For the Orioles and Blue Jays, this is supposed to be the season that one of them supplants the typical American League East powers atop the division.
Baltimore is coming off a breakout 2012 season that ended with its first playoff appearance since 1997, while Toronto pulled off a blockbuster trade during a busy offseason to become a popular pick to win -- at least -- its first division title since '93.
Yet as the clubs meet for the first time this season Monday at Camden Yards, they are in a familiar place in the AL East. Though only in the first month of the season, Baltimore sits in third place entering Monday, behind the first-place Red Sox and second-place Yankees, while Toronto is last in the division at 8-11 after rallying to beat the Yanks on Sunday.
"I don't think there's any need for that," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said when asked if there had been any closed-door meetings to address his team's slow start. "They know what's at stake. They're all giving it their best, we just haven't performed the way we hoped. That doesn't mean we're going to, and to be honest, we've run into some good pitching along the way, too."
On Monday, they'll face Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman, who is searching for some answers of his own. Tillman is winless through his first three starts, posting a 7.07 ERA, yet it's another number that has the O's most concerned.
Tillman is yet to make it through the sixth inning, pitching just 14 total frames in his three outings. Orioles starters combined have pitched six full innings in just half of the team's 18 games and only three times has a Baltimore starter recorded at least one out in the seventh.
"We need to start giving our bullpen a break," Tillman said after pitching a season-high 5 1/3 innings his last time out. "That, I'll speak for myself, [I need to] get deeper in these ballgames. Get outs earlier in the count. This bullpen, guys have been picking us up big time. It's our turn to kind of [take] the ball and get things going."
The Blue Jays will counter with J.A. Happ, who will also be looking to make some improvements in Monday's series opener. Happ struggled in his last outing, giving up five runs over 5 2/3 innings Wednesday against the White Sox in suffering his first defeat of the season.
Happ, too, is yet to complete six innings, though he did allow just one hit over 5 1/3 shutout innings in his season debut. For the season, Happ is 2-1 with a 5.06 ERA.
"He's not a pinpoint control guy, but you still have to come in the zone enough to work ahead," Gibbons said after Happ threw just 58 of his 92 pitches for strikes on Wednesday. "He's been great all year, that was his first blip, so he'll bounce back."
Blue Jays: Kawasaki getting a look in leadoff spot
Toronto went with a different approach in Sunday's finale against the Yankees, with Gibbons moving shortstop Munenori Kawasaki to the leadoff spot.
Kawasaki, who had hit ninth in his first eight games, led off the bottom of the first with an infield single and came around to score on a throwing error to give Toronto an early lead en route to an 8-4 victory. The lineup shift came as a result of Jose Bautista's return to the lineup and Rajai Davis' subsequent move to the bench.
"I think he's the perfect choice with Rajai not in there," Gibbons said of Kawasaki. "He's playing good, he gives you a great at-bat every time. He gets on base. With Raj out, give him a shot in there. Getting on base, spark plug, I think he'll do a great up there."
Kawasaki finished Sunday's game 1-for-4 with a sacrifice fly and is hitting .261 while filling in for the injured Jose Reyes.
Orioles: Johnson progressing toward return
Right-hander Steve Johnson threw a side session on Saturday in Sarasota, Fla., as he continues to work back from a lat injury.
Johnson, who will start a rehab assignment Wednesday with Triple-A Norfolk, went 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA in 12 appearances, including four starts, with the Orioles last season. He was 1-0 with a 3.46 ERA in five appearances (three starts) while competing for the final rotation spot this spring before being slowed by the injury.
• Orioles center fielder Adam Jones is 4-for-6 (.667) with a walk in seven career plate appearances against Happ.
• Jays slugger Jose Bautista is 4-for-9 (.444) with a pair of homers and four RBIs lifetime against Tillman.