Blue Jays look for offense to be driving force

Saunders' blast ends HR drought, but bats are struggling

Blue Jays look for offense to be driving force

TORONTO -- It may sound like a broken record at this point, but if the Blue Jays have any chance of getting back into the American League Championship Series, the offense is going to have to start carrying its own weight. That includes the dangerous heart of the order, of course, but also the bottom of the lineup.

There was a glimmer of hope for that in a 4-2 loss in Game 3 on Monday night, when the bottom of the order provided a spark. Michael Saunders ended Toronto's homerless drought with a solo shot to left field. Ezequiel Carrera provided another when he tripled to the gap in right-center field and later scored. In the end, it still wasn't enough as the Blue Jays lost their 13th consecutive postseason game when scoring fewer than five runs. But it was something.

ALCS Game 4: Today at 4 p.m. ET on TBS/Sportsnet/RDS

Toronto has managed to score just three runs in this ALCS, which is the Blue Jays' lowest output over any three-game stretch of the 2016 season. The timing could not be any worse, and it will have to change immediately to give this team renewed life.

Game Date Matchup TV/Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 14 CLE 2, TOR 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 15 CLE 2, TOR 1 video
Gm 3 Oct. 17 CLE 4, TOR 2 video
Gm 4 Oct. 18 TOR 5, CLE 1 video
Gm 5 Oct. 19 CLE 3, TOR 0 video

"Obviously, we're not scoring as many runs as we'd like right now, and our starting pitching has done a great job for us all series," Saunders said. "We've had our backs against the wall before. Last year as well, and we're going to draw on that experience."

The responsibility for an offensive resurgence cannot fall on any one individual player. The fact is, Toronto's entire lineup has struggled to generate much of anything against a Cleveland pitching staff that cruised through the AL Division Series vs. Boston, and which is on the verge of doing something similar to the Blue Jays

As a team, the Blue Jays are batting .177 (17-for-96) with four extra-base hits in this series. The opportunities to score have been few and far between. But even when they have arisen, Toronto has managed just one hit in 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position. These issues aren't new. They plagued the Blue Jays through September when they scored the fewest runs in the AL.

Jose Bautista has one hit in his past 17 at-bats. Russell Martin has two hits in 27 at-bats this postseason. Troy Tulowitzki has one hit in 12 at-bats during this series and Edwin Encarnacion has just two.

Pillar on offensive woes

"Personally, I'm not having very good at-bats, but I'm seeing it throughout our lineup," Martin said. "Guys are taking tough pitches and hitting the ball pretty well. [Josh Donaldson] is having great at-bats. Eddie, he's getting his swing off as well, but we're going to have to do it as a unit. We're going to have to all chip in at some point and find a way to get some runs on the board."

One thing manager John Gibbons likely won't try again is making yet another change to his lineup with the hope of generating some kind of spark. Gibbons tried it numerous times during the regular season, often to no avail, and he attempted it again for Game 3.

Saunders on Game 4 focus

Gibbons moved Bautista into the leadoff spot and dropped Carrera to eighth. The move was initially made for a couple of reasons. One, it created the possibility of giving Bautista an extra at-bat while also getting some added protection from No. 2 hitter Donaldson. Two, it grouped Carrera with Pillar and Ryan Goins at the bottom of the order. Those are three players who don't rely on the home run to generate offense, and if Toronto is ever going to resort to small ball, it would be with that trio.

Carrera made the small-ball talk a moot point when he tripled and later scored in the fifth inning. He used to his speed to generate a run, and even if that was the only benefit, Gibbons doesn't plan on changing things up yet again just for the sake of trying something new.

"I may have already done that enough," Gibbons said when asked about possible lineup adjustments. "No, we'll run the boys out there tomorrow that got us to this point. It's a pretty good group and they're due. They're due. We'll see. We'll see if it's tomorrow."

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.