No light at the end of the Blue Jays’ tunnel

Scott Kazmir pitched seven innings striking out eight as the Oakland Athletics beat the Toronto Blue Jays who lost Edwin Encarnacion to injury.

OAKLAND, Calif. – Let’s review the past three days for the Toronto Blue Jays, during which they have:

–Wasted a solid effort by R.A. Dickey in a 4-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Thursday;

–Wasted a terrific start by Marcus Stroman plus four shutout innings from the bullpen in a 1-0, 12-inning loss Friday, and then watched the A’s thin out the deadline pitching market by acquiring both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs;

–Claimed outfielder Cole Gillespie off waivers from the Seattle Mariners, he checks in Sunday;

–Watched Edwin Encarnacion charge to first base to avoid a double play in the first inning Saturday night, stretch at the bag, pop something in his right quadriceps causing him to fall, roll and require the help of two trainers to get off the field. He’s expected to hit the DL.

Wasted another decent start, this one by Mark Buehrle, in a 5-1 loss that was their 12th setback in their past 18 outings. They’ve scored two runs over 30 innings at the outset of their 10-game road trip to close out the first half.

Watched Jose Bautista rant in the dugout after a challenge failed to overturn a controversial out call at home on Melky Cabrera, quelling a promising rally in the eighth inning.

So, yeah, this increasingly trying stretch of season for the Blue Jays is quickly morphing from a significant test of adversity into a period that threatens to undo all the good accomplished so far.

Things are messy in a major way, and after Saturday’s events, there’s only more tunnel at the end of the tunnel. The one saving grace is that no one in the American League East is really capitalizing on their woes, although the Baltimore Orioles moved a game in front of them for the division lead.

“We’re not hitting the ball, we’re not playing good, guys are getting hurt – we suck right now,” said Buehrle, who added later: “That’s why we play 162 games, there’s controversy, there are injuries, there’s a lot of stuff that goes on over the course of a year that you have to deal with.

“Every team deals with it, and whoever deals with it best and has their minor-league system stronger with guys that can fill in, they’re going to be the teams going to the playoffs.”

More and more the Blue Jays look like a team in need of reinforcements, as their Saturday began with laments over Oakland’s stunning acquisition of Samardzija and Hammel – GM Alex Anthopoulos was never close, balking at the ask of both Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison plus at least one if not all three of top prospects Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris and Dalton Pompey – and ended with the expectation Encarnacion hits the DL.

He’s slated to undergo an MRI Sunday morning and the thought of any extended absence from Encarnacion is sure to send shudders up and down the organization and fan base.

What’s even sadder is that his admirable effort was needed to prevent a double play and allow Jose Reyes to score from third on the fielder’s choice – ending a 19-inning scoring drought for the Blue Jays.

“We’re scuffling big-time out there, it’s not our original lineup but you deal with it,” said manager John Gibbons. “You’ve got to keep plugging away, no one feels sorry for you in this business. Everybody gets hurt at some time or another. You’ve got to try to rise up.”

The Blue Jays didn’t get another sniff off Scott Kazmir, but threatened against Luke Gregerson in the eighth, when Cabrera was thrown out at home trying to score on a Bautista double, a disputed play in which another debatable review went against the Blue Jays.

That triggered Bautista’s fury in the dugout and he blasted replay in the clubhouse after.

“This whole replay thing has become a joke in my eyes,” he said. “I think they should just ban it, they should just get rid of it, I don’t really understand the purpose of it, but getting the right call on the field is not the purpose. That’s pretty obvious and evident. I don’t know what kind of agenda the people that are doing the replays are on, what their plan is, what their purpose is, who they’re looking after. But obviously getting the right call on the field is not what they’re doing.”

The Athletics led 3-1 at the time, and as much as runs seemed easy to come by back in May and early June during their 20-4 run, the opposite is true now and two runs seems an insurmountable deficit. Then a Jed Lowrie RBI double and passed ball doubled that A’s edge in the bottom half.

Good night.

The offence’s prolonged struggles – accentuated by Brett Lawrie’s broken finger, which triggered a chain reaction the really diluted the lineup and roster – have created some pause over whether the Blue Jays need more pitching, or an infielder to play either second or third full-time.

More and more, it’s looking like the latter needs to be the priority.
“The big thing right now is scoring runs,” Gibbons said before the game. “When we were going really good we were swinging it and the hole with Brett being gone, trying to shore up the infield a little bit, get some production out of that, is more glaring than the rotation right now.

“But what might happen I have no idea.”

Complicating things is the steep price the Athletics paid for Samardzija and Hammel, which sets a high bar for the rest of the trade market ahead of the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

The Cubs received three highly touted prospects in shortstop Addison Russell, outfielder Billy McKinney and pitcher Dan Straily in the deal. Russell is projected by some as an MVP-type player, McKinney is a multi-tool talent, while Straily won 10 games in 27 big-league starts last year.

Parting with Hutchison and Stroman in a deal makes little sense since the Blue Jays must add to their roster, not subtract from it. Hutchison, who allowed a run over seven frames versus Milwaukee on Tuesday, and Stroman, who threw seven shutout innings against Oakland on Friday, and are both key parts of the current rotation.

“I didn’t think he was going to be this good, not this early anyway,” Gibbons said of Stroman. “He’s been everything we wanted and more.”

Very few others are performing at expectations, let alone beyond them for the Blue Jays right now, and as attrition continues to thin out their roster, finding ways to get themselves right keeps getting harder and harder.

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