Blue Jays vs. Orioles preview: Doubleheader kicks off huge series

Toronto Blue Jays skipper John Schneider jokes about bringing their fans in Pittsburgh to Baltimore, and going into the series vs. Orioles with 'a little bit of a groove.'

The Toronto Blue Jays' biggest series of the year to date starts on Monday in Baltimore against the Orioles.

All two or three of you who saw this coming at the start of the year, raise your hand.

It would have been ludicrous to suggest that the Blue Jays, picked by many to win the American League East, and Orioles, picked by almost everyone to finish at the bottom of the division, would be battling for a playoff spot at this point of the season.

Yet here we are, on Labour Day, with the Blue Jays just 2.5 games ahead of the surprising Orioles for the third and final spot in the American League wild-card race.

As if that wasn’t enough drama, we have a traditional doubleheader to get things going after a rainout last month at Camden Yards — making this a four-game series.

Here’s a look at the matchup.

Probable pitchers

Monday, 1:05 p.m. ET / 10:05 a.m. PT: Toronto RHP Kevin Gausman (10-9, 3.14 ERA) vs. Baltimore RHP Mike Baumann (10-9, 4.25 ERA)

Monday, Game 2 following conclusion of opener: Toronto RHP Jose Berrios (9-5, 5.32 ERA) vs. Baltimore RHP Jordan Lyles (1-2, 4.50 ERA)

Tuesday, 7:05 p.m. ET / 4:05 p.m. PT: Toronto RHP Mitch White (1-5, 4.67 ERA) vs. Baltimore RHP Kyle Bradish (3-5, 5.17 ERA)

Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. ET / 4:05 p.m. PT: Toronto RHP Alek Manoah (13-7, 2.48 ERA) vs. Baltimore RHP Dean Kremer (6-4, 3.22 ERA)

(All games on Sportsnet)

Latest on the Blue Jays

After a disappointing 2-4 homestand, the Blue Jays (73-59) are coming off a much-needed sweep of the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates.

All three games were close until the latter stages, but Toronto prevailed each time to improve to a season-best 14 games over .500.

Teoscar Hernandez's single in the seventh broke a 3-3 tie on Sunday and was the difference in a 4-3 win

Jordan Romano allowed the first two Pirates to reach base in the ninth and the runners got to second and third with no out, but the closer then struck out the side to notch his 30th save.

The Blue Jays went with a bullpen day on Saturday to set up Gausman, a former Oriole, and Berrios to pitch in Monday’s doubleheader.

Latest on the Orioles

The Orioles’ five-game winning streak came to an end with a 5-0 loss against the last-place Oakland A’s on Sunday in Baltimore.

It was a minor setback, but the rebuilding Orioles (71-62) remain well ahead of schedule.

Baltimore is 36-18 since July 3, allowing the Orioles to climb into playoff contention despite shipping out some key talent at the trade deadline.

The Orioles are the first team in AL/NL history to win more than 70 games after finishing the last three full seasons with 100-plus losses.

The Orioles haven’t made the playoffs since 2016 when Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion hit a walk-off homer in the 11th inning against Baltimore in the wild-card game at Rogers Centre.

Season series

The Blue Jays have won just three of nine games so far against the Orioles. The teams still have 10 games against each other left this season, including the last three games of the campaign in Baltimore.

Toronto lost both games in Baltimore last month, including a heartbreaker when the one and only Rougned Odor hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the eighth for a 6-5 win.

Odor, of course, is regularly booed by Toronto fans for his sucker punch on Jose Bautista when he played for the Texas Rangers in 2016.

A week after dropping two in Baltimore, the Blue Jays lost two of three against the Orioles at Rogers Centre, avoiding a sweep with a Ross Stripling gem (one hit, no runs in 6.1 innings) and a six-run seventh in the series finale.

Stripling is the lone Toronto starter not starting in this series.

Watch out for…

Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle, who has feasted on the Blue Jays throughout his career.

Mountcastle is batting .351 (in 37 at-bats) with five homers and 12 RBI against the Blue Jays this year. He has a 1.089 OPS against Toronto for his career.

Words of wisdom

"The morale is still good. I mean, yeah, we played a bad game. It is what it is. Going into Toronto, I think everybody's still hungry. We see that wild-card spot, and we’re going to fight for it." -- Orioles right-hander Spenser Watkins

Rain, rain, go away

Rain is in the forecast for the first two days of the series.

With a doubleheader already scheduled, a washout would be less than ideal.

One year ago…

Last September, there was a bizarre scene in a Blue Jays-Orioles game in Baltimore.

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde was overheard trash-talking then-Blue Jays ace Robbie Ray early in a 6-3 Baltimore win.

Ray wasn’t impressed. "I’m not going to waste my time on someone who doesn't get into the box," he said of Hyde’s engagement. "I don’t have the time of day."

Hyde apologized after the game "to all the fans out there, the Blue Jays, Robbie Ray, Charlie Montoyo."

Ray is now a Seattle Mariner and Montoyo has been replaced by John Schneider, but Hyde still manages the Orioles.

Up next

After an off-day on Thursday, the Blue Jays conclude a 10-game road swing with a three-game series against Texas.

While the Rangers are 17 games under .500, one can argue they are better than their record as their run differential is -11 for the season.

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