This was supposed to be a year of upheaval in the vaunted American League East, and heading into the season the Blue Jays appeared set to lead the charge.
Thus far, however, that hasn't happened by any means. The perennial-favorite New York Yankees lead the division, eight games ahead of the last-place Blue Jays after falling, 3-2, to the Mariners in Thursday's series finale.
But there's no better way for Toronto to fight its way back into the race than to beat the team it's chasing, and that chance arrives Friday night.
Riding a four-game winning streak, the Blue Jays head to the Bronx for the first game of a three-game series against the Yankees. Toronto's offense has been red-hot recently, scoring double-digit runs in each of the past three games.
Hiroki Kuroda looks to quiet those Blue Jays' bats, making his third start of the season against Toronto. The first two were quality starts, and the Yankees won both games as Kuroda posted a line of 13 1/3 innings, four earned runs, nine hits and 10 strikeouts.
Arguably the most consistent pitcher for the Yanks this season, Kuroda has been so effective because of his pitching savvy, even when he doesn't have his best stuff. That's what happened in his last outing, Sunday against the Royals.
"He wasn't spot on, but other than that, I thought he was pretty good," said catcher Chris Stewart, who could potentially face a stint on the disabled list after injuring his groin running the bases Thursday. "He was throwing his two-seamer really well in the zone, getting a lot of ground-ball outs, throwing his offspeed when he needed to."
Opposite Kuroda is another wily vet in Toronto's Mark Buehrle. He has struggled this season to the tune of a 6.19 ERA, but he's coming off his best outing -- seven innings of one-run ball against Boston on Saturday.
Offensively for Toronto, the top-of-the-order combination of Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion has worked wonders. The three of them have combined to go 21-for-46 (.457) during the winning streak.
Blue Jays: Cabrera fights leg soreness
Former Yankee Cabrera had an MRI for leg soreness Wednesday, but he was in the Toronto lineup later that night, leading off for the fourth consecutive game.
"I'm going to play. I want to play," Cabrera said through a translator. "I want to be on the field. ... I want to contribute."
Since moving into the leadoff spot, Cabrera is 7-for-16 with three extra-base hits, four RBIs and five runs scored.
Yankees: Injuries continue to mount
The Yankees saw Andy Pettitte exit Thursday's finale after 4 2/3 innings with a tight upper back and could be without catcher Stewart.
Manager Joe Girardi said that Stewart was sent for an MRI on his groin after he had some trouble reaching third base on Robinson Cano's run-scoring infield single in the seventh inning. Stewart was seen by Girardi and head athletic trainer Steve Donohue after reaching the bag and stayed in the game for one more batter, but he was replaced by Austin Romine behind the plate when the eighth inning started.
"When he went around the base and stopped, he said he felt something," Girardi said. "He said it didn't pop. He said he was OK, but when we saw him run, he said it continued to hurt."
Stewart has been assuming the bulk of the Yankees' catching duties since Francisco Cervelli went on the disabled list in late April with a fractured right hand.
• Yankees outfielders Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki have plenty of experience against Buehrle, and they have thrived against him. Wells is hitting .480 in 50 at-bats with three homers and Ichiro is hitting .426 in 54 at-bats.
• The Blue Jays have dropped each of their last two season series against the Yankees, and they've won just once since 2000. The Bombers appear well on their way to winning another, having beaten the Blue Jays in six of seven this year.
• The Yankees are 16-0 this season when they score first and have lost just twice when they hold a lead at any point in the game.