The Toronto Blue Jays were expected to be a serious contender in the AL East, and now they're finally playing like one.
The next 10 games could actually make them one.
As they open a potentially vital stretch, the Blue Jays look to extend their longest winning streak of the season and end a seven-game skid to the New York Yankees in the Bronx on Friday night.
A series of offseason transactions made Toronto (17-24) a popular pick to contend for its first division title since winning back-to-back World Series in 1992 and '93.
Instead, the team has floundered at the bottom of the East, eight games back of the first-place Yankees (25-16) while batting .245 with a 5.26 ERA from the rotation that is among the highest in baseball.
"All we can do from here on out is play good consistent baseball," manager John Gibbons told the team's official website. "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."
The Blue Jays have won four straight, hitting .340 with eight homers and 36 runs. They beat San Francisco 11-3 on Wednesday, sweeping the two-game set.
Cabrera and Jose Bautista have keyed the winning streak. Cabrera is 7 for 16 with four RBIs and five runs after being moved into the leadoff spot, while Bautista is 8 for 15 with two homers and five RBIs.
Toronto would like to see that production continue with its next 10 games against the Yankees, Tampa Bay and Baltimore.
The Blue Jays, though, have dropped 16 of 18 in New York, and were swept in a four-game set there April 25-28.
Snapping that skid is made even more daunting with Hiroki Kuroda (5-2, 2.31 ERA) scheduled to take the mound.
The right-hander, who ranks among the league leaders in ERA, has won three straight home starts, yielding three runs in 22 innings.
Kuroda allowed two runs in 7 2-3 innings of Sunday's 4-2 win at Kansas City.
He's likely looking forward to facing the Jays again since he's 3-0 with a 2.10 ERA in his last four meetings, including two this season opposite Buehrle, who will oppose him again.
Kuroda has allowed four runs in 13 1-3 innings in those games, including a 5-3 home win April 25.
He's held Bautista hitless with three strikeouts in five at-bats this season, while Cabrera is 2 for 6 against him.
Buehrle (1-2, 6.19) is 1-9 with a 6.19 ERA in 14 career starts against the Yankees, and he hasn't beaten them since April 10, 2004.
The left-hander is 0-7 with an 8.06 ERA in 10 meetings since, going 0-4 in seven road games.
Buehrle has given up eight runs and four homers in 12 1-3 innings over two starts against New York this year.
He did, however, have his best outing of the season Saturday, limiting Boston to one run in seven innings before leaving without a decision in a 3-2 win.
New York is coming off Thursday's 3-2 defeat to Seattle, dropping back-to-back games after winning seven of eight.
Vernon Wells is batting .379 with three homers and six RBIs in seven meetings this season with Toronto. He's a .480 hitter versus Buehrle, going 3 for 6 with two solo homers this year.
|Toronto Blue Jays|
|May 11, 2013||Rajai Davis||15-Day DL||Strained oblique|
|May 10, 2013||Rajai Davis||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained oblique|
|May 08, 2013||J.A. Happ||15-Day DL||Head contusion|
|April 29, 2013||Josh Johnson||15-Day DL||Right triceps inflammation|
|April 22, 2013||Maicer Izturis||Day-to-Day||Sore hamstring|
|April 14, 2013||Sergio Santos||15-Day DL||Right triceps strain|
|New York Yankees|
|May 16, 2013||Andy Pettitte||Day-to-Day||Left game - tight left trapezius|
|May 16, 2013||Chris Stewart||Day-to-Day||Left groin injury|
|May 06, 2013||Eduardo Nunez||15-Day DL||Left ribcage strain|
|May 05, 2013||Eduardo Nunez||Day-to-Day||Left game - tightness in left ribcage|
|May 03, 2013||David Robertson||Day-to-Day||Sore left hamstring|
|April 28, 2013||Kevin Youkilis||15-Day DL||Lumbar spine strain|
NEW YORK (AP) -- In a revolving-door season, Joe Girardi is grateful he has to spend little time worrying about Hiroki Kuroda .
There are those moments, though, that the New York Yankees ' manager has to remind himself the Japanese ace is not one of the many young faces in his clubhouse.
Kuroda gave another steady performance Friday night, pitching two-hit ball for eight dominant innings and leading the Yankees to one more victory over Mark Buehrle and the Toronto Blue Jays, 5-0 to end a two-game skid.
"One thing we do pay attention to is some of his pitch counts because he's not 25 either, but he goes out there and sometimes he acts like he is," Girardi said. "So we have to make sure we don't get confused and forget how old he is and that we take care of him; we're responsible with him and make sure he can bounce back every start because that's what you want."
And what they desperately need right now.
With lefty Andy Pettitte joining fellow starter Ivan Nova on to the disabled list earlier Friday, two of the 13 pinstriped players sidelined with injuries this season, the Yankees can't take any risks with Kuroda. And that is why Girardi didn't hesitate to lift the 38-year-old after the eighth and 109 pitches.
Kuroda (6-2) struck out five and walked one in cooling off a club that had scored 33 runs in its previous three games and had won a season-high four in a row.
The Yankees' most consistent starter since the start of last season, Kuroda won for the fourth time in five starts. He is 2-0 in three starts against the Blue Jays this year - matching up each time against Buehrle (1-3) - allowing four runs in 21 1-3 innings.
Preston Claiborne finished the four-hitter.
"In the first inning I knew this was going to be a good night for us," rookie catcher Austin Romine said.
Romine and Brett Gardner had run-scoring hits, Robinson Cano hit an RBI grounder and Jayson Nix had two sacrifice flies in dropping Buehrle to 1-10 in 15 starts against the Yankees. The left-hander hasn't beaten New York since April 10, 2004, when he was with the Chicago White Sox.
The AL East-leading Yankees defeated last-place Toronto for the fifth straight time this season in New York and for the seventh time in eight games overall.
Kuroda gave up a leadoff double to Melky Cabrera and didn't allow another hit until Edwin Encarnacion 's one-out single in the seventh. Between the two hits, Kuroda faced the minimum, picking off Munenori Kawasaki after a third-inning walk.
"All my pitches were pretty good," Kuroda said. "Felt good, especially in the first inning when I struck out (Jose) Bautista and Encarnacion."
Kuroda helped himself get out of the first inning unscathed by snaring J.P. Arencibia's liner. Fans cheered and laughed at the fortunate catch when the replay of Kuroda sticking out his glove for the ball was shown on the video board in center field. Kuroda also made a nice play for the first out of the second, bounding off the mound to field Adam Lind 's tapper.
Gardner led off the bottom of the first with a triple and scored on Cano's grounder to second. Buehrle settled down, allowing only Nix's third-inning walk before rookie David Adams singled leading off the fifth.
"When you run into hot pitching like that, you try to shut them down as long as you can," Buehrle said.
Romine singled with one out and Gardner walked to load the bases before Nix's fly to left made it 2-0.
Aaron Loup relieved Buehrle after the first three batters in the seventh had hits, including an RBI double by Romine. Gardner slapped an opposite-field single past diving third baseman Brett Lawrie with the infield in, and Nix followed with a long fly to center that upped the lead to five runs.
"Buehrle was rolling along, too," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He had only given up two runs and was matching (Kuroda) there and kept us in the game, and then they exploded on us late there. But I thought he did a nice job as well."
Buehrle yielded five runs and six hits in six-plus innings. He walked three and struck out four.
NOTES: RHP Joba Chamberlain (right oblique strain) played long toss at Yankee Stadium. He is scheduled for a bullpen session Sunday. ... The Yankees recalled Vidal Nuno from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. ... Blue Jays RHP Josh Johnson (triceps) threw a side session. Gibbons said he felt good. He will go to the Blue Jays' complex in Dunedin, Fla., next week and will make a minor league rehab start. ... Blue Jays RHP Dustin McGowan (60-day DL, shoulder) is going to move to Triple-A Buffalo to continue his rehab. He was with Class-A Dunedin. ... RHP Brandon Morrow (1-2), who had his start Wednesday pushed back because of back and neck issues, is scheduled to get the ball against the Yankees Saturday. RHP David Phelps (1-2) is set to start for New York.