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Great starting pitching, lack of offence sinks Jays once again

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TAMPA — Publicly they will tell you the runs are going to come, even though there’s little evidence of it actually happening.

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Publicly those around the Blue Jays will tell you that it’s just a matter of time and that once they stop pressing at the plate, the runs will come in bunches.

Privately, however, there is much more concern even though the season is just 33 games old. The problem, of course, is that 33 soon becomes 53 and then 83 and suddenly the season starts getting away.

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The struggles continued Friday night at Tropicana Field where the Jays fell 5-2 to the Rays, the second Toronto team to lose in the region over the past 24 hours.

The sagging offence made a half-hearted rally to tie the game in the eighth but when starter Kevin Gausman allowed three consecutive hits an otherwise brilliant evening for the right-hander was over.

The loss was the Jays fifth in a row, matching their longest skid in the past two seasons. With a 2-8 run in their past 10, the team’s record has nose-dived to 17-16, the precise spot it was after 33 games in 2021.

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At the final out, the Jays found themselves seven games behind the New York Yankees for first in the AL East, a spot the Jays held just two and a half weeks ago.

And to make it worse, the team lost outfielder George Springer, who tumbled awkwardly into the centre field wall while trying to make a play in the second inning.

It remains to be seen how long Springer will be out of the lineup — if at all — but the initial diagnosis from the team was a sprained left ankle.

The Jays are saying the right things about the bats eventually coming around, which is the way it works. But throughout spring training and the first few weeks of the season, the Jays lamented finishing one game out of the playoffs last September.

But behind the scenes, there is definitely some concern at the sluggish form. Hitters are pressing at the plate and those sustained rallies that were exciting to watch through much of 2021 are nowhere to be found.

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The Jays now find them firmly entrenched in third in the division, three games behind the Rays. And an offence that has scored three runs or fewer in 11 of its past 14 teams is still searching.

GAME ON

When it’s going bad, it’s going bad. The first two Rays runs were gifts, the type of plays that happen when a team is struggling. The first was the play that injured Springer. After he lost the balls in the lights on a Brandon Lowe fly ball, he was unable to make the match and the Rays runner went all the way to third … In the fifth, Kevin Kiermaier reached on what should have been a routine out but instead was a throwing error from Gausman. A loud single from Mike Zunino scored Kiermaier from first … The Jays did make it interesting in the eighth when Vinny Capra led off the inning with a pinch-hit single, the first knock of his big-league career. Capra and Santiago Espinal came around to score on a Raimel Tapia single.

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AROUND THE BASES

Some would say the Jays are unwatchable when their offence is going like this. They’re also unbettable, especially when their are favoured in the wagering. The Jays entered Friday’s game as minus-140 favourites. In their previous five games as faves, they were a mere 1-4 … Catcher Danny Jansen is back with the team after a rehab stint down the road with single-A Dunedin. There’s a possibility he’s activated for Saturday’s game here where he would catch scheduled starter Hyun-Jin Ryu.

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