Athletics-Blue Jays Preview

The Associated Press

The Toronto Blue Jays may not have baseball's most talented roster, but they've managed to surge to the top of one of the most competitive divisions.

Regardless of the outcome Saturday against the Oakland Athletics, Toronto will hold at least a portion of first place this late into a season for the first time in 14 years.

The Blue Jays (27-22) won for the ninth time in 11 games with a 3-2 victory over the Athletics on Friday to maintain a 1 1/2-game lead over second-place Baltimore in the AL East.

Toronto was also in first after games played on May 23, 2009, but lost the next day and never reclaimed the top spot. The Blue Jays haven't been atop the division this late into the season since July 6, 2000, when they were 46-40.

"In Major League Baseball it's not always the team with the most talent that wins," manager John Gibbons said. "Sometimes it's the teams with the lesser talent but they just compete, compete and all they care about is winning. That's what it takes."

Solid starting pitching and a potent lineup, however, have certainly played a big role in the Blue Jays' success.

Toronto starting pitchers have a 1.96 ERA in the last three games and a 2.94 mark in the last 11.

The Blue Jays also lead the majors with 68 homers, and they are 13-2 since May 4 in games they've gone deep. Steve Tolleson hit a two-run home run Friday, Toronto's 12th in its last six games.

"It takes contributions from all of the hitters at any given time," Tolleson told the Blue Jays' official website. "We have a tremendous lineup."

Oakland (30-18) was a season-best 14 games over .500 on Wednesday on the heels of an 11-1 stretch, but has since dropped two in a row.

Giving the ball to Jess Chavez (4-1, 2.54 ERA) could help them bounce back considering the A's are 8-1 in his starts.

Chavez has allowed four runs - all on solo homers - over 13 innings in his last two starts. The right-hander gave up two runs and six hits in five innings in Sunday's 13-3 win over Cleveland. He struck out six, walked three and threw a career-high 109 pitches.

The former reliever, who appeared in nine games for Toronto in 2012, gave up three runs and retired one batter in his only appearance against his former team on July 31.

The Blue Jays give the ball to R.A. Dickey (4-4, 4.20), who was pushed back a day to separate his spot in the rotation from Mark Buehrle.

"They're our old reliable guys, kind of our innings eaters," Gibbons said.

Now it's just a matter of getting Dickey to pitch effectively late in games.

Dickey has pitched into the seventh inning in each of his last six starts, but has retired just three of the 17 batters he's faced. He has held opponents to a .206 average through the first six innings on the season, but they're 10 for 20 with seven extra-base hits off him in the seventh.

The right-hander served up a two-run homer in the seventh inning in Sunday's 6-2 loss to Texas. He yielded four runs over 6 1-3 innings in losing for the first time in six starts.

Dickey is 1-0 with a 1.87 ERA in five starts against the A's since 2008. Coco Crisp is 0 for 14 versus Dickey since 2008, and Brandon Moss is 2 for 9 with a homer.

Moss continued his tear at the plate Friday, homering for the sixth time in 13 games. He is batting .373 with seven doubles and 16 RBIs over that stretch.

''We did the things that it takes to win a game, it just didn't happen,'' Moss said.

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