Winning 70 games in a season isn’t cause for any kind of celebration, but the Baltimore Orioles haven’t reached that mark in six years.
Still, they’re looking for a far greater accomplishment.
The Orioles (69-57) have been one of the biggest surprises in baseball, and they matched their win total from 2011 after beating Toronto 8-2 on Saturday. J.J. Hardy homered and scored three runs as Baltimore improved to 5-0 at home this season against its AL East rival.
A last-place team each of the last four years, the Orioles’ next win will give them 70 for the first time since 2006.
“I don’t think you’re going to find anybody in that locker room who knows that unless you tell them,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I think if someone had told us that was going to be the benchmark this year, they’d ask, ‘Who says that?’ Our guys, from Day 1 in spring training, have a loftier goal than having a better record than last year.”
Showalter is trying to lead the Orioles to their first playoff appearance since 1997, and his club is tied with Oakland for the second AL wild card, one game ahead of Detroit.
They’re also four games back of the East-leading New York Yankees, who they visit for three games next weekend.
Until then, they’ll try to create some breathing room in the wild-card chase by sweeping the last-place Blue Jays (56-70), losers of seven straight for the first time since a nine-game skid from May 19-27, 2009. Toronto is 14 games under .500 for the first time since Sept. 25, 2009.
Winning for only the second time in 12 tries may be tougher without Bautista, who is back on the disabled list with discomfort in his left wrist. He left Saturday’s game in the third inning after missing nearly six weeks with the same injury before returning in the opener of this series.
“I’ve been playing with it and I’ve been fine,” said Bautista, the reigning two-time AL home run champion. “That’s why it is a little bizarre to me.”
Bautista’s absence may be a relief to Chris Tillman (6-2, 3.71 ERA), who has allowed him to go 4 for 9 with two homers.
The right-hander is 1-2 with a 4.45 ERA in five starts against Toronto, but won the only meeting at home Aug. 6, 2011, yielding two runs in seven innings.
Tillman, though, hasn’t been sharp in his last four starts at home, going 2-1 with a 4.56 ERA - 7.84 in his past two games. However, he was impressive in Tuesday’s 5-3 win at Texas, allowing three runs with seven strikeouts in 6 2-3 innings.
Henderson Alvarez (7-11, 4.84) will try to end Toronto’s skid as well as his own. The right-hander is 0-4 with a 7.29 ERA in four starts this month since beating Detroit on July 28.
Unlike Tillman’s most recent outing, Alvarez was battered by the Rangers, surrendering career highs of eight runs and 12 hits in 4 1-3 innings of Sunday’s 11-2 defeat.
Both of Alvarez’s starts against the Orioles this year have ended in losses for the Blue Jays despite his 3.21 ERA. That includes a visit to Baltimore on April 24, when he yielded two runs in seven innings of a 2-1 loss.
Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis is 13 for 31 (.419) in his last eight games, but is 1 for 10 lifetime against Alvarez.