While the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians both sit quite a ways back in their respective division races, they continue to keep pace in the highly competitive AL wild-card hunt.
The Orioles try to distance themselves from the Indians when these teams open a pivotal three-game set Monday at Progressive Field.
After dropping four of five to begin a nine-game trip, Baltimore salvaged Sunday’s finale against the New York Yankees with a thrilling 7-3 victory. J.J. Hardy hit a go-ahead three-run homer and Adam Jones followed with a three-run shot of his own as the Orioles put together a seven-run seventh inning.
“Hopefully, it jump-starts us in September,” said Hardy, whose team remains 8 1/2 games behind East-leading Boston.
Sunday’s win, though, moved Baltimore (72-63) into third place in the wild-card standings, three games back of second-place Tampa Bay. The Indians (72-64), meanwhile, are in a fourth-place tie with New York, one-half game behind the Orioles.
Cleveland returns home after concluding a 1-5 trek with Sunday’s 4-0 win over Detroit. Mike Aviles provided all the offense with a ninth-inning grand slam as the Indians climbed within 7 1/2 games of the Central-leading Tigers.
“We needed this game because we’ve had a tough road trip,” said manager Terry Francona, whose team is 10-15 since Aug. 5. “We want to keep playing until they make us stop.”
The Indians will look for their momentum to carry over against Orioles starter Bud Norris (3-1, 4.91 ERA), who is 3-0 in six starts since he was acquired from Houston on July 31. After giving up a season high-tying seven runs in 4 2-3 innings in a 9-7 win over Oakland on Aug. 23, Norris yielded one run and four hits in 5 1-3 innings of Wednesday’s 4-3 loss at Boston.
“These guys scored some runs early to give me a little cushion, so my focus is putting up a zero on every scoreboard, every half inning,” said Norris, who left with a 3-1 lead. “As long as I could go and, (manager) Buck (Showalter), he made the decision and I’m OK with it, handing the ball off to the bullpen. I feel confident doing that every time.”
Norris, set to make his first appearance versus Cleveland, posted a 2.20 ERA in three road starts last month.
The Indians counter with Justin Masterson (14-9, 3.49), who has gone 1-0 with a 2.13 ERA in his last two outings despite walking nine in 12 2-3 innings. The All-Star right-hander yielded two runs in six innings of Wednesday’s 3-2 walkoff loss at Atlanta.
“When our ace goes out and gives us strong innings, we’ve got to find a way to get a W,” said Aviles, referring to Masterson.
Masterson had a 2.30 ERA in winning four consecutive starts versus the Orioles before surrendering six runs in 6 1-3 innings of a 6-3 loss at Baltimore on June 25. While Jones, Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis are a combined 13 for 68 (.191) versus Masterson, Alexi Casilla is 6 for his last 14 with two homers, a double and a triple in their matchups.
Hardy has hit safely in each of his 14 games in Cleveland, batting .310, but he’s 2 for his last 9 against Masterson.
Orioles outfielder Michael Morse, acquired from Seattle on Friday, went 2 for 4 with a run in his team debut.