Just a few days ago, the Baltimore Orioles appeared to be rolling toward their first playoff berth since 1997.
Three losses in four games, however, has stunted their momentum and made their position much more tenuous.
Baltimore hopes to avoid its first three-game skid in two months Wednesday night when it closes a four-game set against the Toronto Blue Jays.
After taking the first two games in Boston last weekend to stretch their win streak to a season-high six, the Orioles (88-67) were on the verge of tying New York for first place in the AL East and held a 4 1/2-game lead for a wild-card spot.
Unable to complete a sweep of the Red Sox, Baltimore has lost two of the first three games against last-place Toronto (68-86), but Minnesota’s 5-4 win over the Yankees on Tuesday kept it 1 1/2 games back in the East. A bigger concern now is the wild-card race, where the Orioles lead Oakland by one-half game for the top spot with Los Angeles 2 1/2 back while Tampa Bay trails by 3 1/2.
“We got to get some wins,” center fielder Adam Jones said. “That’s what we’ve been doing since the first day of spring training. Now, we’re just in a position where each game matters. It’s a cool position to be in.”
Tuesday’s 4-0 loss was especially frustrating for the Orioles, who managed only six hits - five singles - off six pitchers. Aaron Laffey pitched 5 2-3 innings for his first victory since Aug. 5 and helped send Baltimore to its first shutout since Aug. 3.
“You’re always going to get everyone’s best shot and when we had been struggling and we’d go into certain venues where there’s a good emotion in the ballpark, it feeds the other team as well as us,” manager Buck Showalter said.
Matt Wieters had two of those six hits and is batting .361 (13 for 36) with three homers and eight RBIs in his last eight games. However, he’s 10 for 51 (.196) against the Blue Jays this season.
Toronto catcher J.P. Arencibia is 6 for 7 with a homer and five RBIs in this series, helping his team score 13 runs in the last two games after totaling nine in the previous five against Baltimore.
The Jays will try to continue that improved offense against Miguel Gonzalez (7-4, 3.52 ERA), who’s tasked with helping the Orioles avoid their first three-game slide since July 23-25.
He is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his last three home starts - all Baltimore wins - after going 0-2 with a 7.82 ERA in his first three outings at Camden Yards.
Gonzalez limited Boston to two runs on seven hits in 6 1-3 innings of a 4-2 victory at Fenway Park on Friday.
The right-hander allowed five runs and seven hits over 6 1-3 innings in a 6-4 loss at Rogers Centre on Sept. 5.
Toronto’s Carlos Villanueva (7-6, 3.88) looks to rebound from his worst start of the season.
The right-hander was tagged for a season-high seven runs and eight hits - two homers - over 2 1-3 innings of a 12-1 loss at Tampa Bay on Friday. It was the first time in 15 starts this year that he didn’t complete at least five innings and increased his ERA in four outings this month to 7.36.
Villanueva is 0-2 with a 7.30 ERA in two starts this season against the Orioles.