O's try to get on track vs. red-hot A's

The only team in the American League East with a negative run differential, the Baltimore Orioles still find themselves second in the division standings and tonight will clash with the Oakland Athletics in the second of a three-game set at Camden Yards.

Baltimore, which is a minus-58 in run differential at the moment, is still somehow holding onto hope that the playoffs might be a reality for the club this season, but having lost four of the last five contests means those chances are growing more and more slim.

In the series opener on Friday the Orioles were blasted in a 14-9 loss, and while it may sound as though the team has reached a new low in terms of preventing an opponent from walking all over them, consider the team bowed in a 19-7 decision versus Minnesota less than two weeks ago.

Oakland, which is closing the gap in the American League West thanks to eight wins in the last nine outings, has scored double-digit runs in two of the last three games and has delivered at least seven runs a total of five times since the All-Star Break. Thanks to that offensive barrage, the club is now 4 1/2 games out of first in the division.

Yesterday Seth Smith hit a pair of doubles as he knocked in five runs for the A's, while five of his teammates each delivered a couple of hits to move the offense along. Ironically enough, Smith was the only one of 12 players who went to the plate for Oakland who didn't score a run. Coco Crisp, Brandon Hicks and Jemile Weeks each scored a pair for the visitors as they moved a game over .500 (25-24) on the road in the process.

Jarrod Parker started the game for the A's, but he was touched for six runs on eight hits, striking out eight, through five innings. Despite allowing a pair of hits in the bottom of the ninth, Jerry Blevins was credited with his fourth victory of the season after Oakland exploded for six runs in the top of the frame.

Charged with the loss was Baltimore's Jim Johnson who gave up six runs on five hits and a walk, registering just a single out along the way in the last inning. Starter Zach Britton made it through 5 2/3 innings before being pulled, allowing six runs on six hits and three walks.

"I'm not going to beat myself up too much about it, because I think it's an anomaly today," said Johnson, who entered the game tied with Pittsburgh's Joel Hanrahan for the most saves in the Majors. "Knowing what my preparation was, how I went about it, I did everything except for make a couple pitches and, obviously, the end result wasn't what we wanted."

J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones both knocked in three runs for a Baltimore squad which is 8 1/2 games behind the division-leading New York Yankees and now a game below .500 at home (24-25). Nick Markakis chipped in with a pair of hits and scored three times for the hosts as well.

With the setback the O's are now tied, 2-2, in the season series with Oakland, with all four games being played in Baltimore.

Now on with his fifth different major league team since 2007, Bartolo Colon is set to make the start for Oakland this afternoon in Baltimore. Playing in his 15th season in the majors, the right-hander was actually someone the Orioles were looking at in terms of a trade before the deadline, but speculation has the A's holding onto the hurler because they don't believe they will get enough value in return.

Colon hasn't produced a winning record since his 2005 AL CY Young campaign with the Angels when he turned in a 21-8 performance and yet he needs just two more victories this season to match his season high since that magical campaign six years ago.

In his most recent outing on Sunday, Colon was tagged for four runs on eight hits and a walk versus the New York Yankees. The hurler struck out five for the third straight game, but even though he worked through 6 2/3 innings he still did not earn a decision.

While he didn't post a decision in his one meeting against Baltimore previously this season, Colon does have a record of 11-8 to go with a 3.21 ERA in 25 games versus the O's.

Heading to the hill for the home team is Tommy Hunter who is trying to tie down his fifth win of the season. Now in his second season with the Orioles after coming over from Texas last season, Hunter already has a perfect 5-0 mark with a 4.02 ERA in nine games versus the A's, although he failed to earn a decision in an earlier matchup this year.

For the second straight game Hunter made it through at least seven innings on Monday against Cleveland, but giving up three runs on eight hits, while striking out four, left him with the loss nonetheless.

Despite having an ERA over 4.80 at home in 2012, the right-hander is still a respectable 3-1 in his own ballpark thus far. ttle took three of four from the Royals last week.