By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) — The Baltimore Orioles are building a seemingly insurmountable lead atop the AL East behind impressive success at home.
Another matchup with the sputtering Cincinnati Reds appears unlikely to slow them down.
The Orioles look to win an eighth straight series at Camden Yards and hand the Reds a ninth loss in 10 road games Wednesday night.
Baltimore (80-57) leads the East by a season-high 9 1/2 games over the second-place New York Yankees, and hosting a playoff series could be extremely advantageous considering the team is 12-3 at home over the last month.
The Orioles have hit 31 homers while batting .298 over that stretch, 40 points higher than their season average.
They got production throughout the lineup Tuesday, when all but one starter had a hit and five batters had an RBI in a 5-4 win over Cincinnati. The team was able to overcome a pair of rain delays that totaled over two hours.
“You do whatever it takes to stay focused for the game,” said Nelson Cruz, who had two hits and recorded his career-high 91st RBI. “I think we do a really good job in those situations.”
Baltimore is also proving to be strong on the mound with a 3.07 ERA over the past 15 home games.
Miguel Gonzalez (7-7, 3.61 ERA) has allowed three runs in 13 1-3 innings while splitting two games since being recalled from Triple-A Norfolk on Aug. 24. The right-hander is coming off one of his best performances of the season, yielding one run and four hits in seven innings of Friday’s 9-1 win over Minnesota.
Gonzalez is 1-1 with a 3.20 ERA in four career interleague starts, but this will be his first at home. He’s facing a Cincinnati team that’s batting .216 while dropping 14 of 20 games, and has lost eight of nine on the road.
The Reds (66-72) have also lost Homer Bailey for the season after moving him to the 60-day disabled list Tuesday. While Bailey may be facing elbow surgery, Dylan Axelrod (1-0, 1.64) will try to build on his first win of the season.
The right-hander matched his career high with eight strikeouts while battling through 100 pitches in five scoreless innings of a 7-2 win over the Chicago Cubs on Thursday. That came hours after he was recalled from Triple-A Louisville, a 10-day stint caused by a broken water main in Denver that forced a doubleheader and left the Reds seeking bullpen help.
Axelrod is facing the Orioles for the first time since allowing one run in 7 1-3 innings of an 8-1 win with the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 29, 2012.
Jay Bruce had two hits in the series opener, connecting for his third career grand slam in the eighth. The right fielder was 6 for 40 with no homers over his previous 12 games, but is batting .360 in his last six interleague contests.
Billy Hamilton, a contender for NL Rookie of the Year, is 9 for 23 with six stolen bases in six games. His 55 steals on the season are a Reds rookie record and the most for the club since Deion Sanders had 56 in 1997.
Updated September 3, 2014
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