Notes: Accardo feeling walk-off woes

Notes: Accardo feeling walk-off woes

ST. PETERSBURG -- Following Saturday night's heartbreaker, the Blue Jays now find themselves 7 1/2 games behind the American League Wild Card leading Yankees. The loss was difficult to accept for the Jays, considering Jeremy Accardo suffered his fifth blown save of the season, which snapped a streak of 10 straight saves.

"It was terrible, but I can't change what happened," said Accardo, who hadn't allowed a home run since June 22 against the Rockies. "I know what I have to do and I have to learn from it. Whether I need days off or not, that's not the point. I just have to get the job done."

While it may seem like all hope is lost for the playoffs, the Jays can build off the way they've developed over the course of the season, especially in the second half.

For one, Accardo, who took over for B.J. Ryan as the closer on May 12 when Ryan was sidelined by an elbow injury, has proven to be a reliable replacement. The 25-year-old right-hander has developed quite nicely in the second half with an AL-leading 16 saves after the All-Star break along with a solid 1.88 ERA.

The relievers as a group rank second in the American League with a 3.38 ERA and a .233 opponents' batting average. In addition, the bullpen has compiled 38 saves, including 27 by Accardo.

"There's a lot of guys who have been able to step in and play because of injuries and have developed more so than they normally would have," said catcher Gregg Zaun. "When you have guys like Accardo and [Jason] Frasor come in and do what they've done, that's going to make our team a lot stronger and a lot tighter heading into next season."

While the bullpen has responded well to adversity, the starting staff presents even more positive signs for next season and beyond.

The starters have been an integral part in helping lower the team ERA from 4.35 before the All-Star break to a Major League-best 3.34 ERA in the second half.

Shawn Marcum (3.90), Roy Halladay (3.28), Jesse Litsch (3.72), and Dustin McGowan (3.18) have all been stellar in the second half. But it's been the healthy return of A.J. Burnett that has been the most encouraging.

Since returning from the DL on August 12, Burnett has a 4-1 record with a 1.92 ERA.

"We have a great mix and balance of veteran guys with younger guys," said Zaun. "The older guys have been able to set the tone and help the younger guys understand how to approach a game and the season. The younger guys have kept the staff loose and brought a lot of energy that carries over to the rest of the team.

"The maturation of the entire staff is very encouraging. They work hard and are constantly coaching each other and challenging each other. They've learned to make adjustments and we've gained a lot of trust between each other. That carries over into execution and quality results."

While Zaun and the rest of the Jays understand the difficulty of catching and overtaking Wild-Card contending teams like the Yankees, Tigers and Mariners down the stretch, he sees how the offense and pitching is coming together towards the end of the season.

"It's definitely a good sign the way we're finishing," said Zaun. "We have the type of pitching staff now where if we score just four runs, we should usually win. We just have to establish an identity early on next year and determine what type of team we're going to be as far as either playing power ball or the small game. But with the [pitching] staff that we have, if we understand what it is, then we'll be successful from the start."

Walk-off woes: The walk-off victory by the Devil Rays in which B.J. Upton hit a two-run homer off Accardo was the first against the Blue Jays since the Jays lost in 10 innings at Oakland on August 29th. The last time they were handed a walk-off home run loss was coincidentally at the hands of the Devil Rays when Carl Crawford hit an 11th inning game winner off Brian Wolfe on July 30.

John Gibbons half-joked about it after the game, saying, "We've seen it too many times in this place."

Upton also broke the Jays' hearts back on April 6 when he hit an RBI single off Ryan in the Devil Rays' home opener.

Forecast: Following the series with the Rays, the Jays will make a pit stop in Detroit on Monday to play a make-up game with the Tigers. The weather will be considerably different from when the game was previously supposed to be played back on April 4. That day, the temperature dipped into the mid-20s and the wind chill dropped into the single digits. Oh yeah, and snow was falling.

"It was brutal," recalled Gibbons. "It definitely wasn't a day to play baseball."

He said it: "They have the best 1-to-12 pitching staff in the American League." -- Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon, following Saturday's game in which Burnett allowed one run on three hits with eight strikeouts and one walk over eight innings

Up next: Right-hander Roy Halladay (14-7, 3.94) takes the mound for the Jays when they face the Tigers in Detroit on Monday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Left-hander Kenny Rogers (3-2, 4.78) makes the start for the Tigers.

Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.