Blue Jays-Athletics Preview

The last time the Toronto Blue Jays won consecutive games, the All-Star break was more than two weeks away and they were a game off the AL East pace.

Their thumping offense has since been erratic, and they’re entering Josh Donaldson’s return to Oakland on Tuesday night closer to the bottom of the division than the top.

The Blue Jays (47-47) took two of three in a home series with Tampa Bay, and Sunday’s 4-0 win has them in position to string together victories for the first time since June 24-26. In that time, they’re 7-12 with seven games of scoring two runs or fewer and a .237 average to fall 4 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees.

Donaldson was traded to Toronto in a five-player deal in November that included A’s third baseman Brett Lawrie. He makes his visiting debut stuck in a 1-for-20 slump, and hit .228 at O.co Coliseum after the All-Star break in his final season with Oakland.

The pitcher Donaldson will face was also a part of the deal.

Kendall Graveman had been rolling before giving up four runs and seven hits in 5 2-3 innings of a 5-1 loss in Cleveland on July 10. Graveman (6-5, 3.38 ERA) had won his previous three starts, but he’s still 5-3 with a 2.17 ERA in his last 10 starts.

The right-hander really struggled at home to start the season but hasn’t allowed a run in his last two starts in Oakland as part of a 15-inning scoreless span.

Oakland (43-51) has won four of five, and its 29-21 record dating to May 23 is the best in the AL. In Sunday’s 14-1 home win over Minnesota, newcomer Jake Smolinski homered twice and is 5 for 9 in four games since joining the big league club on July 7. The outfielder was acquired off waivers from Texas on June 21.

”It was a good day for everybody. Pitchers pitched great, hitters hit great. It was just a fun win," Smolinski said after the team clubbed five homers. "The team made me feel like I was a part since Day 1. Obviously everybody wants to help contribute and I’m just trying to do my part right now and hopefully we’ll get it rolling."

The A’s will have to unhinge Mark Buehrle for an encore effort.

Buehrle (10-5, 3.34) hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in his last eight starts, and a 6-2 win in Kansas City on July 11 gave him his 15th straight 10-win season. He gave up two runs and five hits in seven innings to get to 4-1 with a 1.55 ERA and 13.3 pitches per inning in those eight starts to drop his MLB-leading season mark to 13.9. That would be a career best, and the left-hander hasn’t walked anyone in 22 innings over the last three.

"He’s one of my favorite pitchers to play behind," shortstop Jose Reyes told MLB’s official website. "He keeps you in the game. He just gets the ball and works fast, so you’re going to have a lot of ground balls. He has had an amazing career."

It hasn’t been because of his track record in Oakland, where Buehrle is 3-8 with a 4.15 ERA in 15 starts. He saw plenty of Billy Butler in the AL Central, and the A’s designated hitter is 22 for 67 against him with three home runs. Butler enters having homered in consecutive games.

The A’s won four of seven in last season’s series, and the home team swept both sets with the Blue Jays scoring four runs in Oakland.