Losers of six in a row, the Toronto Blue Jays try to stop the bleeding Saturday night as they take on the Baltimore Orioles in the second of a three-game set at Camden Yards.
With only a few days left in the month of July, the Jays were actually two games over .500 thanks to a short three-game win streak, but since that time the team has won a total of just five times in 20 opportunities and as a result are now 17 games out of contention in the American League East.
Last night Toronto managed just one run through the first six innings before bowing to the O's in a 6-4 final, the team's ninth setback in 10 tries. The Jays were roughed up by designated hitter Chris Davis, who delivered three home runs in his first three at-bats, finishing with four RBI. Davis, who now has a career-best 23 home runs on the season, became the 19th player in club history with three home runs in a single game.
"It was a good night for him, obviously, and I thought he handled it well," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Davis.
On the mound, Baltimore starter Zach Britton posted his third win of the campaign as he allowed two runs on four hits and a couple of walks, striking out six over the course of 6 2/3 innings. A host of relievers also made an appearance for the home team, but it was Jim Johnson who ended up with his 39th save of the year with a perfect ninth.
Toronto's Carlos Villanueva saw his record drop to 6-4 as he permitted four runs on five hits, two of those being Davis home runs, through 5 2/3 innings.
Jeff Mathis notched his eighth home run of 2012 and plated a pair, while Edwin Encarnacion accounted for two of his team's seven hits in the losing effort.
Prior to the game the Jays activated Jose Bautista from the disabled list hoping his presence in the lineup would provide a boost, but he went hitless in four at-bats and struck out twice.
"He swung the bat consistent, with what we've seen in the past in terms of aggressiveness, bat speed, all of that," manager John Farrell said of Bautista's return. "But we certainly temper our expectations after the amount of time that he has missed, the number of games that he has missed. The fact that he's back with us is the most important thing right now."
A native of Baltimore himself, Steve Johnson is being penciled in as the starter for the Orioles this evening. A rookie who was drafted by the Dodgers in the 13th round back in 2005, the right-hander has just one decision in four appearances in his career since joining the big club in the middle of July.
Earlier this week Johnson pitched just a single inning, allowing one run on two hits, striking out one, in a 12-3 loss at Texas.
As for the Blue Jays, they've decided to go with a more proven commodity in Brandon Morrow, who is making his return after being on the 60-day DL with a strained left oblique. Already 1-0 this season and 3-2 for his career versus the O's, the right-hander last pitched in the majors on June 11 versus Washington.
Against the Nationals now more than two months ago, Morrow failed to record a single out before heading to the bench and suffering the loss.
Since the All-Star Game, the Blue Jays have been the weakest-hitting team in the American League, batting just .228, scoring the second-fewest runs in the league with a mere 141 over the course of 39 contests. During the same stretch the Toronto pitching staff hasn't helped matters by putting up a collective 4.85 ERA which is third-highest in the AL.
Baltimore, victorious in four of the last six games as it continues to fight towards a wild card berth in the playoffs, leads the season series against Toronto by a count of 6-4, a perfect 4-0 at home. The Orioles are now five games out of first place in the AL East even though they have the worst run differential in the division at minus-52.