Opposite dugout: Blue Jays look to stay alive in AL East race

blue-jays-logo.jpgManager: John Gibbons, second year
Record: 77-71
Last 10 games: 6-4
Who to watch: RF Jose Bautista (.285/.399/.523, 26 doubles, 32 HR, 97 RBIs, 88 R); 1B Edwin Encarnacion (.262/.351/.555, 25 doubles, 32 HR, 85 RBIs); RHP Marcus Stroman (10-5, 3.61 ERA, 1.16 WHIP); RHP Drew Hutchison (10-11, 4.36 ERA, 1.25 WHIP)
Season series vs. O’s: 6-7, 57 runs scored, 50 runs allowed

Pitching probables
Sept. 15: Marcus Stroman vs. Wei-Yin Chen, 7 p.m., MASN2 HD
Sept. 16: Drew Hutchison vs. Ubaldo Jimenez, 7 p.m., MASN2 HD
Sept. 17: J.A. Happ vs. Bud Norris, 7 p.m., MASN2 HD

Series breakdown
The Blue Jays’ chances of an American League East crown have dwindled to almost nothing with the Orioles winning seven of eight to lower their magic number to three.

But with Toronto at Camden Yards for the next three days, the Jays now have a shot at staving off elimination simply by winning. The Blue Jays need to leave Baltimore with at least two wins in three games to remain alive. But at this point it would just be delaying the inevitable, as the Jays are unlikely to win their last 14 contests and the Orioles are unlikely to lose their last 13. If the Orioles win two games in the series, the race is over and they could become the first team to clinch a spot in the postseason.

But Toronto does still have a playoff berth in its sights, trailing the Royals by four games for the AL’s second wild card spot.

The Blue Jays have done a nice job prolonging the race, overtaking the Yankees for second in the division by winning nine of 11 before dropping two of three to the Rays over the weekend.

Over their last 14 games, the Jays have been in top form both at the plate and on the mound, outscoring the competition 75-36. They’re third in the AL in runs this month and fourth in ERA in September.

The Blue Jays have been a force offensively all year, and that has continued to be the case even without outfielder Melky Cabrera, who suffered a hand injury on Sept. 5 and underwent season-ending surgery.

Toronto ranks second in the AL, behind the Orioles, with 168 homers and is also second with a .743 OPS while standing fourth with 667 runs and a .260 average.

Right fielder Jose Bautista and first baseman Edwin Encarnacion have provided the power-packed punch in the middle of a deep lineup that has seven healthy regulars posting a .724 OPS or better.

Bautista and Encarnacion are tied for sixth in the majors with 32 homers. Bautista also ranks ninth with 97 RBIs, second with a .399 on-base percentage and seventh with a .922 OPS. He also has 88 runs scored. Encarnacion is fourth with a .555 slugging percentage and eighth with a .906 OPS. He also has 85 RBIs.

Designated hitter Adam Lind has provided a hot bat lately, hitting .447/.512/.737 with six extra-base hits, including two homers, and nine RBIs in his last 11 games.

The Blue Jays haven’t been one of the better pitching teams in the AL this season, ranking 11th with a 4.02 team ERA, a 3.96 starters’ ERA and a 4.15 bullpen ERA. But all three starters in the series have been pitching well lately.

Rookie right-hander Marcus Stroman opposes Wei-Yin Chen in tonight’s series opener. The 2012 first-round pick is coming off his first career shutout, a three-hit beauty where he struck out eight and walked none against the Cubs exactly one week ago. Stroman has won each of his last three starts, posting a 1.59 ERA in the process. Overall this season, the 23-year-old is 10-5 with a 3.61 ERA in 23 appearances (18 starts).

Right-hander Drew Hutchison faces Ubaldo Jimenez on Tuesday in a possible elimination game. Hutchison’s overall numbers this year aren’t too pretty - 10-11 with a 4.36 ERA in 29 starts. But the 24-year-old is 2-0 with a 1.78 ERA over his last four starts. He has struck out 32 in 25 1/3 innings during that time.

Left-hander J.A. Happ takes on Bud Norris in Wednesday’s finale. Happ has similar numbers to Hutchison, going 9-10 with a 4.28 ERA in 27 games (23 starts). But he hasn’t allowed more than four earned runs since July 7 and is coming off an outing where he held Tampa Bay to one run on two hits in seven innings.

It will make for a meaningful three days in Baltimore, as the Orioles look to wrap up their first division title since 1997. However, the second-place Blue Jays look to linger in the race a little longer while perhaps closing the gap in the wild card chase.

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