The Toronto Blue Jays are finally starting to play up to expectations. They will be put to the test this weekend, as they start a three-game series against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
Thanks to a few offseason deals that landed them reigning NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, as well as Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, Toronto was expected to compete.
However, the new acquisitions have either struggled or been injured and the Blue Jays sit seven games under .500 and eight games back of the American League East-leading Yankees.
Toronto, though, heads to New York having won four in a row and seven of its last 10. It could be getting hot at the right time. Following this set in the Bronx, the Blue Jays can further chip into their division deficit, as they host series against both Tampa Bay and Baltimore.
"All we can do from here on out is play good consistent baseball," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "We've dug a pretty big hole, and there's a lot of good teams in our division ... so it won't be easy. There still is a lot of time, but you got to play better baseball from here on out.
"Let's face it, we've got to have some pretty good streaks in there, too."
Getting the call on Friday will be one of Toronto's newcomers, Buehrle, who is just 1-2 with a 6.19 ERA. Buehrle pitched well his last time out in Boston, but did not get a decision, despite yielding a run and five hits in seven innings of a 3-2 win.
Buehrle could have his work cut out for him on Friday, as he is just 1-9 lifetime versus the Yankees with a 6.19 ERA in 14 starts. He's 0-1 in two starts against them this year and has allowed seven earned runs in 12 1/3 innings of those outings, both Toronto losses.
He hasn't beaten them since April 10, 2004.
New York, meanwhile, will counter with Japanese righty Hiroki Kuroda, who has won five of his last six decisions. Kuroda beat the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, limiting them to a pair of runs and six hits in 7 2/3 innings to run his record to 5-2 to go along with a 2.31 ERA.
Kuroda defeated the Blue Jays back on April 25 and is 3-1 in five starts against them with a 3.82.
New York could use a big start from Kuroda on Friday, as it enters this series having dropped two of three to the Seattle Mariners after falling 3-2 in Thursday's rubber match.
Curtis Granderson finished 3-for-4 and scored a run for New York, which saw Andy Pettitte (4-3) depart after 4 2/3 innings due to a tight left trapezius muscle. The veteran left-hander, making his 499th career start, gave up two runs on four hits, walked three and struck out five.
"It's been a battle my last four starts," said Pettitte. "My command just isn't what I want it to be."
While the Pettitte injury doesn't seem too bad, the Yankees also lost catcher Chris Stewart to a groin injury that could land him on the disabled list.
"When he went around the base and stopped, he said he felt something," Yankees skipper Joe Girardi said of his catcher. "He said it didn't pop. He said he was OK, but when we saw him run, he said it continued to hurt."
The Yankees swept a four-game set from the Jays the last time these teams met in the Bronx and have won 16 of the last 18 meetings at home in this series.