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Blue Jays-Athletics Preview

The Associated Press

The Toronto Blue Jays have relinquished sole possession of first place for the first time in 40 games, and they now have to face an Oakland Athletics starter who hasn't lost in two months.

The Blue Jays and Athletics continue a four-game series in Oakland Friday with Tommy Milone taking the ball for the home club, which retains a firm hold on the top of the AL West.

The Blue Jays (47-40) last shared the AL East lead on May 21 with the New York Yankees. Baltimore has won four straight and caught them after Oakland (52-33) opened this series Thursday with a 4-1 win.

"We just didn't get anything going offensively," said Toronto manager John Gibbons, whose club is kicking off a 10-game road trip. "They outplayed us, pure and simple."

The Blue Jays have won just nine of 25 and their imposing lineup has slowed significantly with a .312 on-base percentage, .382 slugging percentage and 3.60 runs per game in that span after opening with season with a .335 OBP, .454 slugging and 5.06 runs in their first 62 contests. Edwin Encarnacion has worked through it with a .410 average on an 11-game hitting streak.

The A's ended a three-game losing streak after being swept in Detroit to complete a 4-4 road trip. They started a six-game homestand on a positive note and ended a three-game skid against Toronto after being swept north of the border from May 23-25.

They're now 19-6 at home since the second game of a doubleheader on May 7.

"Coming back home, seeing the place packed out, that was really kind of a shot in the arm for us," closer Sean Doolittle told MLB's official website after collecting his 12th save. "It was the boost we needed."

Doolittle had allowed five earned runs over 1 1-3 innings in his last two appearances before getting back to his scoreless ways with a 1-2-3 ninth.

Milone (6-3, 3.79 ERA), whose last defeat came on May 3 in Boston, has enjoyed a 6-0 stretch with a 2.87 ERA over 10 starts to see his season ERA dip more than two runs from 5.86.

The left-hander's latest victory came Sunday as he surrendered three runs - two earned - and four hits in seven innings of a 4-3 win in Miami. He now returns home, where he's 3-0 with a 3.12 ERA in seven starts. Dating back to Aug. 18, he's gone nine home starts without a loss.

Milone's career against Toronto, though, has resulted in two losses in as many starts with a 7.62 ERA. Encarnacion has homered twice in five at-bats against him.

He'll be opposed by Marcus Stroman, whose ERA has been in decline with each of his six starts since entering the rotation on May 31. As a starter, Stroman (4-2, 4.01) is 3-2 with a 2.48 ERA, including a two-run, two-hit effort in 6 2-3 innings of Saturday's 4-3 loss against the Chicago White Sox. The rookie struck out six and left without a decision.

"He pitched his butt off," manager John Gibbons said.

Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson has been out with a stiff back for two games.

Toronto outfielder Colby Rasmus was held out of the lineup after injuring his right wrist Wednesday.

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