By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) — The Toronto Blue Jays had been cruising along before running out of steam over the weekend.
They’ll try to regroup Tuesday night in the opener of a crucial three-game home set against the AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles.
Toronto (60-53) had won six straight and nine of 10 after beating Houston 6-5 on Thursday, but it went on to lose the final three games of that series by a combined 17-4. The Blue Jays fell 6-1 on Sunday to conclude a 6-4 trek.
“Everybody is tired,” manager John Gibbons said. “It was a good road trip, it could have been a great one, but we have a welcome day off (Monday) and then we play the team we’re chasing.”
Toronto is four games behind the Orioles (63-48) heading into arguably its most important series of the year. These division rivals have split 10 meetings thus far, with Baltimore winning four of the last six.
“We’ve been playing good baseball,” Gibbons told MLB’s official website. “The last three games didn’t go our way, pure and simple. But (now) we play the teams that matter. Baltimore, then Detroit and Seattle, three really good teams … we’ll have a little bit better idea where we’re at after that.”
Toronto now turns to Mark Buehrle (11-7, 3.11 ERA), who finally got back in the win column with Wednesday’s 6-1 victory at Boston. The left-hander allowed one run over 6 2-3 innings for his first win since June 1.
“I try to stay even-keel whether I’m doing good or bad,” he said. “But there are times when you go out there and get your butt handed to you a few times – there’s a thought in the back of your mind, like ‘Am I done? Can I still get it done?’ … Maybe it’s myself driving myself crazy, but this definitely feels good.”
Buehrle yielded four runs over 6 1-3 innings in a 4-2 loss at Baltimore on June 12, dropping to 1-4 with a 5.86 ERA against the Orioles since the start of last year. Melky Cabrera has had his number over the years, going 17 for 30 with two homers in their matchups.
Baltimore is coming off Monday’s 7-3 win at Washington in a makeup game. Caleb Joseph was 2 for 3 with a homer and three RBIs and Nick Markakis went deep for the second consecutive day.
“It was a tough one, and then again tomorrow and the next day,” manager Buck Showalter said. “These guys get to sleep around 5 or 6. It’s part of what we have to go through to get what we’re trying to get done.”
The Orioles give the ball to Bud Norris (8-7, 3.69), who threw seven scoreless innings in Thursday’s 1-0, 13-inning defeat to the Los Angeles Angels. The right-hander has already faced Toronto three times this year, going 2-0 with a 1.83 ERA.
Blue Jays infielder Brett Lawrie is set to come off the disabled list after missing six weeks with a broken finger. He’s hitting .216 with three homers and eight RBIs against the Orioles this year.
Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz is batting .365 with five homers and 14 RBIs during a 14-game stretch against Toronto. However, Cruz has gone a major league-worst 7 for 70 with one RBI and 18 strikeouts since July 11.
Markakis, 8 for 16 in four games this month, is hitting .328 in his last 15 north of the border.
Updated August 5, 2014
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