Blue Jays-Orioles Preview

Winning 70 games in a season isn’t cause for any kind of

celebration, but the Baltimore Orioles haven’t reached that mark in

six years.

Still, they’re looking for a far greater accomplishment.

The Orioles look to surpass last season’s win total Sunday by

sweeping this three-game set from the reeling Toronto Blue Jays,

who will again be without injured slugger Jose Bautista.

The Orioles (69-57) have been one of the biggest surprises in

baseball, and they matched their win total from 2011 after beating

Toronto 8-2 on Saturday. J.J. Hardy homered and scored three runs

as Baltimore improved to 5-0 at home this season against its AL

East rival.

A last-place team each of the last four years, the Orioles’ next

win will give them 70 for the first time since 2006.

“I don’t think you’re going to find anybody in that locker room

who knows that unless you tell them,” manager Buck Showalter said.

“I think if someone had told us that was going to be the benchmark

this year, they’d ask, ‘Who says that?’ Our guys, from Day 1 in

spring training, have a loftier goal than having a better record

than last year.”

Showalter is trying to lead the Orioles to their first playoff

appearance since 1997, and his club is tied with Oakland for the

second AL wild card, one game ahead of Detroit.

They’re also four games back of the East-leading New York

Yankees, who they visit for three games next weekend.

Until then, they’ll try to create some breathing room in the

wild-card chase by sweeping the last-place Blue Jays (56-70),

losers of seven straight for the first time since a nine-game skid

from May 19-27, 2009. Toronto is 14 games under .500 for the first

time since Sept. 25, 2009.

Winning for only the second time in 12 tries may be tougher

without Bautista, who is back on the disabled list with discomfort

in his left wrist. He left Saturday’s game in the third inning

after missing nearly six weeks with the same injury before

returning in the opener of this series.

“I’ve been playing with it and I’ve been fine,” said Bautista,

the reigning two-time AL home run champion. “That’s why it is a

little bizarre to me.”

Bautista’s absence may be a relief to Chris Tillman (6-2, 3.71

ERA), who has allowed him to go 4 for 9 with two homers.

The right-hander is 1-2 with a 4.45 ERA in five starts against

Toronto, but won the only meeting at home Aug. 6, 2011, yielding

two runs in seven innings.

Tillman, though, hasn’t been sharp in his last four starts at

home, going 2-1 with a 4.56 ERA – 7.84 in his past two games.

However, he was impressive in Tuesday’s 5-3 win at Texas, allowing

three runs with seven strikeouts in 6 2-3 innings.

Henderson Alvarez (7-11, 4.84) will try to end Toronto’s skid as

well as his own. The right-hander is 0-4 with a 7.29 ERA in four

starts this month since beating Detroit on July 28.

Unlike Tillman’s most recent outing, Alvarez was battered by the

Rangers, surrendering career highs of eight runs and 12 hits in 4

1-3 innings of Sunday’s 11-2 defeat.

Both of Alvarez’s starts against the Orioles this year have

ended in losses for the Blue Jays despite his 3.21 ERA. That

includes a visit to Baltimore on April 24, when he yielded two runs

in seven innings of a 2-1 loss.

Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis is 13 for 31 (.419) in his

last eight games, but is 1 for 10 lifetime against Alvarez.