Opposite dugout: Blue Jays can create some space atop AL East with trip to Baltimore

blue-jays-logo.jpgManager: John Gibbons (9th season)

Record: 74-56

Last 10 games: 6-4

Who to watch: 3B Josh Donaldson (.294/.407/.578 with 33 HR, 91 RBIs), DH Edwin Encarnacion (.270 /.360/.554 with 36 HR, 106 RBIs), SS Troy Tulowitzki (.253/.324/.465 with 22 HR, 65 RBIs), LHP J.A. Happ (17-4, 3.19 ERA), RHP Roberto Osuna (2.21 ERA with 29 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: 7-6

Pitching probables:

Aug. 29: RHP Marco Estrada vs. LHP Wade Miley, 7:05 p.m., MASN
Aug. 30: LHP J.A. Happ vs. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, 7:05 p.m., MASN
Aug. 31: RHP Aaron Sanchez vs. RHP Yovani Gallardo, 7:05 p.m., MASN

Inside the Blue Jays:

The Blue Jays have surged into first place in the American League East in this second half. Meanwhile, the Orioles are heading in the opposite direction, now sitting three games back of the division lead and holding a two-game cushion for the last wild card spot. So this last series of August will prove to be important for both teams, giving the Jays the chance to create some space atop the East and the O's the chance to close the gap or even move into a first-place tie.

Since the All-Star break, the Blue Jays are 23-16 while the Orioles are 20-23. On July 26, the Jays moved into second place in the AL East after a walk-off win over the Padres. In the 30 games since, they are 18-12, while the Orioles are 13-19 over the same span, resulting in Toronto catapulting into first place with Baltimore sliding down to third.

The same guys in the Blue Jays lineup are mashing for manager John Gibbons. Reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson is making himself a candidate again this year. He's slashing .294/.407/.578 with 33 home runs and 91 RBIs. But it's actually designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion who leads the team with 36 longballs and 106 RBIs, which are also second and first in the American League respectively. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is only batting .253 but has added 22 homers and 65 RBIs.

What's really proven to be a difference maker for the Blue Jays is the performance of left-hander J.A. Happ. He could be coming into his Tuesday night start tied for the league lead in wins with a 17-4 record to go along with his 3.19 ERA (depending on how the Red Sox's Rick Porcello does today against the Rays). Happ started this second half on a four-game winning streak before earning the loss in his last outing against the Angels. That streak included a win over the Orioles, who Happ is 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA against in two starts this season.

Right-hander Marco Estrada takes the hill tonight for the Jays for the series opener. An All-Star this year, Estrada is just 7-6 with a 3.47 ERA, but has had two stints on the disabled list with back issues. He is 1-0 with a 3.71 ERA in three starts against the Orioles this year, with his win coming in his last outing against them but the Jays losing his lone start at Camden Yards. Right-hander Aaron Sanchez gets the ball for Wednesday's finale, brining his 12-2 record and AL fourth-best 2.99 ERA. He is 2-0 with a 4.50 ERA in three starts against the Orioles this season, with the O's winning the no-decision the last time they faced.

This is the penultimate series between these two teams, with a three-game set in Toronto looming before the season's final weekend. Aside from a West Coast trip to take on the Angels and Mariners for the Jays and series against the Tigers and Diamondbacks for the Orioles, it's all AL East rivals from here on out for both teams. Brace yourself. The playoff push is coming.

Miley vs. Estrada tonight at Camden Yards
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