Wilner on Jays: Close, but no cigar

Starting pitcher Josh Johnson. (Charles Krupa/AP)
June 28, 2013, 11:22 PM

BOSTON, Mass. – The Blue Jays made a valiant comeback after falling behind by five runs, but for one of a very few times this season, the bullpen didn’t hold, and they lost for just the fifth time in the 14 games in which they’ve forced their opponents into a blown save.

Here are three things that stood out to me about Friday night’s loss:

NOT A STATEMENT GAME

Josh Johnson had been pretty terrific since returning from the disabled list, and he had a chance to make a ton of fans in Toronto by throwing down and pitching the Blue Jays to a series-evening win in Boston, but it wasn’t to be.

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Johnson, with no help from home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman — who had a radically smaller strike zone for Johnson than he did for Red Sox starter Allen Webster — struggled through 3 1/3 innings of work before handing it over to the bullpen having allowed five runs on eight hits.

Johnson threw 30 pitches in the bottom of the second inning alone, though he could have been saved had Colby Rasmus been able to hold on to Stephen Drew’s 420-foot drive to centre as he crashed into the Fenway Park grounds crew’s garage door.

He was saved from a multiple-run inning in the third by Jose Bautista throwing David Ortiz out at the plate on a Daniel Nava single, and he was knocked out of the game the next inning after giving up his third straight hit — a two-run single by Jacoby Ellsbury.

The big righty was targeted by the Blue Jays in the off-season because he has been one of the best pitchers in the game when healthy over the last few years. If the Jays are going to complete the comeback that has seen them close to within five games of a playoff spot, they’re going to need him to step it up far more often than not.

TOUGH, TIGHT DIVISION

With their loss on Friday night, the Blue Jays fell back below the break-even mark at 39-40, and they’re now the only team in the American League East with a losing record. They’re now 4-4 in the big stretch of 10 straight in the division, having swept the Orioles, then started this road trip against the Rays and Red Sox at 1-4.

There seems a glaring misconception out there that the Jays “can’t play” with the teams in the A.L. East, and that their failures within the division show that they’re not going to be able to be a legitimate factor in a playoff race. Such a position is not only false, but it’s intellectually dishonest and perhaps intentionally misleading.

The Blue Jays have been exceedingly awful against the New York Yankees this season, having lost eight of nine. They’re almost solely responsible for the Yankees being over .500 this season. Without a doubt, they have been awful against the Yanks, they’ve spit the bit huge. Against the rest of the division, they have been far, far from overmatched.

Against the Orioles (6-4), Rays (5-5) and Red Sox (4-7), the Blue Jays are a combined 15-16. Certainly not good, but treading water in a division this tough isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially for a team that spent the first six weeks of the season trying to hit its stride.

GET WELL SOON, BRETT

It has become fashionable for some of the more vocal fans to suggest that the Blue Jays be in no hurry to bring Brett Lawrie back as the third baseman recovers from his sprained ankle, but the absence of his outstanding glove really showed up Friday night.

Maicer Izturis has filled in ably at third since Lawrie went down in late May, having caught a spike on second base as he slid in. Izturis has contributed a bit with the bat, too, batting .268/.308/.381 since Lawrie’s injury, which isn’t particularly good but much better than he’d been doing prior. His lack of range, though, at least compared to Lawrie’s, showed up glaringly in the Sox’ game-winning rally in the bottom of the seventh.

Izturis isn’t a bad third baseman, but Lawrie is one of the best, and the Red Sox hit three ground ball singles to Izturis’ left in the seventh inning, all three of which may very well have been handled by Lawrie. Had Brett been in there, fan-annoying attitude or otherwise, that game-winning rally by the Bostons would likely not have happened, and the game might still be going on as you read this.

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