ANAHEIM -- The majority of the Blue Jays' problems this year can be tied back to an underperforming starting staff, and never has that been more apparent than during the club's current four-game set against the Angels.
Through the first three games of the series, no Toronto starter has managed to make it past the fifth inning. In total, the rotation has surrendered 17 runs over 11 frames and the end result has been three consecutive losses.
Right-hander Esmil Rogers was the latest victim as he surrendered seven runs -- five earned -- in a 7-3 loss to the Angels on Saturday night.
"It's tough to win that way, it really is," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "Starting pitching is the name of the game and that's really hurt us this year."
Rogers was the victim of some sloppy defense but also surrendered plenty of hard-hit balls and once again had trouble settling into a groove during the first inning. He allowed a total of 10 hits and one walk while striking out five and throwing 65 of his 97 pitches for strikes.
The issues on the mound have been an ongoing problem for Toronto this season. Toronto is ranked 28th in the Majors in innings (603 1/3), WHIP (1.49), opponents' batting average (.280) and 29th in ERA (5.16). All of this from a rotation that was supposed to be the one of the best in baseball following the offseason acquisitions of R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson.
The plan to build around a veteran staff hasn't worked out, and while the bullpen has been one of the best in baseball, it hasn't been enough to pick up the slack.
"We spotted them three again tonight, so it's an uphill battle," Gibbons said. "That has been happening way too much lately."
Rogers struck out the first batter he faced but then proceeded to allow three consecutive singles to load the bases. One run came around to score on Mark Trumbo's groundout while Erick Aybar and Chris Nelson followed with a pair of RBI singles to open up an early 3-0 lead.
The 27-year-old Rogers then managed to settle down by getting through his next three innings unscathed but had everything fall apart in the fifth. He surrendered a leadoff homer to Kole Calhoun -- his second in as many games -- before then hitting Mike Trout with a first-pitch fastball and allowing a single up the middle to Josh Hamilton.
Toronto's struggling defense then had one of its ugliest moments of the season following a single by Howie Kendrick to center field. Colby Rasmus' throw home sailed up the third-base line, which allowed Trout to cross home. Catcher J.P. Arencibia caught the ball, then turned and fired an off-balance throw to second in an attempt and get Kendrick.
Arencibia's throw went well over the head of shortstop Jose Reyes and the ball rolled into the gap in right-center field. Hamilton scored and Kendrick also trotted home as Arencibia was charged with his seventh error of the season.
"I should have ate that ball," Arencibia admitted after the game. "I thought I had time to make a throw to second to try and force the issue. Like I said, it's an aggressive mistake, my thought process is to get an out there, try to change that inning a little bit. Obviously throwing it into center field wasn't what was planned."
With an early deficit, the Blue Jays were in for a long night with right-hander Jered Weaver on the mound for Los Angeles. Toronto did manage to score one in the third on a solo homer by Brett Lawrie and another two later in the game on an RBI single by Edwin Encarnacion and a grounder by Arencibia.
Weaver was charged with all three runs on seven hits while striking out five over 7 2/3 innings. It marked the seventh time in Weaver's past eight starts that he allowed three runs or fewer with his ERA now sitting at an impressive 2.90.
"It felt good, location was good," Weaver said. "Slider wasn't quite there today, had a little trouble finding that and it made it a little bit tougher for me on the righties. Had to try to mix in some other pitches because the slider wasn't on."
Toronto now drops to 2-4 on its current 10-game road trip through Oakland, Anaheim and Seattle. Since posting an 11-game winning streak in the middle of June, the Blue Jays have gone 12-24 while being outscored by 38 runs over that span.
With the club often finding itself behind early in games, there's a sense that the Blue Jays might be trying to force the issue and do too much. That could have been a contributing factor to Arencibia's ill-advised throw, and it's clear everyone on the roster is pressing a little too much.
"I think that's a big part of it, you're trying to kill something and make a big play to stop something," Gibbons said. "Because you're on that fence, it's either going to explode on you or you're going to hang in there. No doubt that's a part of it."