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Great starting pitch, lack of offense sinks Jays again


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TAMPA — In public, they’ll tell you the races are going to happen, even though there’s little evidence it’s actually happening.

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

Privately, however, there is much more concern even though the season is only 33 games long. The problem, of course, is that 33 soon becomes 53 and then 83 and suddenly the season begins to pull away.

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

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

The loss was the Jays’ fifth straight, matching their longest slip in the past two seasons. With a 2-8 streak in their last 10 games, the team’s record has dropped to 17-16, the precise place it stood after 33 games in 2021.

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

And to make matters worse, the team lost outfielder George Springer, who awkwardly fell into the center field wall 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 team’s initial diagnosis was a sprained left ankle.

The Jays say the right things about the bats that end up coming, that’s how it works. But throughout spring training and the first few weeks of the season, the Jays lamented finishing a game out of the playoffs last September.

But behind the scenes, there is certainly some trepidation over the slow form. Batters are pressing the plate and those sustained rallies that were exciting to watch for much of 2021 are nowhere to be found.

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The Jays now find them firmly entrenched in third place in the division, three games behind the Rays. And an offense that has scored three or less on 11 of its last 14 teams is still in the hunt.

GAME ON

When it’s bad, it’s bad. The Rays’ first two runs were giveaways, the type of plays that happen when a team is in trouble. The first was the play that hurt Springer. After losing the balls in the lights on a fly ball from Brandon Lowe, he couldn’t make the game and the Rays runner went all the way to third… In the fifth, Kevin Kiermaier reached what should have been a routine but instead was a throwing error from Gausman. A strong Mike Zunino single scored Kiermaier from the first… The Jays made it interesting in the eighth when Vinny Capra led off the inning with a hit single, the first hit of his big league career. Capra and Santiago Espinal scored on a Raimel Tapia single.

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AROUND THE BASES

Some would say the Jays are unassailable when their offense goes like this. They are also unbetable, especially when favored in betting. The Jays entered Friday’s game with fewer than 140 favorites. In their previous five games as favorites they were just 1-4… Wide receiver Danny Jansen is back with the team after a stint in rehab with singles A Dunedin. It’s possible he’ll be activated for Saturday’s game here where he’ll nab scheduled starter Hyun-Jin Ryu.

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