The New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays have combined for almost 300 home runs this season and the two powers will collide tonight in the opener of a three-game series in the Bronx.
The Yankees lead the majors with 142 homers and Toronto is right behind them with 130. The two AL East inhabitants are on the opposite sides of the spectrum in the division standings, however, as the Yankees sit on top with an eight-game lead over Baltimore. The Blue Jays are in the basement, tied with Boston at 9 1/2 games off the pace.
New York cracked four home runs in Sunday's 10-8 loss to the LA Angels of Anaheim and was aiming for its eighth series sweep of the season. Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Eric Chavez all homered, while starting pitcher Ivan Nova had a rough outing and allowed six runs and nine hits, including a trio of homers, in six innings.
"We just came up a little short today," said Rodriguez, who popped out with the bases loaded to end the game. "But the guys battled for nine innings and we won a good series against a strong team. That's always the objective."
Despite the loss, the Yankees have scored at least three runs in 39 straight games to set a franchise single-season record. The team record is 49 games from Sept. 7, 1950 through May 16, 1951. New York, which entered Sunday's game having won three straight and six of seven games, has homered 41 times in the past 21 games.
Robinson Cano had two hits and a run scored to extend his hitting streak to 18 games. He has 11 runs, six homers, 19 RBI and 10 multi-hit games during the surge. Teixeira owns five home runs and 16 RBI in his past nine contests.
The Yankees hope Phil Hughes can get back into the win column when he takes on the Blue Jays tonight. Hughes was 6-1 in eight starts until losing at Boston on July 7, as he was banged around for 10 hits and five runs -- three earned -- in 5 1/3 innings. Hughes is 9-7 with a 4.33 earned run average, and hasn't lasted more than 5 2/3 innings in each of his setbacks this season.
Hughes lost his only appearance against the Blue Jays this season in a 4-1 setback on May 17, when he pitched 5 1/3 innings and allowed two runs and seven hits. The right-hander, who is 6-3 in nine starts in the Bronx, owns a 3-4 mark and a 4.57 ERA in 18 career games (11 starts) in this series.
Toronto will open a six-game road trip tonight against the Yankees and Red Sox, and is coming off a series win over Cleveland.
The Blue Jays, who have won three of four games since losing three straight, recorded a 3-0 victory over the Indians on Sunday behind a solid performance from their pitching staff. Carlos Villanueva struck out eight and overcame five walks with six scoreless innings, while Jason Frasor shut the Tribe down in the seventh before Darren Oliver went the last two innings for his first save.
"He made a number of big pitches to squelch any threat," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said of Villanueva. "We bunched a couple hits together to manufacture the three runs in the third."
Colby Rasmus and J.P. Arencibia both drove in runs, while Jose Bautista added a team-best two hits for Toronto. Bautista is second in the major leagues with 27 homers -- two more than Granderson and teammate Edwin Encarnacion.
Since winning three straight trips to the mound from April 29 - May 10, Blue Jays hurler Henderson Alvarez has hit the skids. Alvarez hopes to right the ship tonight at Yankee Stadium and is 2-5 with a 5.80 ERA in his last 10 starts. He had a modest two-start winning streak come to an end in a 9-6 loss versus Kansas City on July 5, as he yielded five runs and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings.
Alvarez, who is 5-7 with a 4.36 ERA in 17 starts, is allowing opposing hitters to bat .290 against him. The right-hander has made one career start against the Yankees and did not record a decision in a 7-6 loss last Sept. 17, when he was tagged for five runs and nine hits in six innings.
Toronto won two meetings with New York back in May and has prevailed in four of the past five matchups between the teams. The Yankees, though, have won the last five encounters in the Bronx.