Familiar issue hinders Blue Jays in loss to Angels

Albert Pujols hit his 590th career home run and the Los Angeles Angels beat Toronto 6-1 Saturday night, dropping the Blue Jays into a tie for the top two AL wild-card spots.

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Ignore the score and know that Francisco Liriano was money Saturday night, deserving of a much better fate than the one that befell him. At this point, it’s hard to imagine him not getting the two remaining starts the Toronto Blue Jays have yet to allocate.

The issue in a 6-1 Los Angeles Angels victory, one that’s all too familiar, is that another mediocre any-pitch at any-time righty shut down their offence. The Blue Jays defence didn’t have a very good night either, with three errors and a wild pitch leading to five add-on runs that pushed the game out of reach.

Still, Ricky Nolasco throwing six shutout innings is something that actually happened. The right-hander had a 4.94 ERA coming in but navigated around a bunch of traffic, with the Blue Jays going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position against him.

By the time they broke through in the eighth, it was way, way too late.

"We didn’t play a good enough game, obviously, to win," said manager John Gibbons. "We had some chances, we couldn’t get that big hit to drive in some runs. A couple of base-running mistakes and we had trouble catching the ball on a couple instances. I thought Liriano was good, really good. For the most part, he held them in check. They bled him a little bit there in the sixth inning but overall he did a nice job."

The offence, on the other hand, did not, creating innings but not seeing them to fruition. The Blue Jays went 1-for-12 overall with runners in scoring position as their two-game win streak came to end, but the loss didn’t cost them in the wild-card standings, as they’re still tied for the top spot with the Baltimore Orioles, 5-2 losers to the Tampa Bay Rays. The Detroit Tigers and Seattle both remain three games back after losses, with the Houston Astros tying them at 78-70 with a 2-1 win over the Mariners.

The American East leading Boston Red Sox, however, picked up a game on both the Blue Jays and Orioles with a 6-5 win over the New York Yankees, and are now up by three.

"Being my first time around it, it does make it a little tougher because we understand every single pitch, every single inning, every single game, they count a lot," Devon Travis, who had three hits but also made a base-running blunder, said of the challenge in handling September’s emotional swings. "So it makes it a little bit tougher for sure."

Liriano certainly pitched well enough for the Blue Jays to keep pace, allowing four runs, two earned, on six hits and two walks over six innings. He generated 12 groundball outs with a two-seamer that moved all over the place and surrendered very little hard contact, a strong follow-up to his 6.1 innings of two-run ball Monday against the Rays.

"Really he has everything working right now," said Gibbons. "He has a good fastball. He doesn’t throw anything straight. He’s throwing a nice changeup and he’s got his slider. Against a predominantly right-handed hitting team, he pitched good enough to win, we just couldn’t score."

Albert Pujols opened the scoring in the second by fishing out a slider down in the zone and sending it over the wall in left for his 30th homer, joining Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez as the only players to reach the plateau 14 times.

The remaining runs the Blue Jays surrendered were preventable.

In the fourth, Andrelton Simmons led off with a walk, advanced two bases on a wild pitch and scored on Shane Robinson’s RBI single. Liriano then picked off Robinson who had taken off for second but Justin Smoak hesitated on the throw to second, allowing the runner to slide in safely.

"It was frustrating a little bit," Liriano, in comments interpreted by Josue Peley, said of the Robinson single. "I thought I did a good job, I threw a pitch high and away a little bit, the guy put a good swing on it."

Smoak’s inability to get Robinson at second didn’t cost the Blue Jays, but his error on a Mike Trout chopper in the sixth did, as Kole Calhoun eventually came around to score on a Jefry Marte groundout that would have been the third out. Simmons followed with an RBI single that made it 4-0 before Liriano struck out Carlos Perez to close out his outing.

"It was a difficult game, I just tried to keep the team in the game and I think I did pretty well," said Liriano, adding later: "I have a good rhythm going on, I have good communication with (Russell Martin) and I’m making sure to follow the flow of the game. Everything is working pretty well for me."

In the seventh, Josh Donaldson’s two-out throwing error on a Yunel Escobar grounder led to Calhoun’s RBI double and Trout’s run-scoring single.

By that point the Blue Jays had squandered multiple chances to open things up.

In the second, Martin led off with a single, promptly stole second base but was stranded there. The next inning Travis and Donaldson reached to open the inning but again the Blue Jays came up empty. Travis led off the fifth with a double but was thrown out at third trying to advance on Donaldson’s grounder to short, squelching another potential rally.

"That sucked," said Travis. "I was trying to err on the aggressive side, that’s something I did also, probably about a week ago, obviously it was the wrong decision, and it wasn’t too good."

Said Gibbons: "I’d be very surprised if it happens again to him. Really, the play is right in front of you and you have to remember too, who are the guys going to be at the plate anyway. You don’t want to make an out there. Nobody tries harder or feels worse than he does. But he’ll learn from that, I would definitely bet."

Even the eighth, when the Blue Jays finally put a run up on the board, was messy, as Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista went back to tag on Troy Tulowitzki’s smash off the right-field wall, with Bautista barely making it to second ahead of Calhoun’s throw. A Melvin Upton Jr., sacrifice fly was all they managed there.

Liriano’s performance aside, it all made for a forgettable night, one the Blue Jays are fortunate didn’t hurt them as badly as it might have. Sunday’s series finale and another chance to make up ground looms, before a pivotal run of 13 games against direct competitors for the post-season begins.

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