By JEFF BARTL
(AP) — The Baltimore Orioles are in the midst of a 16-game stretch during which they’ll face the top three teams in the loaded AL West.
As far as manager Buck Showalter is concerned, that simply prepares his first-place club for the type of competition it will see if it’s fortunate enough to reach the postseason.
Baltimore continues its run through a gauntlet of contenders as it begins a three-game road series against the Los Angeles Angels on Monday night.
The Orioles (53-44) hold a three-game lead over Toronto and the New York Yankees atop the AL East after dropping two of three to major league-best Oakland over the weekend.
After blowing a two-run, ninth-inning lead in Friday’s 5-4 loss and taking Saturday’s contest 8-4, Baltimore fell flat in Sunday’s 10-2 defeat that marked its worst loss since falling to the A’s 11-1 on June 8.
The Orioles complete their 10-game road trip with a four-game series beginning Thursday against Seattle before hosting the Angels and Mariners. After a makeup game at NL East co-leading Washington, they’ll face the Blue Jays on the road and St. Louis and the Yankees at home.
“We’re all ready to get back into a routine for the rest of the season,” Showalter said after Sunday’s rout. “It’s a matter of sticking around and seeing if we can get a chance to roll the dice in September and October.”
Los Angeles (59-38) trails Oakland by 1 1/2 games in the division after taking two of three from Seattle, as Albert Pujols hit a tying RBI double in the ninth and Grant Green followed five batters later with an RBI single for a 6-5 victory Sunday.
Kole Calhoun went 3 for 5 with a solo homer for the Angels, who lead the majors in runs and are second in the AL in batting average.
“We’ve got one of the best offenses in the game, and we can put some runs up no matter who’s out there,” Calhoun said.
Bud Norris will be the next pitcher trying to stymie the Angels, something he did extremely well last season. The right-hander went 3-0 with a 0.32 ERA in four starts against them in 2013, all with Houston prior to being dealt to the Orioles.
Norris (7-6, 3.96 ERA) had his four-start winning streak end July 9 when he gave up five runs in four innings of a 6-2 loss to Washington – his first start after coming off the disabled list due to a right groin strain.
Norris, who had a 0.92 ERA over his previous three outings, made one start in the minors over the All-Star break to stay fresh.
“As much as you do side work and (simulated) games, there’s no substitute for the adrenaline and the challenge of facing major league hitters,” Showalter said. “It will get better. We’ve seen what he’s capable of.”
He’ll be opposed by Matt Shoemaker (7-2, 4.38), who has made nine starts and six relief appearances while consistently shuffling between the rotation and the bullpen.
The right-hander is 6-1 with a 4.15 ERA as starter after beating Houston on July 3, and he earned a win in relief of the injured Jered Weaver on July 7 after giving up two runs in 3 2-3 innings of a 5-2 victory over Toronto.
“I’m here to do whatever I need to do,” Shoemaker told MLB’s official website. “Whatever helps us win the World Series.”
The Angels own the majors’ best home record at 34-16, but Baltimore won three of four in Anaheim last season.
Updated July 20, 2014