Outstanding pitching has moved the Toronto Blue Jays above .500 for the first time in over a month.
They hope Dustin McGowan can give them another strong performance on the mound and help them continue their dominance of the struggling Kansas City Royals when the teams continue their four-game series at Rogers Centre on Sunday.
Roy Halladay and Jesse Litsch have powered the Blue Jays (26-25) to wins over the Royals (21-28) in the first two games of the series, allowing only one run while combining for 17 consecutive shutout innings.
Halladay allowed the lone Kansas City run in the first inning Friday before giving up only two hits the rest of the way in a 7-1 victory—his major league-leading fifth complete game. Litsch followed up that gem with one of his own, throwing a seven-hitter in Saturday’s 6-0 win for his first career shutout.
The victories put Toronto a game over .500 for the first time since it was 10-9 on April 20.
The Blue Jays, winners of nine of their last 12, now turn to McGowan (2-4, 4.21 ERA), who will be trying to win for the first time in four starts.
The right-hander is 0-2 with a 7.80 ERA in his last three starts, walking 10 batters while hitting three more in 15 innings over that span.
McGowan struggled early in Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels, loading the bases in each of the first two innings. But he got out of the jams by allowing only one run and left the game after 6 1-3 innings, giving up three runs - two earned - and five hits with four walks and one hit batter.
“Dusty struggled early on, but then kicked it into gear in the middle innings a little bit and took us later in the game, which we desperately needed at that time,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told the team’s official Web site.
McGowan didn’t get much help in his only career start against Kansas City on Aug. 11, as the Blue Jays had just four hits while he allowed four runs - three earned - in 6 1-3 innings of a 4-1 loss.
The Royals, who are 2-7 on their season-high 11-game road trip, are looking to halt a six-game losing streak. They dropped a season-high seven in a row from April 17-24.
Kansas City has been shut out twice during its current slide while being outscored 39-13. The team is hitting a woeful .187 while the starting rotation has posted a 6.56 ERA and a .326 batting average against.
The Royals hope Gil Meche (3-6, 5.58 ERA) can help stop the slide and continue showing improvement after a shaky start to his season.
The right-hander has reached the seventh inning in three of his last four starts, going 2-2 with a 3.46 ERA after posting a 1-4 record and a 7.22 ERA in his first six games of 2008.
Meche allowed two runs and five hits with eight strikeouts in seven innings Tuesday, but the Royals produced only five hits in a 2-1 loss at Boston.
“I think maybe it was the best one of the year,” Meche told the team’s official Web site. “I felt like I had control of the strike zone from the beginning.
“The last four starts, my stuff is really coming back. I’m pretty pleased with the way I pitched, but I want to win games.”
Meche is 1-1 with a 4.66 ERA in four games - three starts - at Toronto.
Toronto’s Lyle Overbay is looking to break Tony Fernandez’s team record by reaching base in a 12th consecutive plate appearance after going 1-for-1 with three walks Saturday. The first baseman has six hits, five walks and three RBIs in the streak.
“I feel like I’m seeing the ball well,” said Overbay, who is 4-for-14 with two walks off of Meche. “I’m not expanding the zone too much.”