The American League wild card figured to come down to one of three teams. The Toronto Blue Jays, however, may just be ready to make that a four-team race.
The Blue Jays looks to complete their fifth home sweep of the season Thursday night when they finish a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels.
Marcum gave the Blue Jays their second consecutive outstanding performance from a starter after Roy Halladay pitched a five-hitter in a 4-1 win in Tuesday’s series opener.
“You can’t really give him (Marcum) enough credit for what he’s done,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “Every game he pitches it seems he takes you into the sixth, seventh inning and has given up next to nothing.”
Since the All-Star break, Toronto (61-58) leads the majors with a 3.24 ERA and its starters have 21 quality starts in 32 games.
The Blue Jays pulled within 5 1/2 games of Seattle and the New York Yankees, who are tied for the wild-card lead.
Toronto has played particularly well at home lately, winning 16 of its last 20 games at Rogers Centre, where it has three-game sweeps of Baltimore, Colorado, Minnesota and Texas this season.
The Blue Jays have won eight of nine at home against the Angels, and 14 of the last 18 meetings at Rogers Centre.
The first-place Angels (69-49), meanwhile, have struggled on the road, losing four of their past five and 14 of their last 21 away from home. They remained three games ahead of Seattle in the West.
“There’s no rhyme or reason for it,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “We just haven’t brought our game on the road like we need to.”
Because his team has scored two runs in this series, Scioscia said he’ll try to give his hitters a break by skipping batting practice before Thursday’s finale.
“We haven’t been able to string together many hits,” he said. “When you’re not swinging the bats, a lot of stuff looks flat and there’s a lot of pressure on the pitchers.”
Dustin McGowan (8-6, 4.12 ERA) looks to continue Toronto’s run of outstanding starting pitching. The right-hander lost for the first time since July 13, giving up four runs - three earned - and six hits in 6 1-3 innings Saturday in a 4-1 defeat at Kansas City. He was 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA in his previous four starts.
McGowan has pitched much better at home, going 5-1 with a 3.11 ERA in seven starts at Rogers Centre, compared to 3-5 with a 4.85 ERA in 11 road outings.
This will be McGowan’s first start against the Angels. He tossed 2 2-3 scoreless innings against them in a pair of relief appearances last season.
The Angels counter with Kelvim Escobar (12-6, 2.74), one of the league’s top pitchers lately. Although he is only 3-3 in his last seven starts, Escobar has deserved better with a 1.60 ERA during that span.
The right-hander, who is two wins shy of his career high set in 1999 with Toronto, was outstanding again and finally received some run support Friday in a 10-1 victory at Minnesota. He allowed one run and five hits in six innings. It was the first time in his last six starts that the Angels scored more than three runs.
Escobar, who pitched for the Blue Jays from 1997-2003, is 2-3 with a 2.12 ERA in five starts against his former team.