Blue Jays take on Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees
Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees delivers a pitch in his major-league debut, a 7-3 victory over the host Blue Jays on April 4. Nick Turchiaro/Reuters
The American League East lead the Toronto Blue Jays built over a three-week hot streak was in danger of evaporating after a recent rough stretch. But two wins in their last three games against one of their closest pursuers have left the Blue Jays feeling much better about themselves.
The New York Yankees also took advantage of Toronto's struggles to pull closer, but they're now the club looking to right the ship as this three-game series opens in the Bronx on Tuesday night.
Toronto (41-30) led by six games on May 6 after winning 20 in 24 contests, but that edge was down to 3 1/2 over the Yankees and Baltimore after a 4-2 loss to the Orioles on Thursday left it with a 1-5 mark in the previous six games.
The Jays, though, went on to take two of the next three at Camden Yards for a much-needed confidence boost and a 4 1/2-game advantage over Baltimore and New York.
"It's a good series in general," Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista said after Sunday's 5-2 win.
"We made some good plays, we got some clutch hitting. A series split on the road against the second-place team is something to not be too upset about."
Dioner Navarro had three hits and drove in two runs in the series finale and Edwin Encarnacion added three hits for the Blue Jays, who had totalled 15 runs in the previous eight contests. Toronto is averaging 4.70 runs, among the most in the major leagues.
"I think [the AL East] is going to stay bunched up until the end," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told the team's official website.
Gibbons will hand the ball to rookie Marcus Stroman (3-1, 5.18), who looks to get back on the winning track following a decent effort in his last start. The right-hander was trying to win for the third time in as many starts since moving into the rotation, but allowed three runs in six innings of a 7-2 loss to Minnesota on Wednesday.
Stroman has pitched six innings in each start, giving up five total runs.
He faces a tall order in matching the Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka (10-1, 2.02), who continued to roll with his second complete game in a 4-2 victory at Seattle on Wednesday. The right-hander struck out a season high-tying 11 batters in winning his fourth consecutive start.
'Best team in our league'
Tanaka, who has a 1.21 earned-run average in that stretch, made his much-anticipated major-league debut against Toronto on April 4, throwing seven innings and giving up two earned runs in a 7-3 road victory. He'll try for a repeat performance against a powerful Blue Jays lineup that appeared to re-awaken Sunday.
"As far as from the first game, I really don't have any thoughts from that," Tanaka told the Yankees' website through an interpreter.
"Toronto is a team that is the best team in our league right now. So obviously, I want to go out there and try to get a win."
New York (35-33) is again counting on its ace as it looks to avoid a third straight loss. The Yankees had won four in a row before dropping their last two at Oakland by a combined 15-6 score.
They certainly didn't get a strong effort Sunday from starter Vidal Nuno, who gave up eight runs in three innings of a 10-5 loss. New York starters had allowed two or fewer earned runs in nine of 10 games prior to the past two.
Ichiro Suzuki had two hits Sunday and has batted .355 in his last 11 contests.
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