Blue Jays look to knuckle down behind R.A. Dickey
Veteran knuckleballer is 2-1 with 2.75 ERA in three starts versus Rangers
Once owners of a sizable lead in the American League East, the Toronto Blue Jays now must make up a significant deficit and likely won't have slugger Edwin Encarnacion for the rest of July.
Things are even worse for the Texas Rangers, who try to avoid their longest skid in 11 seasons in Friday night's series opener at Toronto.
The Blue Jays were 38-24 and six games ahead in the AL East on June 6, but are now four games behind Baltimore after losing 23 of their last 34. A rash of injuries near the end of the first half could hinder Toronto's chances of closing that gap with Encarnacion's strained right quad among the most significant.
Encarnacion remains third in the majors with 26 home runs, despite going on the disabled list July 7. Adam Lind is expected to miss at least another five weeks with a fractured right foot, while Brett Lawrie (finger), Maicer Izturis (knee) and Nolan Reimold (calf) are among the other hitters on the shelf for Toronto (49-47).
"Everybody wants to pick up the slack, especially when you lose Lawrie, Lind and Encarnacion, all big cogs in the engine of our offence," said Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey, Friday's scheduled starter.
"Hopefully, when the second half rolls around, we'll be able to take a deep breath and whatever it is we have to offer individually, we'll bring that."
Dickey (7-9, 3.82 ERA) experienced some of the effects of that injury-plagued lineup Sunday. He gave up two runs in six innings in Tampa Ba,y but suffered a 3-0 defeat. The Blue Jays have plated two runs or fewer in six of their final 10 games before the all-star break after being held to two or less in one of their previous 10.
The right-hander has a 1.71 earned-run average in three starts this month, but is 1-2 with a combined five runs of support.
Dickey is 2-1 with a 2.75 ERA in three lifetime starts against Texas, the team he pitched for in his first five MLB seasons. He gave up four runs, three hits and three walks in 6 1/3 innings in his lone matchup this season, a 6-2 road loss May 18 that snapped Toronto's six-game win streak in the series.
'It has been tough'
Texas enters the second half of the season having lost 22 of 25 and eight in a row. The Rangers (38-57), losers in 11 of 12 on the road, have an 8.37 ERA during their skid and haven't dropped nine straight since May 30-June 8, 2003.
"It has been tough; through it all, they have handled it very well," Rangers manager Ron Washington told MLB's official website.
"In reality, we'd liked to have handled it better and get more wins. It didn't happen, but I didn't see any letdown."
Having staff ace Yu Darvish (8-5, 2.97) on the mound Friday would appear to help, but he's 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in his last five starts. The right-hander gave up six runs and a season-high 10 hits in six innings in an 8-4 loss to Houston on July 9.
Darvish is 2-2 with a 2.63 ERA in six career starts against Toronto and has 49 strikeouts in 41 innings. He hasn't earned a win versus the Blue Jays since May 27, 2012, largely because he's received a combined four runs of support in his last four matchups.
Darvish gave up two runs in eight innings and fanned 11 in his only meeting this season, a 2-0 defeat May 16.
Blue Jays right-fielder Jose Bautista is 1 for 15 with seven strikeouts against Darvish, while Colby Rasmus, who is mired in a 2 for 23 slump, is 5 for 12.