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OAK@TB: Cobb pitches 6 2/3 scoreless frames in return

The Rays and the Blue Jays began the 2014 season with a four-game series split, and the clubs have diverged a bit since then. In a role reversal from last season, the Rays are looking up at the Blue Jays, winners of seven straight games, in the American League East standings.

Left-hander Mark Buehrle, who will start opposite Tampa Bay right-hander Alex Cobb, is a significant factor in Toronto's success, as he has become the reliable rotation arm the Blue Jays hoped he would be after acquiring him as part of a 12-player trade with the Marlins on Nov. 19, 2012.

His 2.16 ERA and eight quality starts ranks among the top five in the American League at second and tied for fourth, respectively, and he earned his Majors-best eighth win in his most recent turn, a 7-2 win against the Red Sox on Thursday in Boston.

The early-season numbers are nice -- both Buerhle's and the Blue Jays' -- but the veteran is focused on the long haul.

"Keep playing the way we are -- you can't get caught up in the standings," Buehrle said after giving up two runs and walking none in seven innings against the Red Sox. "A week and a half, two weeks ago, I felt like we were 10 games out of first place and we were a game-and-a-half or 2 1/2 out. No one's running away in this division."

The Rays, too, are better served to shoot for the long haul. Tampa Bay is currently 23-29 and sitting in fourth place in the AL East, in the same division slot and only two wins off its pace from last season.

The club had also won four straight before Monday's game, a recent surge highlighted by three straight walk-off victories from Thursday through Saturday. Tampa Bay has succeeded, in part, because of its increased production. The Rays have scored 25 runs in the past five games after plating only seven in the preceding five contests.

Rays: Cobb on record watch
After missing more than a month with a left oblique strain, Alex Cobb was stellar in his return to the mound on May 22. He gave up only three hits in 6 2/3 shutout frames against the first-place A's, walking two and striking out six in a no-decision.

"[Cobb] was outstanding," Rays manager Joe Maddon said following the game. "Having been off as long as he had, you saw the stuff, the strike-throwing, the competitive nature. ... He did his job. He was great, and it was time to turn it over."

Cobb has made three straight scoreless starts to tie a franchise record, but his streak is the Rays' first within a single season, as Matt Moore accomplished the feat in his final start of 2012 and his first two of 2013.

Cobb's 21 2/3 consecutive shutout innings mark the third-longest streak in franchise history. James Shields set the record with 23 straight in 2011, and Moore logged 22 1/3 during his stretch of three straight scoreless starts.

The Blue Jays are the last team to score against Cobb. They plated four runs against him in five innings on April 1.

Blue Jays: Encarnacion chasing history
After going deep only twice in April, Edwin Encarnacion has smacked 13 home runs in May, marking the second-most home runs hit by a Toronto player in a single month in franchise history.

Jose Bautista owns the franchise record after he homered 14 times in June 2012. Bautista hit his first 13 homers during that historic month in 105 plate appearances. Encarnacion hit home run No. 13 in his 107th plate appearance of May.

Worth noting
• Colby Rasmus is one step closer to making his return to the Blue Jays' lineup after going through a series of on-field running drills Monday afternoon. He's eligible to come off the disabled list for Wednesday's series finale vs. Tampa Bay, but he will need a few more days than that to recover.

• This year is the only the fourth in the past 30 that the AL East did not have a team with a winning percentage of at least .570 on the morning of Memorial Day. Toronto entered the day in first place with a .569 winning percentage, but ended the day at .577.

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