TORONTO -- The once-powerful Blue Jays lineup has started to dry up, and it's happening at a time the club can least afford it.
Toronto's offense hasn't really been the same since the beginning of June, but it has fallen on especially hard times of late. During a pivotal series against Baltimore, with matchups vs. Detroit and Seattle looming, there couldn't be a worse time.
The offensive woes continued in the series finale against the Orioles as left-hander J.A. Happ struck out a career-high 12 batters and tossed eight strong innings but was saddled with the 2-1 loss on Thursday night at Rogers Centre.
"Let's be realistic, we're missing the home run ball; that's a big part of what we are, you know?" Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said after losing for the fifth time in six games.
Toronto had the best offense in baseball through the end of May, but a rough patch the following month started to change the club's fortunes. The slide continued in July when the Blue Jays lost Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind to injuries.
There were some positive signs after the All-Star break as Toronto scored at least four runs in 11 of 13 games en route to four consecutive series victories. The danger is those numbers could prove to be an aberration as the Blue Jays have once again started to struggle.
Toronto has scored three runs or less in five of its past six games. Some of the losses have come against strong pitching, but the task is only going to get tougher from here. Detroit is scheduled to use Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and David Price in the next three games. After that, the Mariners will have Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma for a three-game series in Seattle.
"We run into some pretty good pitching in this next series and then of course on after that, but that's the big leagues," Gibbons said.
"If you're going to win anything, you've got to beat those guys. They're all right in it, and if you're good enough you'll do it, and if you're not you won't. ... When you pitch like we have the last couple of nights, we at least give ourselves a pretty good shot."
Toronto did have some early chances on Thursday night against right-hander Miguel Gonzalez. The Blue Jays put one runner on in the first, two in the third and two in the fourth, but each time came away empty handed.
The lone bright spot came in the fifth when Anthony Gose displayed a rare sign of power with a solo shot to right field. It was Gose's first home run of the season and fourth of his career, but it was the only time Gonzalez had to pay for one of his mistakes.
Gonzalez improved to 6-6 on the season as he allowed four hits and two walks over six innings. Toronto finished the night 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position and left six men on base.
"You never know what's going to happen out there as soon as you let go of the baseball," Gonzalez said. "Having that 2-1 ballgame gives me a little more focus and control to try and make better pitches and not do too much."
Happ did everything possible to give Toronto a chance, but all it took was a fourth-inning home run by Caleb Joseph to result in the hard-luck loss. The disappointing result also meant the Blue Jays dropped to five games back of Baltimore for first place in the American League East.
The loss will show up on Happ's record, but he wasn't at fault in this game. He enjoyed one of his best starts of the season and continues to be a surprisingly big piece of Toronto's rotation. He has a 1.71 ERA since the All-Star break, but his success can be traced back even further than that.
The strong start meant that Happ's ERA fell to 4.09, which is well below the mark he had in two previous seasons with the Blue Jays. The most impressive aspect of late has been his aggressiveness on the mound which has allowed him to keep his pitch count relatively low and improved his ability to get deep into games.
"We'd love to get on a roll," Happ said of the starters. "We feel good overall, I think, about how things have gone. But at the same time, especially with the teams coming up, we're going to need it."