(Sports Network) - The Blue Jays were left without an ace when they traded Roy Halladay this past offseason, but Shaun Marcum has wasted little time claiming ownership of the title.
Marcum will try to prevent his Toronto squad from getting swept in four games by Cleveland for the first time in nearly 25 years and deny the Indians a season-best fifth straight victory in this afternoon's finale at Progressive Field.
The right-handed Marcum missed all of 2009 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but is 7-3 with a 3.14 earned run average in 16 starts so far this season. A 12-game winner in 2007, Marcum beat the Phillies with six innings of one-run ball, striking out six while improving to 2-0 over his last three starts with a 2.00 ERA.
"The pitch that was getting him strikeouts and groundouts when we needed it, or a fly ball, was his changeup," Toronto catcher John Buck told Toronto's website. "It was kind of just the equalizer that we could always go to. It was really dropping off the table well."
The 28-year-old has never beaten the Indians, going 0-2 with a 4.38 ERA in six games (four starts) against them.
Toronto hasn't beaten anybody since Marcum's last start as it dropped its finale with Philadelphia on Sunday before dropping the first three tests of this series, plating just a single run in two of them. The Blue Jays have now lost eight of their last 10 to fall eight games back of the Yankees for first place in the American League East.
Nick Green's RBI infield single in the seventh inning accounted for Toronto's only offense as Cleveland starter Aaron Laffey threw six-plus innings of one- run ball.
"It's just baseball. It's just the way it goes sometimes," said Jays manager Cito Gaston. "Last year, it was the other way around. This year, it seems to be that guys that are struggling, they seem to be up there with guys on base. That's just the way it is with baseball."
Toronto is hitting just .221 over its last 10 games, averaging just 2.8 runs per game in that span. The Blue Jays also haven't homered in three straight games for the first time this season.
"I was on a better page -- me and [catcher Carlos Santana]," Laffey said. "We did a great job of changing speeds and calling good pitches in good counts, and I was able to execute for the most part."
While the Blue Jays' bats are struggling, the Indians have a host of players riding hot streaks. Matt LaPorta homered for the second straight game in last night's victory, while Shin-Soo Choo connected on his fifth homer in eight games. Santana added two hits and an RBI, giving him a .345 average over his first 18 MLB games.
Cleveland, which lost 11 of 12 before its current four-game win streak, was swept at home by Toronto in early May, but tonight the Indians can sweep the Blue Jays in four games for the first time since doing so at home from Aug. 28-31, 1995.
For that to happen, they will need Justin Masterson to pitch better than he has as of late. The 25-year-old is 0-2 with a 7.00 ERA in his last three starts, including a loss to Cincinnati on Saturday in which he allowed six runs on six hits and four walks over five-plus innings.
Masterson fell to 2-7 on the season with a 5.21 ERA and will make his first career start versus the Blue Jays tonight. The right-hander has faced them seven times in relief, pitching to a 2.89 ERA over 9 1/3 total innings.