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.