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The Globe and Mail

With the Blue Jays, expect the unexpected

Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell watches the action against the Minnesota Twins during the fourth inning of their American League MLB baseball game at Target Field in Minneapolis, May 12, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Miller

Eric Miller/Reuters

The way John Farrell sees it, 15 wins per month ought to get you into the playoff discussion in the American League. That meant the Toronto Blue Jays entered May with a deficit of three wins after a 12-11 April, and their 7-6 record in May doesn't hint of a turnaround.

In fact, if anything Monday's 7-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays only added to the directionless sense of the 2012 campaign.

A team that came into the game third in the Majors in batting with runners in scoring position still can't score enough runs; a team that had one of the best run differentials in the American League despite making the fourth-most errors in the Majors played a ham-handed game in the field; and a team with what is statistically one of the best starting rotations continued to pile up bases on balls at an alarming rate.

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Farrell, the Blue Jays manager, termed his teams 5-5 road trip "not acceptable."

He was about as charitable after the Rays scored six five unearned runs in a six-run fifth inning against Brandon Morrow, in a frame low-lighted by a two-out, four-pitch walk, subsequent run-scoring fielding error by Adam Lind and a wild pitch-strikeout that brought Luke Scott to the plate to hit a two-run double.

It was a night, as Farrell said, when "pitching and defence has to pick you up … and that wasn't the case tonight."

Monday night marked the start of a span of 16 games against teams above .500, and was the first of five against the Rays.

That run of games brushes up against a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox from June 1-3, hardly a gimme despite their spot in the standings.

The Blue Jays were 4-8 against the East heading into the first of two games against the Rays, and were largely responsible for the Baltimore Orioles lofty status within the division.

The Blue Jays made a roster move before the game, bringing up left-handed reliever Evan Crawford and sending right-hander Joel Carreno out to Double-A New Hampshire where he will go back into the starting rotation.

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Facing the Rays in a pair of series as well as the New York Yankees and New York Mets, the logic is the more lefties the better.

At this time it seems a little like window-dressing. Farrell's club returned home for seven games after a 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins that was unnerving because of the manner in which ace Ricky Romero appeared to come apart mechanically.

Then, it saw Morrow (4-2) issue four bases on balls in five innings after walking four batters in his previous start.

The eight walks equal the number of walks he'd issued in his first six starts, and while Morrow said that he "wasn't paying attention to the velocity board" everybody else was: in the first inning he huffed and puffed to get his fastball over 90 miles per hour.

It failed him when he needed it: saying he was wary of throwing too many pitches in a pattern, he tried to elevate a fastball to Scott with the fifth inning unraveling. Scott jumped on it.

Kelly Johnson's RBI single in the second inning accounted for all the Blue Jays offence, on a night when Rays starter Jeff Niemann left the game for x-rays after taking a Lind liner off his ankle in the first inning. Then five Rays relievers shut down the Blue Jays the rest of the way on three hits.

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Lind found himself back in the cleanup spot because he was 13-for-28 lifetime against Niemann with six extra-base hits, including three home runs.

For now, it is Romero's ineffectiveness that will be a dominant topic of discussion heading into his next start, against the Mets on Friday. Much like Morrow, Romero was plagued for the second time in as many starts by command issues on Sunday.

He walked five batters and for the first time in 101 big league starts he was unable to record a strikeout. Farrell believes Romero is "a little preoccupied with the number of walks instead of attacking the strike zone," and he mused ahead of the first of two games against the Rays about how "inconsistency" can be "created by thought going into the delivery." Translation: throw strikes. Stop thinking.

And so this strange season continues. Morrow's night perhaps personifies the season: wholly unsatisfying, yet enough to actually drop his ERA from 2.27 to 2.22.

Think back to that day in spring training when Morrow, whose ERA in 2011 was 4.72, talked about how an ERA of "four and a half" wouldn't cut it. "It's not what you expect from a No. 2 starter," Morrow said.

Whether or not you thought the Blue Jays were going to be pretenders or contenders this season, it's a safe bet that 2012 hasn't been what anybody expected from the Blue Jays, either. Certainly, it's not what the manager expected.

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