TORONTO -- The second half of the Blue Jays' season has gotten off to a less than ideal start, and the clock is ticking on putting together a meaningful run in the American League East.
Toronto exited the All-Star break in desperate need of turning things around in a hurry following a disappointing 45-49 first half. The hope was that the turnaround would start with a positive showing against the Rays. But so far that hasn't been the case.
Left-hander Mark Buehrle surrendered four runs (three earned) over seven innings, and the Blue Jays' offense squandered a pair of valuable scoring opportunities late in the game en route to a 4-3 loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday afternoon at Rogers Centre.
"Maybe we're overrated, maybe we're not as good as we thought we were," said Buehrle, whose record dropped to 5-7 with a 4.83 ERA. "During the 11-game winning streak [in June], we had everything going for us. Guys were making plays. We were hitting balls just out of the reach of guys. We were making the right pitches at the right time. Now it just seems like nothing's going our way."
The loss dropped the Blue Jays to 13 games back of Boston for first place in the American League East. The outlook for the second Wild Card isn't a lot better, with the club now trailing Texas by nine games.
The Blue Jays also find themselves with a 9-17 record in games decided by one run. In a lot of cases, it has been a missed scoring opportunity or failed execution on defense that has resulted in a lot of tough-to-swallow losses.
In games when the Blue Jays need just a play or two to go their way, it hasn't happened more often than not. All in all, it has resulted in a frustrating 2013 campaign and has left a lot of players in the clubhouse searching for answers.
"Everybody's trying, nobody can pinpoint what's going on," Buehrle said. "I can't pinpoint what's going on. It's frustrating. Everybody's out there trying to turn this around, trying to win games. It's just not happening right now."
The problems on Saturday afternoon began in the first inning, when Buehrle was uncharacteristically wild. The crafty veteran walked the first batter he faced, and the mistake eventually proved costly, as Desmond Jennings came around to score on rookie Wil Myers' sacrifice fly.
The issues continued in the third when Buehrle allowed the first three batters of the inning to reach base. One run came in on a fielder's choice grounder by Evan Longoria, which was followed by an RBI single from Myers.
The final blow of the inning came during in the next at-bat, when it seemed like Toronto was going to get out of the inning. Shortstop Jose Reyes fielded a tailor-made ground ball, but the throw to first from second baseman Brett Lawrie sailed well wide of the bag.
That allowed another run to score and is the type of mistake the Blue Jays might have to live with considering Lawrie is in the middle of transitioning to second after spending the past three years at third.
"As far as double plays, he'll get those," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "Like I said, we'll play him some at second, we'll play him a little bit at third. In time I think he'll be good over there. He made a nice play later in the game. We'll see."
Despite falling behind early, the Blue Jays had plenty of scoring chances to get back into the game. Jose Bautista hit his 22nd home run of the season in the third, and the club added another run in the fifth on an RBI groundout by Edwin Encarnacion.
The wasted opportunities came in the eighth and ninth innings. Tampa Bay relievers Alex Torres and Joel Peralta seemingly gift-wrapped the eighth by walking the bases loaded with nobody out. But Colby Rasmus popped out in foul ground and then Maicer Izturis and J.P. Arencibia struck out to end the threat.
"It was really a good pitch, and 3-2," Peralta said of the split which struck out Arencibia. "[Pitching coach Jim] Hickey came to the mound and told me this guy's not as good with the split and the slider. So that was the plan."
In the ninth, Toronto received a second chance when Rays closer Fernando Rodney missed an easy comebacker to the mound that should have resulted in the final out. One run scored, and the tying run eventually ended up on third with the potential winning run on second.
That threat also came to an end, as Adam Lind flew out to center field. Like so many games this season, Toronto was one swing away from a different result, but found itself with a third straight loss.
"We had opportunities, especially late there," Gibbons said. "Couldn't get that big one. Of course, the eighth inning, you plate one, you never know how the game's going to turn out. But we came up goose eggs there. … It's frustrating, but we did have our chances. We just couldn't get that big hit."