Toronto Blue Jay pitcher Dave Stewart was sitting at his locker, shaking his head and muttering. "I can't believe where we are," he said. "It's a joke." The Blue Jays were in Milwaukee on this afternoon of June 29, but Stewart was referring to their standing in the American League East—last place, 15½ games out of first. Having lost 10 games in a row, Toronto, with a 31-43 record, had the third-worst record in the majors. "I've never been on a team that played this badly for this long," Stewart added. "And I played in Texas when we lost around 100 twice."
It's no joke. Nowadays the two-time world champion Blue Jays are, as Toronto third baseman Ed Sprague puts it, "dazed and confused. We'd like to know what the hell's going on here."
A year ago the Jays had a devastating lineup that overpowered opponents; a starting pitcher, Juan Guzman, who hardly ever lost; the top closer in the game in Duane Ward; and an intense desire to repeat as World Series champs. This year they have none of that. "It's like someone else stepped into our uniforms," says backup catcher Randy Knorr.
On June 26, in the ninth inning of a 7-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, it looked as if the Marx Brothers were wearing Toronto white and blue. The O's had the bases loaded and one out when the Jays turned a routine double play ground ball into a comedy of errors—literally. In a matter of seconds Toronto made two errant throws and dropped the ball on a tag at the plate, allowing three runs to score without getting a single runner out. "Ugliest thing I've ever seen," Stewart said.
It has been that kind of year. Instead of picking up where they left off in '93, the Blue Jays have regressed clear back to 1981—when they lost a team-record 12 games in a row. But not even that horrible '81 team, which had Danny Ainge playing second base, went through a stretch rivaling the one the '94 Jays endured from June 19 to 27, during which they scored a total of nine runs in eight games. In fact, in the 18-year history of the franchise, the club had never scored so few runs over an eight-game span. Pat Hentgen had to throw a three-hit shutout against the Brewers on June 29 to snap the 10-game losing streak—the third longest in team history.
"It would take a major miracle to get back in this race," said the 37-year-old Stewart, who at week's end had struggled to a 5-8 record and a 6.20 ERA. Still, there are plenty of reasons to keep an eye on Toronto the rest of the season, albeit mostly negative ones:
•After dropping three of four games to the Milwaukee Brewers and then two of three to the Kansas City Royals last weekend, the Jays were 13 games under .500 (33-46) and on pace to finish with the worst winning percentage (.418) ever by a defending world champion. The mark is held by the '91 Cincinnati Reds, who were 74-88, for a .457 percentage.
•Toronto could become the third team in history to fall from first place one season to sole possession of last the next, joining the 1915 Philadelphia A's and the '93 Oakland A's.
•The Jays' run of 11 years finishing above .500 is in jeopardy.
How did this team drop so far so fast?