One AL East rival of the Yankees keeps cruising, while another is reeling and looking for answers.
The Blue Jays players called for a team meeting after their 6-3 loss to the Rays on Thursday night in St. Petersburg, Fla. as Tampa Bay took three of four from reeling Toronto.
Zach Eflin, a 29-year-old right-hander, held the Blue Jays to one run and six hits in seven innings, and the Rays (37-15) stole seven bases for the second time this season and improved to 24-5 at home.
But it’s been a different story for the Blue Jays.
Toronto (26-25) — which went 92-70 last season — is 8-15 in May.
The Blue Jays are 6-15 in the AL East after going 43-33 last year.
They trail the Rays by 10¹/₂ and the teams do not meet again until six games during the final 10 days of the season.
“We’re punched right in the face the last 10 days or so,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said. “You’ve got to understand that and you’ve got to make adjustments. In talking to the guys and hearing them, it’s got to happen tomorrow.”
“Yes it’s tough a division, yes that’s a good [Rays] team, and we’re still a good team, too.”
The Blue Jays haven’t shown that this season, and neither has their ace, Alek Manoah.
The 25-year-old Manoah (1-5), a 16-game winner last season, extended his winless streak to nine starts after giving up five runs, three hits and five walks over three innings with six strikeouts.
He threw just 44 of 87 pitches for strikes and his ERA climbed from 5.15 to 5.53.
The Rays stole five bases while he was on the mound.
The Blue Jays had a chance for a comeback win, but couldn’t get the big hit.
They loaded the bases with one out in the ninth against Jake Diekman, Colin Poche entered and walked Bo Bichette on four pitches and gave up a sacrifice fly to pinch-hitter Ernie Clement. Poche got his first save this season when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. grounded into a game-ending forceout.
“We know we’re better than we’re playing right now,” Manoah said. “We just need to stick together, and we’ve just got to keep fighting.”
Blue Jays third baseman Matt Chapman agreed.
“We’re all grown men here,” Blue Jays third baseman Matt Chapman said. “It’s up to us. We’re the one’s out on the fields. Our coaches can’t hold our hands. We have to go out there, and we have to find ways to win games.
“We have to communicate with each other, help try and make each other better because we are a team. We want to win, and if we want to win a division or play in the playoffs, it’s up to us to find ways to get us back on track. It’s up to nobody else but us.”
As for Eflin, he joined teammate Shane McClanahan (8-0) and the Minnesota Twins’ Joe Ryan (7-1) as the big leagues’ winningest pitchers.
“Elite pitch execution,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “To get them to swing early in the count and not drive the ball, it’s speaks to Zach’s stuff.”
Eflin didn’t have a strikeout for the Rays, who lead the second-place Orioles by three games in the AL East and are seven in front of the third-place Yankees.
“I knew it was going to be a grinder day,” Eflin said. “Just wanted to go out there and attack guys, and they were swinging early and they were hitting it right at guys there for a while.”
— with AP
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