Opposite dugout: Inconsistent offense, iffy pitching drop Blue Jays below .500

blue-jays-logo.jpgManager: John Gibbons, third year
Record: 6-7
Last 10 games: 4-6
Who to watch: 2B Devon Travis (.356/.408/.644, 4 doubles, 3 HR, 12 RBIs, 9 R); 3B Josh Donaldson (.314/.368/.549, 3 doubles, 3 HR, 10 RBIs, 10 R); LHP Mark Buehrle (2-0, 3.75 ERA, 1.50 WHIP); RHP Roberto Osuna (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.750 WHIP, 8 IP)
Season series vs. O's: 2-1, 23 runs scored, 19 runs allowed

Pitching probables
April 21: LHP Mark Buehrle vs. RHP Bud Norris, 7 p.m., MASN2
April 22: RHP Aaron Sanchez vs. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, 7 p.m., MASN2
April 23: RHP Drew Hutchison vs. RHP Chris Tillman, 7 p.m., MASN2

Series breakdown
The Blue Jays that surged to two series wins to start 2015 have fallen back to the pack with two straight series losses as they welcome the Orioles to Toronto.

The Jays have dropped five of seven games to start a 10-game homestand, losing three of four to the Rays and two of three to the Braves.

Offensive consistency eludes Toronto at the moment as it seems to be getting all or almost nothing during this stretch. In the last seven games, the Blue Jays have scored six-plus runs three times, winning two of those contests, and have been held to two or fewer the other four times. Nothing in the middle.

Still, Toronto is tied for third in the American League with 70 runs, and stands fifth with 16 homers, sixth with a .246 average and fifth with a .733 OPS.

Rookie second baseman Devon Travis, named the Tigers' No. 1 prospect entering the season and acquired for center fielder Anthony Gose, has led the Blue Jays lineup in the early going. Travis, 24, is either alone or tied for first on the club in average (.356), OBP (.408), slugging (.644), OPS (1.053), homers (three), RBIs (12), doubles (four) and hits (16), while ranking second to third baseman Josh Donaldson in runs with nine.

However, Travis' status is in question after he left Sunday's game in the first inning because of sore ribs. Shortstop Jose Reyes, who's off to a fine start by batting .324/.350/.405 in 10 games, is also dealing with a rib injury and hasn't played since Friday. But Toronto manager John Gibbons told reporters he hopes both would be back tonight.

Donaldson's health isn't an issue, and even as the offense has been up and down, the 2014 All-Star has been trending up. Before going 0-for-4 Sunday, Donaldson went 11-for-21 (.524) with a double, three homers, seven RBIs and seven runs scored over his previous five games. Overall, he's hitting .314/.368/.549 with three doubles, three homers, 10 RBIs and 10 runs scored in his first 13 games with his new club.

Right fielder Jose Bautista, designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion and catcher Russell Martin have all started slowly. Bautista is batting .143/.333/.381 in 13 games, but has contributed three homers and eight RBIs. Encarnacion has cooled off from a hot start, going 3-for-26 with one RBI over the last seven games. Overall, he's hitting .200/.250/.340 with two homers and six RBIs.

Martin started his first year in Toronto with one hit in his first 24 at-bats. He has begun to come around by going 4-for-11 with a double, two homers and five RBIs over his last three games. Martin is hitting .143/.295/.343 with two homers and eight RBIs in 11 games.

Although the offense has been inconsistent, it has been productive.

Pitching has been a greater concern for the Blue Jays, who have held opponents to fewer than four runs just four times in 13 games. Toronto has allowed 29 runs over its last five games (5.8 per contest) and ranks 22nd in the majors with a 4.50 team ERA. The Blue Jays rank 23rd with both a 5.14 starters' ERA and a 3.59 bullpen ERA.

This series brings the same exact pitching matchups as the three-game set at Camden Yards from April 11-13.

Left-hander Mark Buehrle starts against right-hander Bud Norris in tonight's series opener. Rookie right-hander Aaron Sanchez faces right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez on Wednesday. Right-hander Drew Hutchison takes on right-hander Chris Tillman in a rematch between both clubs' opening day starters in Thursday's finale.

Buehrle is the only Blue Jays starter in the series that comes in pitching well. The 16-year veteran has opened his season with a pair of quality starts, and is 2-0 with a 3.75 ERA. He held the Orioles to two runs in six innings in his season debut, and is now 9-10 with a 3.54 ERA in 25 career games (23 starts) against them.

Sanchez is 0-2 with a 6.23 ERA through two starts this season. The former first-rounder opened his season against the Orioles, allowing three runs in 3 1/3 innings on April 11. Sanchez, 22, was better his last time out with three earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. He has struggled with control, walking five in 8 2/3 innings.

Hutchison has not performed well since allowing one run in six innings on opening day. He has allowed 12 runs (11 earned) in nine innings over his last two starts, including seven runs in 4 1/3 frames against the Orioles. He's 1-0 with a 7.20 ERA in three starts.

If the starting pitching can keep things close deeper into the game, the O's will have to be wary of the Jays' strong (and young) back of the bullpen. The duo of 20-year-olds Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna have combined to allow one earned run in 15 1/3 innings. Osuna has pitched eight scoreless innings and Castro has notched two saves in his first year at closer. Right-hander Liam Hendriks, a former member of the O's organization, has added six scoreless frames out of the bullpen.

Although the Blue Jays have struggled of late, they're still the same team that took two of three from the Orioles earlier this year. They're still considered division favorites by some. And watch out for when their best bats get in a groove because that will make for a lineup that can match up with anyone.

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