It’s way too early for Toronto to start making playoff plans for the first time in 16 seasons, but it couldn’t have asked for a much better start to 2009.
With five straight series wins to open the season, the Blue Jays look to work toward another and continue their recent dominance at U.S. Cellular Field when they open a three-game set Friday night against the Chicago White Sox.
Thursday’s 5-2 victory over Texas gave Toronto (12-5) its fifth consecutive series win to open the season. The Blue Jays are the first American League team to accomplish that feat since the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who tied a major league record with 116 victories.
“It’s nice to be in good company,” said Toronto manager Cito Gaston, who led the Blue Jays to the 1993 World Series title - the team’s last playoff appearance.
The AL East-leading Blue Jays, winners of four of five at U.S. Cellular, turn to Brian Tallet (0-0, 4.26 ERA) for his second start of the season.
After Jesse Litsch strained his right forearm in an 8-6 win over Minnesota on April 13, Tallet came out of the bullpen to take Litsch’s spot in the rotation. Making his first start since 2006, Tallet surrendered two runs and four hits in 5 1-3 innings of Saturday’s 4-2 win over Oakland, though he didn’t factor in the decision.
“It’s just a new way that I can possibly help the team win ballgames,” he told Toronto’s official Web site.
The left-hander is 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA in six career appearances versus the White Sox, though the loss came in his lone start against them, in 2003 at U.S. Cellular.
Tallet could get plenty of run support the way the Blue Jays have been hitting the ball. Toronto is batting an AL-best .291, and has scored a major league-high 104 runs.
“They’ve been swinging the bats great all year,” reliever Scott Downs said Thursday after picking up his first save since May 14, 2008.
Downs was pressed into the closer role after Toronto placed B.J. Ryan on the 15-day disabled list Thursday with soreness between his shoulder and back. Saturday’s scheduled starter Ricky Romero also landed on the DL after an MRI exam revealed a strained muscle in his right side.
Aaron Hill has been a big part of Toronto’s offensive success. The second baseman went 2-for-4 on Thursday, extending his hitting streak to eight games and raising his batting average to .377. Hill was just 3-for-14 against the White Sox in 2008, when injuries limited him to 55 games.
Chicago (8-7) limps home following a disappointing end to a 5-4 road trip. The White Sox took three of four from defending AL champion Tampa Bay, but then dropped two of three in Baltimore including a 6-2 loss Thursday, when starter Bartolo Colon lasted just three innings and allowed five runs.
Gavin Floyd (2-1, 4.74) accounted for two of Chicago’s wins on the road trip, and will try to give the team a better effort Friday. The right-hander allowed two runs and six hits in seven innings as the White Sox defeated Tampa Bay 12-2 on Sunday.
“He’s one of the top pitchers right now in the big leagues, and he continues to throw the ball well,” manager Ozzie Guillen said.
White Sox slugger Jim Thome is three home runs shy of tying Mike Schmidt (548) for 13th all time, but has just three homers in his last 26 games against the Blue Jays. Thome also needs one RBI to reach 1,500 for his career.
Jermaine Dye, who batted .361 (13-for-36) with three homers and seven RBIs on the road trip, is 2-for-3 with two home runs lifetime against Tallet.