Athletics-Blue Jays Preview

The Associated Press

The AL's top pitching staff has helped carry the Oakland Athletics and their league-low payroll into the postseason picture.

Now it will be responsible for attempting to shut down a lineup that's thriving even without its best slugger.

Oakland seeks a season-high sixth consecutive victory when it visits the Toronto Blue Jays for the opener of a three-game set Tuesday night.

The surging Athletics (51-44), with a roughly $55 million payroll that is slightly more than San Diego's, are among the AL's wild-card leaders with a 14-2 record this month following Sunday's 5-4, 12-inning victory that capped a four-game sweep of the AL East-leading Yankees.

Seth Smith's homer tied the score in the ninth before Coco Crisp's RBI single in the 12th completed a comeback from four runs down.

"I don't think there was anybody in the dugout or in the stands who didn't think we were going to win,'' Smith said.

That confidence continues resonating within a team that has swept large-market teams like Boston, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Yankees this season.

"It definitely feels good to battle and be victorious against the best teams, on paper, in the game," Crisp told the team's official website. "You can look up and down a lot of lineups like Detroit, or the Angels, the teams with high payrolls. When we battle against those guys and come out with wins, it's definitely a great feeling."

Oakland's solid pitching has been a major reason for its success, posting a 2.53 ERA in July and a 3.37 ERA overall - both the best marks in the AL.

Travis Blackley (2-2, 2.86 ERA) will continue his surprising run in the starting rotation after allowing three runs in 5 1-3 innings of the A's 4-3 win over Texas on Wednesday.

The left-hander, who played in Korea last season and was claimed off waivers from San Francisco in May, continues to impress manager Bob Melvin.

"I think each and every time he goes out there and does well, it builds confidence for him," Melvin said. "He probably didn't forecast going into this season being in the position. I would have to say it's a little bit of a surprise."

Toronto's success without Jose Bautista, who went on the disabled list last Tuesday with a sore left wrist, has been pretty startling as well. The Blue Jays outscored Boston 28-11 and completed a three-game sweep at Fenway Park with the help of a season high-tying 18 hits in Sunday's 15-7 victory.

Brett Lawrie hit the first pitch of the game for a homer and J.P. Arencibia, Rajai Davis and Travis Snider also went deep for Toronto (48-47), which was coming off being swept by the Yankees.

"It was just a very good offensive day and a very good weekend, considering what we came out of in New York and the loss of Jose,'' said manager John Farrell, whose team set a season high for runs. "The guys bounced back."

The Blue Jays can match a season high with a fourth straight victory - done three previous times - when Brett Cecil takes the hill Tuesday.

Cecil (2-2, 6.34) allowed three runs in six innings of a 6-1 loss to the Yankees last Tuesday. The left-hander has been solid against the A's, going 2-2 with a 2.79 ERA in four career starts.

These teams split a two-game set May 8-9 in Oakland.

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