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Jays not set for shakeup

The Toronto Blue Jays open a pivotal 15-game stretch in Milwaukee on Tuesday knowing the time has come to save their season, and perhaps their manager, too.

The Toronto Blue Jays open a pivotal 15-game stretch in Milwaukee on Tuesday knowing the time has come to save their season, and perhaps their manager, too.

A spirit-breaking stretch of 10 losses in 14 games has shaken a club that has reverted back to its dreadful April ways after a 20-10 May, and patience is running out.

Booing fans were a staple of the 3-6 homestand capped by Sunday's 7-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs and the gap between the Blue Jays and the post-season is widening.

Through 71 games they are 35-36 largely on the back of their pitching staff, and have yet to show enough at the plate on a consistent basis to suggest they are capable of much more.

If they don't bounce back and pile up some wins over the next 15 games - when they should do some damage against Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Atlanta and Seattle - manager John Gibbons could be replaced to shake things up, although team president Paul Godfrey insisted that wasn't the case.

"I am not at that point as of yet," he said in an interview Monday. "The Red Sox seem to have a bit of a gap between us and them, but all the rest of the teams are fairly well bunched.

"We've got a lot of baseball to play at this time and I'm sitting back, waiting, observing and asking questions."

Some more consistent production at the plate - the Blue Jay home run is an endangered species while sightings of hits with runners in scoring position are also a rarity - would quickly solve much of what ails them.

Heading into Monday's play, they were 12th in the American League with 286 runs and 46 homers despite sitting eighth with a .259 batting average and fifth with a .338 on-base percentage.

A .233 average with runners in scoring position - second-last in the AL and over 30 points below the league-average - is responsible for that.

They're third with 535 runners left on base, an impressive total considering they've also hit into a league-high 81 double plays.

Such offensive ineptitude is wasting a phenomenally strong year by a pitching staff that is third in the AL with a 3.50 ERA. Without much run support, they carry a heavy burden.

"Pretty much from a week-and-a-half into the season, we've been struggling offensively," said centre-fielder Vernon Wells. "Thank goodness our pitching staff has been pitching the way they have, or we'd be obviously a lot worse than we are now."

Added third baseman Scott Rolen: "I don't think there's a magic formula, there's no sense in pointing fingers. I can point a finger at myself, I need to pick it up offensively a little bit and we're going to keep grinding."

Adding to the club's woes is the minor controversy around starter A.J. Burnett, who told the Chicago Sun-Times that while his focus was on the Blue Jays, he would welcome a trade to the Cubs "with open arms."

Burnett also said he was thinking about the possibility of such a move before he beat the Cubs 3-2 Friday.

Godfrey said he wouldn't raise the matter with the pitcher, who signed a US$55-million, five-year deal in the fall of 2005.

"I'm disappointed but I'm not overly concerned," said Godfrey. "My guess is he tried to answer the question honestly, which he did, and he didn't think ahead to understand what the consequences were."

Godfrey added that he doesn't think Burnett, who can opt out of the final two years of his contract after the season, was trying to engineer his was out of town.

"I did not take it that way," he said. "I don't think we needed the diversion that it's created but I don't think he's the type of person to do that. Why would he? He's got an option to get out of the contract at the end of the year if he wanted it."

 
 
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