ST. PETERSBURG -- The Blue Jays' grueling 10-game road trip came to an end on Thursday afternoon with the club still searching for ways to reinvigorate what used to be one of the league's best offenses.
Toronto has spent almost the entire season ranked among the league leaders in runs scored, and it even owned the top spot in late July. But since then, injury woes have contributed to the lineup going ice cold, and with no replacements on the way it will be up to the organization to solve the problems in house.
The Blue Jays offensive woes continued on Thursday, as right-hander Henderson Alvarez was roughed up for six runs in 4 2/3 innings in a 7-1 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field.
"We've got to find ways to not only get on base, but bunch some things together with the thought and, obviously, the intent to score some runs," manager John Farrell said. "When you get a run on a couple of hits the last few games, it puts an awful lot of pressure on the guys on the mound."
The Blue Jays finished their road trip with a 2-8 record and now find themselves five games under .500 for the first time this season. The main reason for the recent swoon has been an offense that is struggling to generate any type of prolonged rally.
Toronto is attempting to make do without the services of injured starters Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia and Adam Lind. A series of unproven -- yet highly touted -- prospects have stepped in to fill the void, but so far there has been a steep learning curve without a lot of success.
The Blue Jays averaged just 2.4 runs per game over their recent 10-game span. Combined, the club has managed to hit just .206 (72-for-349) with a .245 on-base percentage while drawing just 18 walks compared to 86 strikeouts.
That type of production isn't going to get it done, but at least for now there are no easy solutions.
"It's not a good feeling for anybody," said first baseman Edwin Encarnacion, who is one of three regulars from Opening Day still standing. "It's hard having four other players in the starting lineup hurt. It's not easy for the team, but we can't control that. We just have to keep doing the best that we can do on the field."
Tampa Bay isn't the place for teams that are struggling to score runs to suddenly turn things around. The Rays have the league's top-ranked pitching staff, with a 3.38 ERA, and that recipe resulted in a relatively easy three-game sweep over Toronto.
On Thursday, it was left-hander Matt Moore's turn to take over a game. Toronto did manage to jump out to an early lead after Rajai Davis led off the game with a double and later came around to score on a balk, but things went ominously quiet from that point on.
Moore surrendered just the one run on two hits while walking two and striking out six over six strong innings. He has now won three consecutive starts and has allowed just one run over that span of 18 innings.
"It's a pretty special thing," Moore said of the Rays' pitching staff. "It is a nice feeling, knowing you don't have to go in there and stop any bleeding. We're playing well right now. It's a good feeling to have this kind of ball rolling for us."
Alvarez had a relatively clean first inning before seeing his well-documented struggles against the Rays continue. He allowed three runs in the second on a two-run single by Jose Lobaton, and later an RBI groundout by B.J. Upton. That was just the beginning for Alvarez, though, as he didn't have much success trying to avoid Tampa Bay's bats.
In the third, Alvarez allowed the first two batters he faced to reach before giving up an RBI single to Ryan Roberts. Another baserunner came around to score in the fourth, and in the fifth, Lobaton added his third RBI of the game with a single.
Alvarez was unable to pitch his way out of the fifth, and when it was all said and done he had allowed six runs -- four earned -- on 11 hits and three walks. The native of Venezuela is now 0-4 with a 6.08 ERA in four career starts against the Rays, dating back to last season.
The subpar outing is another twist in what has been a very inconsistent season on the mound for Alvarez. He has 11 quality starts but has allowed at least five runs in eight of his other 11 outings, as he seems unable to find a groove for any prolonged period of time.
"I felt fine," Alvarez said through interpreter Luis Rivera. "I was throwing the ball well in the bullpen and every pitch was working well, except the changeup. The changeup was staying up."
The Blue Jays now return to Toronto for the start of a 10-game homestand, but the schedule doesn't get any easier at Rogers Centre. They are scheduled to face the Yankees, White Sox and Rangers, which is to say they will need to find a way to scratch together some offensive production for things to turn around.