Barring a trade, the Baltimore Orioles will attempt to make the playoffs for a second consecutive season without a true ace at the top of their rotation.
Judging by his recent performances, Miguel Gonzalez may be their best option to fill that role.
Gonzalez will try to contain the red-hot Jason Kipnis and help the Orioles salvage a split of their four-game series with the Cleveland Indians on Thursday night.
Despite one of the worst ERAs in the majors and 11 different starting pitchers, Baltimore (43-36) is within 3 1/2 games of AL East-leading Boston. While Chris Tillman leads the team with nine wins, Gonzalez (5-3, 3.75 ERA) has been the Orioles' most reliable starter.
He has allowed three runs or fewer in four straight and seven of his last eight outings, lasting at least six innings seven times during that span. Gonzalez pitched well enough to win his fourth consecutive start Saturday at Toronto but was a tough-luck 4-2 loser after allowing three runs and three hits in 7 1-3 innings.
"He was outstanding,'' manager Buck Showalter said. "He pitched really well. I was really proud of him.''
The right-hander won his only career start against the Indians (40-37) on July 20, yielding two runs over 6 2-3 innings in a 10-2 victory.
Nick Swisher - mired in a 2-for-16 skid - is 0 for 6 with five strikeouts against Gonzalez, but Kipnis is a much bigger concern. The Indians second baseman has hit two-run homers each of the last two days and is batting .405 with 19 RBIs in June. He's reached base safely in 28 straight games.
Kipnis' 11th homer opened the scoring Wednesday and the Indians pushed across two runs in the ninth off Baltimore closer Jim Johnson for a 4-3 victory, their 10th in 14 tries after an eight-game skid.
"I was happy the way our offense came out versus Johnson,'' Kipnis said. "We knew it was his third day in a row; he wasn't going to have his best stuff, hopefully.''
The loss was the fifth in six games for the Orioles, who were limited to four hits and failed to homer for the first time in 14 contests. Manny Machado had two hits, including his major league-leading 36th double. That is the most in the majors before the All-Star break since 1997.
Cleveland tries to continue its strong play behind Corey Kluber (6-4, 3.68), who is 3-0 with a 1.66 ERA in his last three starts. He's walked four and struck out 15 over 21 2-3 innings during that span.
After pitching eight shutout innings in his previous start, the right-hander wasn't as effective in an 8-7 win over Minnesota on Saturday. Kluber gave up three runs - including two homers - and needed 100 pitches to complete 5 2-3 innings.
"I wasn't as sharp as I'd like to be, but there are games when you go out there and hopefully get through it and give your team a chance to win,'' he said.
Indians closer Chris Perez is expected to be activated from the disabled list Thursday after missing a month with a right shoulder injury.