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Preview: Orioles (64-69) at Blue Jays (76-57)

Game: 1
Venue: Rogers Centre
Date: September 04, 2015 7:07 PM EDT

AL East opponents Baltimore and Toronto have been on virtually opposite paths as the season starts to wind down.

The Orioles’ chances at a third postseason appearance in four years have all but slipped away, while the Blue Jays look poised to end baseball’s longest active playoff drought.

Baltimore opens a pivotal stretch that figures to decide the fate of its season Friday night when it starts a three-game series at Toronto.

The Orioles (64-69) have plummeted out of the division race, dropping 12 of 14 to fall 12 games back of the first-place Blue Jays (76-57). They’ve hit .217 in that span with 85 strikeouts in the last eight, and a wild-card berth looks increasingly unattainable as well with a 6 1/2-game deficit separating them from Texas.

Adam Jones has hit .121 with 13 strikeouts in his last nine games, while Chris Davis has struck out 22 times in his past 11.

“How do you get of it? That’s the beauty of this game,” Jones said. “The way you do it is you collectively come together and go out there and beat … somebody else instead of getting your tails handed to you.’

After this series, Baltimore’s nine-game stretch against the AL’s top three teams continues with three-game sets versus New York and Kansas City. The Orioles stopped a six-game skid with a 7-3 victory over Tampa Bay on Wednesday, which came after they had scored fewer than four runs in 12 of 13.

Ubaldo Jimenez’s freefall has mirrored the Orioles’ collapse. Jimenez (9-9, 4.34 ERA) is 2-5 with a 7.50 ERA in his last nine outings, surrendering 10 homers in 48 innings. He had given up eight over the previous 99 1-3 while posting a 2.81 ERA – which would have been the lowest mark of his career over a full season.

He allowed four runs and eight hits while needing 92 pitches to get through 5 2-3 innings of Saturday’s 4-3 loss at Texas.

Jimenez performed like a completely different pitcher in three meetings with Toronto in April and May, going 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA while striking out 23 in 19 innings. He’s 5-4 with a 4.10 ERA in 12 career matchups – 11 starts.

A number of Blue Jays have struggled against the right-hander with Jose Bautista going 2 for 29 and Josh Donaldson 2 for 15.

Donaldson has batted .404 with 24 RBIs and 13 extra-base hits in his last 14 games for Toronto, winner of 26 of 32. The Blue Jays, who own a 1 1/2-game edge over the Yankees as they seek their first playoff appearance since 1993, are averaging 8.0 runs during a 10-2 stretch.

They’re hoping Drew Hutchison (13-2, 4.87 ERA) continues his night-and-day contrast at home and on the road, at least for his sixth straight start at Rogers Centre. The disparity between his home (2.46) and road (9.00) ERAs is the largest for a pitcher with at least 10 starts both at home and on the road going back to at least 1914.

He improved to 11-1 in Toronto with Saturday’s 15-1 win over Detroit, limiting the Tigers to one run over seven innings.

Manny Machado hasn’t been quite as cold as other Orioles, though he’s hitting .243 with four extra-base hits in his last 17 games. He’s batted .500 with three homers, six doubles and 10 RBIs in his last eight games against the Blue Jays, however.

These teams haven’t met since June 19-21 when Baltimore took two of three in Toronto, though the Blue Jays lead the series 7-5.