No panic for Blue Jays despite tough stretch

Toronto has off-day before getting chance to reclaim first place

No panic for Blue Jays despite tough stretch

NEW YORK -- The Blue Jays entered the month of September in the driver's seat, but the margin for error has since been eroded. The team might be reeling, but instead of dwelling on past mistakes, Toronto has no choice but to look to the future as the most important series of the year looms on Friday night.

Toronto is about to open a three-game set vs. the Red Sox with first place in the American League East on the line. Following a pair of series losses to the Rays and Yankees -- the Blue Jays were swept by New York with Wednesday's 2-0 defeat -- the good news is that the club has a much-needed off-day Thursday to reset the scene for the final stretch drive.

Home likely will have never felt as good as it does over the next couple of days. The Blue Jays led the division by two games on Sept. 1, but the Red Sox have since jumped in front by a game after defeating the Padres in San Diego on Wednesday night. This is not the time for pity, it is the time for execution.

"It's the time of the year where if you struggle, it's a bit magnified," Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin said. "If you do well, everybody gets excited. We had a tough series, you put it behind us and keep moving forward.

"We're right in it. We just need either a big play or a big hit somewhere to get us going in the right direction, but you're not going to see any panic from me. ... I believe in my team and I believe we're not too worried."

Toronto has lost three consecutive games for the first time since June 18-21, and the club has dropped six of its last eight overall. The offense is struggling, the bullpen had a couple of late-game meltdowns and even the rotation has been up and down over the week.

To some outside observers it might seem like the season is about to fall apart, but inside the clubhouse the confidence remains intact. There's frustration, but this is a sport where momentum can be vastly overrated. A team can look great one week and terrible the next. The key is finding consistency, and that's something the Blue Jays have excelled at with the exception of the last seven days.

"We're ready, we know what we have to accomplish," said Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman, whose team is 7-6 vs. the Red Sox this season. "We know what we have to do over this next month, and we're up to the task. Every single guy in this clubhouse is committed and motivated. We're just excited to have this off-day to kind of regroup and get back out there on Friday."

Toronto lost all three games in New York, which marked the first series sweep the club was handed since May 16-18. Most of the blame falls squarely at the feet of an offense that is supposed to be one of the best in the league but has struggled mightily of late.

Jose Bautista is 5-for-20 over his last five games, and Josh Donaldson is 0-for-12 over his last four. Toronto was shut out on Wednesday for the sixth time this season and is averaging four runs per game this month. The Blue Jays are 22-50 this season when scoring four runs or fewer, so simply put, the offense needs to step up this weekend.

"It's really simple, you go out there and score more runs than the other team," Martin said. "Make the plays that you need to make. Make good pitches and have good at-bats. We know it's going to be tough because it's a good team coming in and it's not going to be easy. Just take it one pitch at a time, and hopefully we do the right things and we get some Ws."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.