Toronto slips below .500 as bats continue struggle

Toronto slips below .500 as bats continue struggle

Toronto slips below .500 as bats continue struggle
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' season hit a low point on Wednesday afternoon as the club dipped below .500 for the first time this year.

Toronto's struggling offense once again looked overmatched at the plate, but this time it didn't come as a major surprise, with second-year phenom Stephen Strasburg on the mound for Washington.

The Blue Jays went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position while striking out eight times against Strasburg en route to a three-game series sweep, with a 6-2 loss to the Nationals in front of 41,677 fans at Rogers Centre.

"Very difficult series, obviously," said Blue Jays manager John Farrell, whose team has lost six of its past seven games. "You get swept at home, it's never a good thing. We've got to play better, bottom line.

"We've run into two very good teams in Atlanta and Washington, but still, I firmly believe this is a very good team in and of itself, and we have to do better."

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The Blue Jays managed to score a total of seven runs in Washington's three-game sweep. They combined to go just 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position while stranding 19 runners over that span.

The overall lack of offense has been a main contributor to the club's recent slump -- in the six losses, the Blue Jays have failed to score more than three runs in any of those games.

With the exception of Jose Bautista and Colby Rasmus, the offensive production has grinded to a halt. The most noticeable difference between now and earlier in the season has been the club's inability to come through with runners in scoring position.

"The [inability] to bunch some hits together," Farrell said of his club's offensive woes. "When we've scored, with the exception of Game 3 down in Atlanta, it seems to have been because of the long ball. But to get a key hit at those critical junctures of the game, that is what has been elusive.

"They made quality pitches against us for three straight games here. It's a talented staff, but I feel like this is a talented offense as well. We've got to play better, we've got to pitch better, we've got to hit better."

Toronto's lone offensive attack came in the third inning, when left fielder Rajai Davis led off the frame with a triple to the gap in right-center field. Davis would later come around to score on an infield groundout by Brett Lawrie for the Blue Jays' first run of the game.

Bautista followed two batters later with a solo shot that just cleared the wall in left field for his second home run in as many games. Bautista's 19th of the season also moved him past Ernie Whitt and into sole possession of seventh place on the club's all-time homer list.

That was all the offense could generate off Strasburg, who allowed just five hits and one walk in six innings. Strasburg was unable to come back out for the seventh because of a cut in the nail of his middle finger.

Despite the minor injury, Strasburg stuck around long enough to earn his fifth consecutive victory, and he also became the first pitcher in the Majors this season to reach the 100-strikeout mark.

"It was nothing major," Strasburg said of the cut. "I wanted to go out there again. I was trying to fight for it, but they were pretty committed on getting me out of there. It is what it is, but it's a long season, so I've just got to try to roll with it and go out there and pitch next time."

Toronto right-hander Kyle Drabek also had to leave his start because of an injury, but this one could end up being a lot more severe than Strasburg's. Drabek departed in the fifth inning after feeling a popping sensation in his right elbow.

Drabek passed a series of tests in the training room and the ligament appears fine, but he was still scheduled to undergo further evaluations on Wednesday night to make sure everything is OK.

"Pretty frightening," said Drabek, who was charged with four runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings. "I had the Tommy John [surgery] in '07. It's nothing like that, but it's always frightening.

"We did all the tests for it, and I was strong. So that was some good news."

Left-hander Aaron Laffey entered and proceeded to allow a pair of solo home runs during his three innings of work. Washington was led by first baseman Tyler Moore, who hit his first two Major League homers and had five RBIs, while shortstop Ian Desmond homered.

Toronto now has a much-needed off-day on Thursday to regroup before the club closes out its homestand with a three-game set against the Phillies.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.