Jays unable to crack 'pen in loss

Jays unable to crack 'pen in loss

ST. PETERSBURG -- It'll be another quiet flight home for the dejected Blue Jays. Their six-game swing through Chicago and St. Petersburg seemed to present a prime opportunity for Toronto to pad its record, but any perks in the schedule tend to fly out the window when the Jays hit the road.

On Wednesday, Toronto's woes away from home persisted as a hard and steady rain pounded the dome at Tropicana Field. The Blue Jays' lineup pulled the same disappearing act that has plagued numerous road trips this season -- this time leading to a 6-2 downer against the pesky Devil Rays.

The defeat dropped Toronto's road record to 22-34 and provided the final blow on the 2-4 trip, which began with a poor showing against the White Sox and concluded with a thud vs. Tampa Bay. On both stops, the Blue Jays' hitters were flat-out dominated by two of baseball's worst pitching staffs.

"I don't really have any explanation for the lack of success on the road. It's kind of puzzling actually," Toronto catcher Gregg Zaun said. "Every team in both leagues, they play 81 games on the road. Some of them find a way to have winning records on the road. You can't use that as an excuse."

Adding to the frustation for the Blue Jays (53-54) is the fact that the abysmal showing on the road trip followed their season-high five-game winning streak, in which Toronto outscored Seattle and Minnesota 35-5 at home. In the six games since then, the Jays have hit just .229 and managed only 2.5 runs per game.

"There's been a lot of close ballgames, but we've got to find a way to win them," Zaun said. "We've played some really solid baseball the last few weeks, but outside of five in a row at home, it's been pretty poor results."

On Wednesday, the game appeared to tilt in Toronto's favor when Tampa Bay starter Jason Hammel exited with a shoulder injury after just three-plus innings. That forced Rays manager Joe Maddon to turn to his bullpen, which entered the contest with a bloated 6.65 ERA -- the worst mark among big-league relief staffs.

The Blue Jays tagged Hammel for two runs over the first two innings, but then came up lame against Tampa Bay's relievers. After Hammel left the game, Toronto went just 2-for-19 at the plate and had no baserunners advance beyond second base. Over the three games against Tampa Bay (41-66), the Rays' relievers fashioned a crisp 0.67 ERA against the Jays.

"That sums it up," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "They're a pretty good team on the nights they pitch, and they have a pretty good offense. In the game of baseball, there's no guarantees. It all starts on the mound."

It was the same trend in Chicago, where the White Sox took two of three games against Toronto. Chicago's bullpen was flawless against the Blue Jays, and the White Sox starters posted a 1.96 ERA vs. Toronto. Chicago and Tampa Bay -- ranked 28th and 30th in the Majors, respectively, in team ERA -- combined to post a 1.93 ERA over the Jays' six road games.

Toronto's inability to break through against Tampa Bay's bullpen provided ample time for the Rays' hitters to mount a comeback against right-hander Josh Towers (5-8), who gave up four runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings. Jonny Gomes belted a solo home run off Towers in the third inning, and Carl Crawford added a two-run blast in a three-run sixth.

"I thought he threw a pretty good ballgame," said Gibbons, referring to Towers. "It just got away a little bit in the sixth. We scored two runs in the first couple frames. I thought we had a chance to breakout, but we didn't do anything after that."

That was more than enough damage to send the Jays to their third consecutive series loss on the road. On the other side of the spectrum, Toronto owns a 31-21 mark at home, where the club has won five of its past six series in front of the Rogers Centre crowds.

It's a problem that has been hard to solve for the Jays.

"I don't see the guys caring any less when we're on the road," Zaun said. "I don't see guys any less intense. We don't just all of a sudden go back to the dome and say, 'OK, we're at home guys. Let's get serious.'

"It's not that at all. It's just, for whatever reason, we've been unable to get the job done and it's probably the biggest reason why we're not better off in the standings."

The good news for the Blue Jays is that 15 of their next 19 games will be in the comforts of Rogers Centre, where Toronto has a 3.74 ERA -- compared to a 4.54 ERA on the road. Needless to say, the Jays will definitely be glad to be back across the border.

"It'll be good to get back home, that's for sure," Gibbons said.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.