Baltimore's Buck Showalter has often been mentioned as a favorite to win American League Manager of the Year. And with the combination of the Orioles' 12-0 win and New York's loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday, that sentiment can only pick up steam as Baltimore owns a share of first place in September for the first time since 1997. That was also the last time the O's won their division and made the playoffs.
The Orioles could take sole possession of first place with a victory in Wednesday's series finale at Rogers Centre, coupled with another Yankees' loss to the Rays.
The Blue Jays' John Farrell is one of many baseball managers to admire Showalter's work with a seemingly over-achieving Orioles squad. Farrell said the amount of credit Showalter is getting is justified -- though a certain part of Baltimore's pitching staff has made Showalter's job a little easier.
"Yeah, I think you can," Farrell said when asked if a manager could make a significant difference. "And when you've got a back end of a bullpen as locked down as theirs has been all year, that can make a lot of those decisions very favorable."
Farrell specifically pointed to the emergence of Jim Johnson and Manny Strop as one of the biggest reasons the Orioles have been so successful in close games. The Orioles are 24-7 in one-run games.
"Obviously their record in one-run games speaks volumes," Farrell said. "Their bullpen, particularly the way Strop has emerged, in addition to Johnson closing out games, you could say that tandem might be the best in baseball the way they've performed. I think that's a direct contributor to their record in one-run games."
Meanwhile, Farrell's squad has essentially been eliminated from playoff contention, but it's his name that could be receiving even more attention than Showalter's later this week.
Farrell has recently been linked to the Red Sox as they continue to struggle under Bobby Valentine. Reports have cited Farrell as a top candidate to take over if Valentine isn't given another year. It's a topic that will likely come up as Toronto heads to Boston to begin a three-game series on Friday, whether Farrell wants to hear about it or not.
"As I've said repeatedly when it's come up, my focus is clearly here with the Blue Jays," Farrell said. "I'm under contract, obviously. I can understand there can be a natural connection, because I've worked there in the past, but my focus and my commitment has been here and is here, unequivocally."
Orioles: Gonzalez looks to keep rolling
Miguel Gonzalez will start for Baltimore on Wednesday, fresh off a dominant August in which he went 3-1 with a 1.91 ERA in five starts. His most recent outing may have been his best, as he allowed only four hits while throwing seven shutout innings against the Yankees on Aug. 31.
"He's a guy that's just letting it fly and trusting himself," Showalter said. "He doesn't have anything to lose. Heck, he's had a lot of people in his career tell him that he couldn't do something, and I think he knows he's in a place where people get him and know what he brings."
Right-hander Jason Hammel has been cleared to start for Baltimore against New York on Thursday. He threw a bullpen session on Tuesday, but hasn't pitched since July 13 after undergoing right knee surgery.
Blue Jays: Morrow looks for win No. 9
Toronto will turn to right-hander Brandon Morrow as its starter for Wednesday's finale. Morrow's last two starts have been hot-and-cold, as he held Tampa Bay to one run over 6 2/3 innings on Aug. 31, but he struggled in his previous start against Baltimore. The O's knocked him around for four runs on six hits in only 4 2/3 innings, though only two of the runs were earned.
But it was Morrow's first start after a strained oblique sidelined him for over two months.
"Today was a little touch better," Morrow said after the Aug. 25 game, comparing it to his rehab outings. "It comes with the adrenaline, the whole surroundings and everything else. It's hard to get up for those games sometimes, especially when you're working on stuff, those are kind of like Spring Training games, if you think about it that way."
Outfielder Anthony Gose and right-hander Chad Beck joined the team on Tuesday night as the Blue Jays' final September callups. Farrell said Gose will primarily be used as a right fielder against right-handed pitching.
The impending return of catcher J.P. Arencibia -- possibly on Friday against Boston -- seemed to keep Yan Gomes from being included in callups despite playing 33 games for Toronto earlier this season.
The Orioles ensured at least a season series split with Tuesday's victory, and could clinch their first season series triumph against Toronto since 2004 with one more win.
Despite Tuesday's win, Baltimore is 9-33 in its last 42 games at Rogers Centre, dating back to June 8, 2008.
Chris Davis is hitting .429 (18-for-42) with seven home runs and 12 RBIs in 12 games against Toronto this season.