Low-scoring Blue Jays hard to recognize


Any resemblance between the current assembly of Toronto Blue Jays and the reigning two-time World Series champions is purely nostalgic.

The lineup of position players is essentially the same, but that's about it. The only visible similarity is the uniform, which basically has remained unchanged throughout the club's 18-year history.

Most of the Blue Jays' difficulties this season have been traced to a rapidly deteriorating pitching staff. They have lost their closer after each of the past two seasons -- Tom Henke to free agency, Duane Ward to injury. And the departure of setup man Mark Eichhorn, who has become a savior for the Orioles, has had a domino effect in the bullpen.

However, the pitching problems only camouflage the most drastic change for the Blue Jays -- their inability to score runs. It is unthinkable that this team -- with a lineup considered the strongest in baseball from the No. 1 through No. 5 spots -- could be last in the American League in scoring.

With production up throughout baseball amid claims of a juiced ball, the idea of the Blue Jays having the lowest run total strains even the wildest imagination. There are indications that the offensive malfunctions have had a negative effect on the Blue Jays, heretofore perhaps the most aggressive offensive team in the big leagues.

With runners on second and third, nobody out, and swinging from the heart of the lineup in the sixth inning Friday night, the Blue Jays managed only one run off Mike Oquist -- on a sacrifice fly. Then yesterday they came out of the gate, or perhaps more accurately stayed in, with a curious piece of strategy.

Against a pitcher (Jamie Moyer) who had given up 10 first-inning runs in his previous four starts, Roberto Alomar followed Devon White's leadoff single by fouling off two bunt attempts before striking out. Later in the game, trailing 3-1, Alomar was thrown out trying to bunt for a base hit while leading off the eighth inning.

The bunt, either for a sacrifice or a base hit, can be a strategic weapon. Alomar generally does it very well, and usually on his own, but the element of surprise was not much of a factor on either occasion yesterday.

A willingness to give up an out to move a runner into scoring position in the first inning, especially against a pitcher who'd been vulnerable early in the game, is not Toronto's style. Given the condition of their pitching staff, the Blue Jays need to play ahead in order to win -- and not by just one run.

That fact was clearly demonstrated two nights ago, when starter Pat Hentgen fell victim to the pitch count and departed a 1-1 game after eight innings. Fresh out of Double-A ball after his release by Oakland, left-hander Dave Righetti took a 12.19 ERA to the mound and promptly reinforced the A's decision.

In five games against the Orioles this season, all losses, the Blue Jays have scored seven runs. The effort to score more runs might require something more drastic than a first-inning bunt.

As much as he'd like to keep them together, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston may have to rearrange his first five hitters. Creating more balance throughout the lineup could provide a needed jump start for a struggling offense.

Until they start scoring runs in bunches, any resemblance between the Blue Jays and the reigning two-time World Series champions will remain nostalgic.

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