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Mike Harrington: Attention is back on the Blue Jays and they're not a pretty sight

TORONTO -- The Maple Leafs are off for the summer after what has to rate as about the most celebrated first-round loss in six games in NHL history. The Raptors were easy prey for the Cavaliers in a four-game sweep. Now that the Blue Jays have everyone's undivided attention here, the true scope of their mess is going to be impossible to hide.

After getting just four hits in Tuesday's dreary 6-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians in Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays are 12-21. They are already 10 1/2 games back in the AL East. They're just 5-9 at home -- while the other four AL East teams were a combined 47-22 in front of their home fans.

Think of what the Jays are enduring this season. In Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ, they have nearly $71 million in contracts on the disabled list. That's some high-end talent. The starting battery Tuesday was Mike Bolsinger and Mike Ohlman. Say who? (Both were recent callups from the Bisons, with Ohlman making his major-league debut).

Bolsinger, who gave up just two runs in 5 2/3 decent innings, became the Blue Jays' ninth starter of the season, the most in MLB thus far. And it's two more than Toronto used all of last year. Pretty incredible.

During manager John Gibbons' daily pregame briefing with reporters, erudite Toronto Star columnist Richard Griffin pointed out to Gibbons that the Jays have used the same lineup exactly twice in the first 32 games.

Gibbons loves to lean back in his chair during these informal sessions. He's quick with the one-liners in his trademark Texas drawl. The mood is always light, no matter how dire the Jays' straits are. And they're pretty serious right now.

"Well," Gibbons said with a smirk in response to the lineup note, "I love our versatility."

Gallows humor is about all that can keep the Jays afloat right now.

They mishandled Edwin Encarnacion's free agency over the winter and he was in the other dugout again Tuesday, earning a standing ovation prior to his first at-bat for the second straight night. The Jays are baseball's oldest team and they look it. Their two-year window of title contention has seemingly slammed shut.

Mike Harrington: No hard feelings as Encarnacion makes his return to Toronto

Last year, you could pencil in Donaldson, Encarnacion and Jose Bautista in the middle of the lineup day after day for weeks on end. The 2-3-4 spots Tuesday were Ezequiel Carrera, the now shockingly light-hitting Bautista and Kendrys Morales.

Now, it's still early. But it's not that early when you're already digging a huge hole. The Jays entered Tuesday having won three of their last four and having a 6-4 mark in their last 10 games. But when you start the year 1-9 and are 6-17 through 23 games, you have a hill as high as the CN Tower to try to climb back into any semblance of contention.

As the old song says, the standings say the Blue Jays are in trouble with a capital T.

"I'm well aware of what they say," Gibbons said. "We can't afford any more tough streaks, I know that. You try to hold your own until we get a couple key guys back really. Then see what happens really. But guys have been playing good, they've been busting it all year. They make a run every night. I don't care what we're doing. We make a run at it. We're happy with that. We're not happy with the results but they've been better lately. You can't complain about the effort, that's for damn sure."

But you can complain about results.

Bautista, who came into the game batting .169, snapped an 0-for-21 slump with a sixth-inning single. Second baseman Devon Travis is batting .157 and looks like he could use some time in Buffalo to find his swing. Neither Morales nor Steve Pearce are batting over .250 and Morales left early Tuesday with hamstring tightness suffered while running out a groundball. He's headed for the MRI tube Wednesday morning.

"I'm not concerned so far," Morales said through an interpretor. "They'll tell me if it's severe or not. ... It's frustrating for everybody. Of course I want to stay in the game but it can get worse if I stay out there. So I have to listen to the doctors and see what's going to happen later."

Gibbons said Sanchez, who has been dealing with a severe fingernail issue, threw about 60 pain-free pitches Tuesday at the team's spring complex in Dunedin, Fla. Assuming things go well, he could rejoin the rotation here Sunday against Seattle. Tulowitzki (hamstring) could go on injury rehab in Dunedin this weekend; the continuous crummy weather up north means he likely won't be joining the Bisons on their road trip to Lehigh Valley or their homestand that starts Monday against Syracuse.

About the only bright spot is center fielder Kevin Pillar, who led the club in batting (.304) and hits (41). He's also a demon in the outfield, with his diving catch Monday night off Cleveland's Jose Ramirez still the talk of the town Tuesday.

Sprinting toward the wall with his back to the plate, Pillar made a headlong dive to corral the ball and save two runs.

"I think every time the ball goes out, Kevin has got a shot," Gibbons said. "We've seen it so many times. He gets great jumps. He's fast but not a burner. His first step is so big for him and nobody does it better."

It was a catch that will be replayed here for many years. As dives go by center fielders, longtime observers of the game immediately equated it to the iconic grab Anaheim's Jim Edmonds made during a 1997 game in Kansas City.

Great plays, of course, have not happened much here this year. The Blue Jays are still selling tons of tickets, with more than 30,000 passed out for 12 of the 14 home dates. Most fans were drawn in by the back-to-back runs to the ALCS the last two years. But who knows what they might see in the second half? A firesale in the big leagues could happen and most of the top prospects, save for first baseman Rowdy Tellez, are not in Buffalo and no higher than Double-A New Hampshire.

The Yankees look like they're for real, and the Red Sox and Orioles both appear strong again as they come off playoff seasons. That's not good news at all.

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