The Orioles' off day in Toronto on Thursday was as productive as they come.
Right-hander Jason Hammel, regaining his strength after having a stomach virus, threw a successful side session at the Rogers Centre, so he will start tonight’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
New father Miguel Gonzalez traveled cross-continent from California to Toronto after the birth of his first child. He will start Saturday.
In Sarasota, Fla., left-hander Wei-Yin Chen took a step forward in returning from a left oblique strain, throwing a three-inning simulated game. He will throw a four-inning sim game Monday and then likely make his next appearance in a five-inning minor league rehab start.
Second baseman Brian Roberts continued rehab from right hamstring surgery with an off-day workout in Toronto. If all goes well, he could return by the first weekend of July.
The Orioles didn’t play a game, but they picked up ground on the American League East division-leading Boston Red Sox, who lost to the Detroit Tigers, 4-3, on Thursday, putting the Orioles just one full game out of first place.
Plus, the Tampa Bay Rays’ 8-3 win over the New York Yankees on Thursday night gave the Orioles a 2 1/2-game lead over New York for second place.
Not a bad day.
Now, the reality check.
None of that matters unless the Orioles play well this weekend against the hottest team in baseball.
The Blue Jays have won eight straight and are suddenly just seven games out of first place. This is the best division in baseball, so you had to guess the Blue Jays would make a run eventually, despite a horrific start.
Toronto has won 12 of its last 15 games and is 13-5 at home since May 5, outscoring opponents, 118-75, in those games. Since May 11, the Jays are 22-12 and their .647 winning percentage in that span is second-best in the American League.
Remember the Orioles’ streak when winning after seven innings? Well, the Blue Jays are 26-0 when leading after seven frames this season.
The Blue Jays are winning because of their pitching. They’ve allowed two of fewer earned runs in each of their past seven games, pitching to a 0.86 ERA (6 ER in 63 IP) over that span. The Toronto bullpen has thrown 24 straight innings without allowing an earned run.
They’ve also allowed just one homer in their last seven games. The Orioles, who lead the majors with 98 homers, hit six homers this week in taking two of three against the Tigers in Detroit.
So something’s gotta give.