Mariners, Blue Jays struggle to rise above mediocre

TORONTO — Breaking even is about the best the Seattle Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays have been able to do lately.

The Mariners will visit the Blue Jays for a three-game series starting Tuesday night at the Rogers Centre after going 3-3 during a six-game homestand.

The Blue Jays will be returning home after going 4-4 on an eight-game trip that included a doubleheader split with the Cleveland Indians on Thursday.

Seattle will start Canadian left-hander James Paxton (1-1, 4.19 ERA) in the opener against Toronto right-hander Marcus Stroman (0-4, 7.52).

The Mariners (19-14) will be getting a break from their own division, the American League West, for a while as they visit Toronto and the Detroit Tigers and play a makeup game against the Minnesota Twins on a seven-game trip.

“Very good division,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said after the Los Angeles Angels won the rubber match of a three-game series 8-2 on Sunday at Safeco Field. “We’re going to play each other a lot and get to know each other a lot. Who can stay the healthiest and the most consistent is going to be standing at the end.”

The Mariners’ only two series losses so far are against division rivals, the Houston Astros and the Angels. The Mariners are 8-8 in the AL West.

“Definitely some good arms in this division,” Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager said. “It’s going to be a nice, tight division. Some really good teams. Some really good players. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The Blue Jays (19-16), meanwhile, are 7-10 within their division, the AL East, that has the two teams with the best records in the majors, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

The Red Sox will visit the Rogers Centre for three games on Friday after the Mariners’ departure.

The Blue Jays defeated the Tampa Bays Rays 2-1 with a ninth-inning run on a wild pitch Sunday at Tropicana Field to avoid being swept in the three-game series.

“We definitely needed that,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, who was ejected for the second straight game Sunday and for the third time on the trip. “It’s been a rough couple of days coming out of Cleveland.

“I love this team. I love the character of this team. They keep coming back at you. They’ll do that all year long and we’ll see how good we are.”

It was a difficult trip for the Blue Jays.

Outfielder/infielder Steve Pearce went on the disabled list with a left oblique strain, outfielder Curtis Granderson missed most of the series in Tampa Bay with a tight hamstring but could return Tuesday, and shortstop Aledmys Diaz left the game Sunday with a sprained left ankle and was listed as day to day.

The Blue Jays also were without first baseman Justin Smoak for three days when he went on the paternity list to be home for the birth of his daughter. He returned to the lineup Sunday.

The Blue Jays did get third baseman Josh Donaldson back on Thursday from a sore shoulder that put him on the disabled list.

There also was considerable roster shuffling because of the injuries, the need for an extra bullpen arm for part of the trip, and the doubleheader that included a two-hour rain delay and an extra-inning game. Gaining a split on the trip could be looked at as a positive.

“We saw this game as a game we really needed to win,” Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar said after he had doubled in the ninth inning and eventually scored on the wild pitch. “I told them a must win, that’s a little extreme here in May. But it’s a game we definitely feel we needed to win to kind of wrap our road trip.”

Paxton will be making his eighth start of the season for the Mariners on Tuesday.

He posted a career-high 16 strikeouts in seven innings Wednesday but did not factor into the decision in the Mariners’ 3-2 loss to the Oakland A’s. He has 10 or more strikeouts in three of his past five starts.

This will be his fifth career start against Toronto, He is 2-2 with a 6.86 ERA against the Blue Jays in his career.

Stroman has struggled this season for Toronto after he was late starting spring training because of a sore shoulder. He will be looking for his first win of the season in his seventh start.

He showed signs that the first win could come soon last Tuesday when he took the 4-0 loss against the Twins despite allowing only two runs, six hits and one walk while striking out five in seven innings.

Stroman is 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two career starts against Seattle.

The Blue Jays announced Monday that infielder Gift Ngoepe cleared waivers and was assigned outright to Triple-A Buffalo.