TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have aspirations of the postseason, but it's hard to envision a scenario where they accomplish that goal unless there is significant improvement from the bullpen.
Toronto's relievers have struggled for most of the year and that was the case again in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Rays. The Blue Jays carried a 2-1 lead into the seventh inning, but they were unable to close things out in what has become an ongoing theme throughout the season.
Aaron Loup and Ryan Tepera surrendered a pair of solo home runs as another solid outing by R.A. Dickey was wasted. The club dropped to 10-19 in one-run games this season and issues in the bullpen is one of the main reasons why.
"Very painful," manager John Gibbons said of the loss. "It was a battle on both sides all day, both teams pitched very well and we coughed it up late via the home-run ball. That's tough, we have to improve there or it's going to be a long year."
Toronto's bullpen was charged with 13 blown saves in the first half of the season and the overall numbers have been even worse during July. Blue Jays relievers have combined to post a 4.57 ERA (21 ER/41 1/3 IP) and have allowed runs in nine of their last 13 games.
Right-handers Roberto Osuna and Bo Schultz have emerged as the only consistent options that Gibbons has at his disposal. Everybody else has shown glimpses of value, but there have been far too many setbacks in high-leverage situations.
Loup has four of the blown saves with an ERA that now sits at 5.03. Last year, it was a high number of walks that led to some occasional problems and while that mechanical flaw has been rectified (five walks in 34 innings) there have been times this season when he has gotten far too much of the plate.
That was the case on Saturday when a poorly located changeup led to the fourth home run of the season for Tampa Bay's Brandon Guyer. Dating to June 20, Loup has allowed eight runs over his last 8 1/3 innings on 15 hits and two walks.
"You're always concerned about that, with everybody, but he's a very valuable guy," Gibbons said when asked if a high workload from the last couple of years could be finally catching up to Loup. "He has been very reliable for us, too, and he's one of the more durable ones.
"The fact that we're just coming off an All-Star break, it's still the middle of the season, he has thrown a lot, but he's still coming off four days. There was a close call, we didn't get the call, and then the changeup sat out over the plate."
The decisive blow came in the seventh when Tepera served one up to No. 9 hitter Curt Casali. Tepera became the latest reliever to be auditioned for a high-leverage spot, and like far too many other examples this season, it didn't work out in the Blue Jays' favor.
"I just didn't execute the pitch," said Tepera, who has a 2.89 ERA in 18 2/3 innings "Gibby put me in a situation to succeed, I've been throwing the ball pretty well and it just comes down to execution. Tie game, I want to be in that spot from here on out and I just didn't do the job."