2014, clinched the Cubs' fifth straight losing season, didn't have much to recommend it to anyone except Blue Jays fans. And those fans, even though their team sneaked a bit closer to the American League's second wild-card spot, began streaming out of the Rogers Centre after Toronto's five-run seventh.
No accounting for tastes, apparently, even though they wound up going outside into a driving rainstorm which would have, if there had been no roof on the stadium, delayed the game at least three hours, if not postponed it completely.
Instead, dry inside, the Cubs performed reasonably well for six innings, then were awful.
The tone was set for this one in the first inning. Javier Baez walked and Luis Valbuena sent a double into the right-field gap, but Jays right fielder Jose Bautista was quick to the ball. Third-base coach Gary Jones decided to send Baez, which is about the worst send I've seen from Jones all year. The ball one-hopped to the plate; Baez put on the brakes and tried to scurry back to third base, where Dioner Navarro threw him out.
Why would you do that, Gary? With the Cubs having trouble scoring runs, you wouldn't want runners on second and third with one out and Jorge Soler coming to bat?
Soler wound up striking out to end the inning, but who knows how different his approach and the approach of Jays starter Drew Hutchison would have been if the Cubs had two runners in scoring position?
Hutchison then dominated, striking out nine more Cubs to tie his career high with 10 K's. And for the first five innings, it looked as if we were going to have an old-fashioned pitchers' duel and get the game in under two hours, too. Kyle Hendricks set the Jays down with just one hit through five, though that hit, a double by Kevin Pillar, led to a run after an infield out and a sacrifice fly. The teams hit the sixth inning only an hour and 10 minutes into the game, and then...
Hendricks ran out of gas in the sixth. Two singles and an error by Soler produced Toronto's second run; Hendricks managed to retire the next two hitters, but then gave up three straight hits, and the third, a double by Danny Valencia, finished Hendricks' evening. It was just the second time in his 11 starts that he'd allowed more than two runs and the first time since his big-league debut July 10.
Even then, it seemed as if the Cubs might make this game competitive. Soler's fourth home run -- the first Cubs homer in a week, and the only one so far during this losing streak -- made it 4-1, and a double by Welington Castillo chased Hutchison.
Alas, the Cubs had just two more baserunners the rest of the way; Ryan Kalish walked in the seventh and Valbuena doubled again in the ninth, but by the time the latter happened, the game was far out of hand. I can't really explain this one at all. Wesley Wright and Kyuji Fujikawa have both been reasonably effective this year, Wright for most of the year and Fujikawa since his recall last month, but both got pounded, as did Arodys Vizcaino. All of that wasn't just by Jays regulars, but by reserves and September callups, as John Gibbons cleared his bench in the seventh and eighth innings in what appeared to be an attempt to have mercy on the Cubs. It didn't work, as those players produced 10 runs on 11 hits in the last three innings. I'll stop the description there, as it was ugly; several people had told me earlier they thought Tuesday's was the worst loss of the year, but Wednesday's has to top it, I think. The sweep completes the Cubs' interleague schedule for 2014 with a 9-11 record.
The loss also mathematically eliminated the Cubs from the N.L. Central race.
The Blue Jays ought to give a big fat "Thank you!" to their visitors from the North Side of Chicago, who come to Canada only once every six years with the new interleague schedule. The Jays, who held first place in the A.L. East for much of the summer, had fallen out of contention but now, on a 10-3 run, trail the second wild-card leader (the Tigers, as of Thursday morning) by 3½ games with 17 remaining. Larger deficits have been overcome, and truth be told, it'd be nice to see some new teams in the postseason. The Jays haven't been there since their last World Series win in 1993, and the Kansas City Royals, who currently lead the A.L. Central, not since their last title in 1985. Serious baseball fans would love that. Fox-TV executives... not so much.
I can't say enough about how nice this trip has been despite the baseball results. Torontonians are unfailingly polite, always stopping to help out Americans who are trying to find their way around a foreign city (the Cubs gear gives it away). The subway stop closest to Rogers Centre is a bit of a hike, and the station, which shares space with a commuter rail and national rail station, is a maze of construction right now. Nevertheless, there was never any problem finding a friendly face to point me in the right direction. Thanks, Canada, for being so cordial and accommodating, and you're welcome for the three wins.
A BCB tip o' the cap to our own ballhawk, who sent me the suggested headline for this recap.
I'm sticking around Toronto Thursday to see some of the sights other than baseball games and to attend this baseball discussion session tonight before heading back to the States. We'll have plenty more here today and during the day Friday here at BCB, since the next Cubs game isn't until Friday night at Pittsburgh, where Tsuyoshi Wada will face Gerrit Cole.