April 21, 2014

TORONTO -- The Toronto Blue Jays replaced the Baltimore Orioles in first place in the American League East on Saturday.

As soon as Sunday, the positions could be reversed. That is how close the race is, with the Boston Red Sox within easy striking distance.

The Blue Jays defeated the Orioles 9-1 on Saturday behind the 11-strikeout pitching of left-hander J.A. Happ. That gave the Blue Jays a half-game lead over the Orioles in the division.

If the Orioles can end a five-game losing streak Sunday and avoid being swept by the Blue Jays, they will return to the top by a half-game margin.

Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin, who hit a two-run double in a seven-run fifth on Saturday, realizes there is a long way to go, but that reaching first has some significance.

"It means that we're playing good baseball," Martin said. "There's still a lot of baseball left, but I feel we're starting to play good ball. We're swinging the bats well, we're playing good defense and we're pitching well.

"But the thing I like about this team is the consistency of our starting pitching. I feel like it's been that way all year. If you're going to have a winning team that's kind of the one thing you want to have is pitching, and we have that so we're feeling pretty good about it."

The pitching figures to be good Sunday in the series finale.

The Orioles will start right-hander Chris Tillman (14-3, 3.47 ERA) against Blue Jays right-hander Aaron Sanchez (11-1, 2.72 ERA), who has not lost since April 22.

"Everything's about pitching here at this level," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "They catch the ball well. They're a good team. We're a good team. We'll put it behind us and go out there 1/8Sunday 3/8.

"They're a good starting pitching team. They've got good people in the bullpen. That's why they, Boston and us are where we are, so you've got to trust your players and just don't throw everybody under the bus because you've had a tough couple of games."

Said Orioles outfielder Mark Trumbo: "We could come out and throw up 20 hits (Sunday)," outfielder Mark Trumbo said. "Who knows what is going to happen? You kind of assume when you go up against these guys it's going to be a tight game and you're going to have to play smart baseball and take advantage when you can.

"Because you are going to need those runs. They have a really good offense. We've got to do our part to try to counter them."

Sanchez is 10-0 with a 2.58 ERA in 16 starts since his last loss. The Blue Jays are 12-4 in those starts. He is 3-2 with a 5.34 ERA in 10 career games, including five starts, against the Orioles.

Tillman is 4-1 with a 2.73 ERA in his last five starts, with the loss coming Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies when he allowed nine hits and six runs in five innings. He is 5-10 with a 5.71 ERA in 22 career starts against the Blue Jays and is 1-0, 4.91, in two starts against them this season.

The Blue Jays are on a 16-6 roll, while the Orioles have lost 12 of their last 17 games on the road. Toronto leads the season series 7-5.

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