Missed opportunities cost Blue Jays in Baltimore

Stroman struggles as Wild Card deficit pushed to five games

Missed opportunities cost Blue Jays in Baltimore

BALTIMORE -- The Blue Jays' streaky offense has been the cause of many ups and downs this season, but it's the latest dip in production that could have the club watching from afar in October.

Toronto has been playing the last week with almost no margin for error as it attempts to gain ground in the American League Wild Card race. The only way that could have happened was if the offense got hot at the right time, but it was missing in action during Monday night's 5-2 loss to the Orioles at Camden Yards.

The Blue Jays missed a series of golden opportunities to come through with men on base while right-hander Marcus Stroman allowed five runs. The loss meant Toronto dropped to five games back of the second Wild Card spot with 13 games to play.

"We have to take advantage when we have the shots," manager John Gibbons said. "Both teams had a lot of hits; we didn't get any with guys in scoring position, really, all night."

The Blue Jays actually got off to a hot start, as Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion began the game with three consecutive singles. That brought one run in, and there was the possibility for more with nobody out and runners on the corners.

The golden opportunity was wasted as Danny Valencia and Dioner Navarro each struck out and John Mayberry Jr. was robbed on a diving catch by right fielder Nick Markakis. It was just the start of what turned into a long night of "should haves" for Toronto.

The Blue Jays had multiple runners on base in five different innings but couldn't come up with the big hit. They went 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position and left 11 runners on base. That was the difference in the game as left-hander Wei-Yin Chen survived 5 2/3 innings of two-run baseball to earn his 16th win of the season.

"We should have scored a couple of more runs there," Reyes said. "But sometimes you have to give credit to the pitcher, the guy on the mound. He made quality pitches and got out of that inning. That stuff happens sometimes."

Stroman arguably has been Toronto's most valuable pitcher during the second half of the season, but he struggled in his first career appearance against a powerful O's lineup. The 23-year-old allowed four singles in the first, and while none of them were particularly well hit, it still resulted in a pair of runs.

Baltimore added another run in the third on an RBI single by Nelson Cruz, but the big blow came in the fifth. Stroman hung a first-pitch curveball to Ryan Flaherty, and the Orioles' infielder sent it over the wall in right field for a two-run homer. That proved to be the turning point and gave the Orioles a 5-1 lead they would not relinquish.

Flaherty's home run was the third allowed by Stroman since June 23, as a big part of his success this season has been an ability to keep the ball on the ground. Stroman continued on and made it through six innings, but he also allowed the five runs on nine hits and two walks with just three strikeouts. Despite the disappointing result, Blue Jays starters have gone at least six innings in 21 consecutive games.

"I struggled with command from the beginning," Stroman said. "I felt like when I did make a good pitch, they somehow found a way to find a hole and sneak one through, kind of keep things rolling. Definitely a hard day."

The Orioles' win means their magic number is one, and a win either Tuesday or Wednesday vs. Toronto would clinch the division. The Blue Jays had to watch Boston clinch the AL East last year, and it's something the club obviously hopes to avoid this season.

More importantly for Toronto, though, are the 13 games remaining in the season. The Blue Jays might need to win every one of those to have a realistic shot at October baseball. Kansas City's win over the White Sox on Monday increased the deficit in the Wild Card race, but Toronto also is chasing Seattle.

It's technically not impossible, but it will require two collapses and one epic comeback for the Blue Jays' season to be extended.

"We're on the fringe," Gibbons admitted. "We have a very, slim, outside shot to get to the playoffs, but we're fighting every night to try to win games."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. 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.