BLUE JAYS’ OF­FENCE AL­MOST NON-EX­IS­TENT

And it doesn’t fig­ure to get any bet­ter with Nats com­ing to town, writes Rob Longley.

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - CLASSIFIED - Rlon­g­ley@postmedia.com

It was never re­ally go­ing to be a fair fight, but the more the Toronto Blue Jays strug­gle at the plate this sea­son, the more it’s clear how ill-equipped they are to com­pete in the slug­ger-happy Amer­i­can League East.

It’s been ev­i­dent at var­i­ous points this sea­son and the team is strug­gling in mul­ti­ple ar­eas now. But the lack of pro­duc­tion at the plate is high on the list.

With third base­man Josh Don­ald­son still hurt, the des­ig­nated hit­ter po­si­tion a dead zone, and Kevin Pil­lar sig­nif­i­cantly cooled from his siz­zling early start, just to name three vari­ables, the of­fence is non-ex­is­tent on too many nights.

Take away the out­lier of the four-game se­ries sweep against the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles last week at the Rogers Cen­tre and the lack of pro­duc­tion is glar­ing. In the five most re­cent games not in­clud­ing the Os, the Jays have scored just seven runs in­clud­ing be­ing shut out twice and held to a sin­gle run on another oc­ca­sion.

“It’s the Amer­i­can League East, man. You’ve got to score runs if you want to win games,” said 2017 all-star first base­man Justin Smoak, one of the team’s scuf­fling, frus­trated hit­ters. “That’s the name of the game here.

“I feel like we’re not get­ting it done, hon­estly. We’re hit­ting into a lot of dou­ble plays and mak­ing quick, easy in­nings.”

While bat­ting aver­age isn’t the only mea­sure of of­fence given the pre­pon­der­ance of walks in to­day’s game, it’s still an in­di­ca­tor of trou­ble. And the Jays’ team aver­age of .232 is ranked 13th in the AL with only Texas and Bal­ti­more lower.

The Jays’ run dif­fer­en­tial sits at mi­nus-27, glar­ing in com­par­i­son with the Red Sox (plus-103) and Yan­kees (plus91). While those teams con­tinue to go bombs away, the Jays bats are get­ting qui­eter and qui­eter, the most re­cent ex­am­ple be­ing Wed­nes­day’s 1-0 walk off loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in which Toronto starter J.A. Happ pitched a one-hit­ter over five shutout in­nings.

In the just com­pleted three­game broom­ing at the hands of the Rays, the Jays scored four runs and one run to go along with the shutout ex­tra-in­ning loss. The Jays didn’t have an ex­tra-base hit in their last two games, the first time they’ve done that since 2011.

With a day off to pon­der those woes, it’s not about to get any eas­ier facing a very good Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als team for three games at the Rogers Cen­tre.

First up for the Nats is left han­der Gio Gon­za­lez, who will take his 6-2 record and 2.65 ERA against a Jays team that has dropped its past 11 starts against left­ies. On Satur­day, for­mer Cy Young Award win­ner Max Scherzer (10-2, 2.00) gets the ball.

Smoak knows he’s one of the play­ers that has to pick it up. With just one hit in his past 25 at-bats and only nine homers af­ter his break­through cam­paign of 38, he’s symp­to­matic of the Jays’ hit­ting woes.

“There’s noth­ing we can do about it,” said Smoak. “We just have to keep go­ing out and keep show­ing up and try to get bet­ter.”

TOP PICK READY TO ROLL

As a high-school player, Jor­dan Groshans is well aware the jour­ney to big-league baseball is just start­ing.

That said, the 18-year-old high schooler from Texas feels con­fi­dence will be key to his de­vel­op­ment. Toronto’s first-round pick (12th over­all) in this month’s draft signed with the team this week and has al­ready re­ported to Dunedin, where he will play in the Gulf Coast League.

“I’m re­ally ex­cited to be a Blue Jay and get back out on the field,” Groshans said dur­ing a con­fer­ence call Thurs­day. “I’m here to make sure I’m get­ting 10 times bet­ter ev­ery day.

“I’m a pos­i­tive kid. I be­lieve that to be suc­cess­ful in baseball and you want to make it to the next level you have to be con­fi­dent and you have to work hard.”

Though drafted as a short­stop, Groshans said he’s com­fort­able mov­ing around the in­field. And he has al­ready had time to talk to short­stop Troy Tu­low­itzki, who is re­cov­er­ing from surgery, and Don­ald­son.

“I talked to them about baseball stuff, whether it’s field­ing ground balls or me­chan­ics of my swing,” Groshans said. “They’ve played a big part so far.”

STRO SHOW

Marcus Stro­man’s re­cov­ery from shoul­der fa­tigue took a big step for­ward Wed­nes­day in his first of­fi­cial out­ing since be­ing put on the dis­abled list May 11.

Stro­man was strong in his 4.1 in­nings of work for the Dunedin Blue Jays facing the min­i­mum in the first two in­nings and not al­low­ing a hit un­til a two-run homer in the fifth.

Stro­man is ex­pected to have at least one more re­hab start be­fore re­join­ing the Jays.

MAKEITRAIN

As he con­tin­ues to re­cover from his lat­est in­jury, a strain of his left calf, Don­ald­son is at­tempt­ing to keep frus­tra­tion out of the equa­tion.

“I’m ready to go and ready to get go­ing,” said Don­ald­son. “I know I can help this team but I can’t think about (rush­ing back). I’ve got to do what I can to get bet­ter and feel bet­ter.”

TOM SZCZERBOWSKI/GETTY IMAGES

The hit­ting malaise af­fect­ing Toronto Blue Jays play­ers of late in­cludes Justin Smoak, who has just one hit in his last 25 at-bats and just nine homers over­all af­ter hit­ting 38 last sea­son. The Jays host the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als in a three-game se­ries start­ing Fri­day.

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