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Struggling Blue Jays have time to reverse poor start

Despite mounting losses and frustration, club confident in turnaround

NEW YORK -- The Blue Jays are in danger of tying their franchise record for most losses during the month of April, but if anyone is expecting general manager Alex Anthopoulos to hit the panic button, think again.

Toronto heads into Tuesday's matchup against the Red Sox with a 9-17 record. With one game left to play this month, the club is dangerously close to tying the 18-loss record set in 2008.

That's not how anyone envisioned this year starting out after the club essentially went all-in this offseason with a series of blockbuster trades and free-agent signings. Anthopoulos has to be concerned but at the same time, he is asking for patience.

"It's going to get better and I still expect us to be a contending team," Anthopoulos said when asked for his message to fans. "We've seen flashes of how good these guys can be, it's a matter of putting it all together. There's no question, we'll go on a run, we'll get hot and everyone is going to get excited again."

The season began with a series of miscues on defense and problems in the starting rotation, but it's the struggling offense that has become the biggest issue. Toronto has scored three runs or fewer in 15 of its 27 games this season while also being shut out twice.

The only starting position player who has an average above .250 is Jose Reyes and he won't be available again until the All-Star break because of a severely sprained left ankle. In total, there have only been six games this season where the Blue Jays have found a way to outhit their opponent.

Despite all of the problems, there are still signs for hope. The club currently has a .259 batting average on balls in play, which ranks last in the Major Leagues and logic states it's an unsustainable mark. Eventually some of the hard-hit balls and even bloops off the end of the bat are going to start dropping and the numbers will revert back to their statistical norms.

"We just need to be more consistent and obviously I've looked at the team overall offensive stats, we're much better than that," right fielder Jose Bautista said. "It will even out, it will go back up, we just need to get hot sooner rather than later and just play consistent overall. That's it."

Despite the club's ugly overall record, it's not much of a stretch to suggest the Blue Jays aren't as far off as some people might think. Their past seven games have all been decided by two runs or fewer, while all but 10 games this year fall into the same category.

The problem is that 11 of those 17 games have resulted in losses. The run differential during those contests isn't the main issue, execution is. Toronto seems to keep finding ways to lose, whether it's a play in the field that the defense doesn't execute, or an untimely ball left up in the zone by a pitcher.

The margin for error is microscopic and that's why each mistake gets magnified. The tension and pressure seem to mount every time a break doesn't go the Blue Jays' way but at the end of the day, being close in games doesn't matter, it's only the wins that count.

"Moral victories don't show up in the win column," No. 1 starter R.A. Dickey said of all the close ballgames. "You see them as negatives because those are games that you probably should've won at some point, if you did just one or two things just a little bit better. If you don't walk the guy, maybe you get the extra-base hit or you take the extra base, whatever.

"But you certainly would reflect on those games, knowing that those games are games that you probably could've won with one or two plays, if you do them differently than you did them. So I certainly see that as disappointing. Sure, you're not getting blown out by 11 runs, but like I said, that doesn't feel any better to me."

When the Blue Jays set the April franchise record for losses in 2008, John Gibbons was the manager. He would eventually be fired on June 20 of that year as then general manager J.P. Ricciardi was facing plenty of scrutiny in the media and felt he needed to at least do something.

Gibbons was brought back into the fold by Anthopoulos this offseason, but the fan base already appears to be losing patience. Despite the fact that the native of Texas has little to do with a player's ability to hit a baseball or field a routine ground ball, the criticism through call-in radio shows or social media seems to increase with every loss.

There's next to no chance Anthopoulos would even remotely consider following Ricciardi's lead and players are extremely quick to come to Gibbons' defense, but that hasn't stopped the heat from intensifying. Gibbons is well aware that a series of wins will help silence all of the critics.

"You want me to go out there and hit or something? I couldn't hit when I played, how am I going to do it now?" Gibbons jokingly said before turning serious about the public criticism he's facing.

"You know what? That's fair, I've got no problem with that. That's usually always the first target, but I can live with that. I've been in this seat before. We're playing close games, we're just not winning any of them, eventually we will. I understand [the fans'] frustration, but they don't have any more frustration than we have, I'll tell you that."

As for the man who put it all together, Anthopoulos is just asking for everyone to take a deep breath and give this team more time. The fourth-year GM doesn't allow himself to get caught up in the highs when things are going well and he's not going to get caught up in the lows when things go poorly.

At least not when the season is still this young. The start has been borderline disastrous -- and it might sound cliche -- but there is still plenty of time to right the ship.

"The mood in the clubhouse is still good, guys are still playing hard," Anthopoulos said. "Just like anything else, you want more wins. ... I've been through enough seasons that I've seen it go so many ways. I've seen it where we've had down months and then the next month you win 20-something games and you go through that and everyone starts to get excited.

"We know over the course of six months there are peaks and valleys and it changes. ... We've been in a lot of these games, obviously we haven't been able to pull them out and end up getting ahead but again, over time, I do think it will work itself out."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB.

Toronto Blue Jays, Jose Bautista, Mark Buehrle, Melky Cabrera, J.A. Happ, Josh Johnson, Brett Lawrie, Jose Reyes