The consistently inconsistent Blue Jays hit another bump in the road on Tuesday night as left-hander Mark Buehrle was roughed up over four innings and his offense remained quiet in a 9-3 loss to the Orioles at Rogers Centre.
"We are a team of extremes," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "We have to score runs for this team, no question about it. We have to score runs to win. We just got beat around today a little bit. We came in and they outplayed us."
The loss meant Toronto has started a critical month of August with an 0-4 record. The Blue Jays opened August 0-3 during each of the past three seasons, but this is the first time since 2006 the club saw the skid extended to four.
The Blue Jays' three losses in Houston hurt, but this loss to the Orioles likely stings a little bit more. The series was billed as the battle of the American League East, and the early advantage goes to Baltimore.
Toronto dropped to five games back of Baltimore for top spot in the division. The Blue Jays have a chance to recover with two games remaining in the series, but the schedule doesn't get any easier after that as the club hosts Detroit for three games before heading out on a West Coast trip to Seattle.
"With us losing today, it doesn't mean our season is over," Buehrle said. "We played bad the first couple of games coming out of the break, first game of the series we lost and then came back to win the series.
" ... They're in first place for a reason. Come in, hopefully play better the next two games, take two of three and we'll be happy with it."
More than 36,000 showed up at Rogers Centre for the highly anticipated affair. The fans were loud early but went quiet when Buehrle started to struggle. Toronto's veteran starter was walking a fine line earlier in the game by putting multiple runners on base during each of the first two innings. He escaped both times, but his luck ran out in the third.
Baltimore's first run came on an RBI double by J.J. Hardy. In the fourth, Buehrle allowed back-to-back homers to Caleb Joseph and Jonathan Schoop. The Orioles added another run on an RBI single by Delmon Young, which came on a slow chopper that took a bad bounce on the Astro Turf and got away from third baseman Danny Valencia.
Buehrle didn't come back out for the fifth and he was charged with all four of those runs on 10 hits and three walks. He is 1-7 with a 4.73 ERA since June 7 and has allowed at least four runs in three of his past four outings. Right-hander Aaron Sanchez came on in relief, but he also got into trouble and allowed an additional two runs in his two innings of work.
"I feel like I've been making good pitches at times and they're finding holes," Buehrle said. "Besides the home runs and the double off the wall, if I'm making pitches, they're putting the ball on the ground and finding holes; can't really guard against that.
"It's frustrating, giving up 10 hits in four innings, but I feel like I'm making some quality pitches at certain times. I'm also making mistakes and they're making me pay for them."
Toronto's offense had plenty of opportunities to score but struggled to come through with runners in scoring position. It was the same theme as the weekend series in Houston, which saw the club rally early but not do enough damage when an opposing pitcher appeared to be on the ropes.
The Blue Jays' best opportunity to get back into the game came in the seventh. Jose Bautista came to the plate with the bases loaded and nobody out. It marked the fourth time Bautista stepped in with runners on base, but in his previous three at-bats the slugger struck out, grounded out and hit into a double play.
Bautista, who represented the tying run, responded in this plate appearance by lifting a sacrifice fly to right field. Dioner Navarro then grounded into an inning-ending double play as yet another rally came to an end. Toronto has scored seven runs in its past 36 innings, which is a big reason for the recent losing streak.
"The bullpen picked me up, the guys swung the bats, and it's big statement game for us in the first game of the series," said O's starter Bud Norris, who improved to 3-0 in four starts against the Blue Jays this season. "A nice win for sure."
For Baltimore it is. For the Blue Jays, not so much.