Rays-Blue Jays Preview

The Associated Press

Another home-run barrage has helped the Toronto Blue Jays to their longest winning streak, though they could have a difficult time extending that power surge versus Tampa Bay.

Erik Bedard, one of baseball's stingiest pitchers in allowing homers, hopes to keep giving the Rays' banged-up rotation a lift.

As the AL East rivals begin a three-game set Monday night, the first-place Blue Jays seek their seventh straight victory while denying visiting Tampa Bay its fifth consecutive win.

Toronto (29-22) homered for the eighth straight contest Sunday when Edwin Encarnacion hit the team's 14th over that span and his club-best 14th of the season in a 3-1 win over Oakland at Rogers Centre.

Encarnacion has led the onslaught with six homers and 10 RBIs in his last seven games. He also has 12 homers this month, tying the team record for May set by Jose Bautista in 2010.

'''He makes the game look a little bit easier,'' catcher Erik Kratz said. "It's definitely exciting to watch.''

The Blue Jays, atop the division this late for the first time since July 6, 2000, lead the majors with 70 home runs. They haven't homered in nine consecutive contests since April 27-May 5, 2012.

Matching that streak isn't likely to be easy against Bedard (2-2, 2.63 ERA), who ranks fourth in the majors with 0.24 homers allowed per nine innings among starters who have pitched at least 35.

With Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore out with injuries, Bedard has filled in nicely by going 2-1 with an 0.96 ERA in his last five starts. On Wednesday, he gave up three runs - one earned - and one hit over 5 1-3 innings in a 3-2 home loss to Oakland.

The veteran left-hander had a season-high six strikeouts but allowed his only homer in 37 2-3 innings.

Bedard hasn't fared well versus the Blue Jays, going 0-4 with a 5.01 ERA in his last eight starts. Melky Cabrera and former Tampa Bay catcher Dioner Navarro haven't been able to figure him out, going a combined 3 for 27 with nine strikeouts.

Jose Reyes, though, has been seeing the ball well with a .353 average over an eight-game hitting streak. He's also hitting .381 over his last five home meetings with the Rays (23-28).

Looking to win a career-high third consecutive start, Toronto's Drew Hutchison (3-3, 3.45) hopes to contribute to a rotation that has a 2.61 ERA while the team has won 11 of 13.

The right-hander allowed one run over 5 2-3 innings Wednesday in a 6-4 win at Boston. He scattered three hits over 5 1-3 scoreless innings in a 4-2 victory over the Rays on April 1 when the teams split a season-opening four-game set.

Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria went 3 for 4 with his fifth home run as Tampa Bay swept Boston with Sunday's 8-5 home win.

Sean Rodriguez had a tiebreaking, three-run homer in the seventh inning before Yunel Escobar hit a two-run double and later took third on defensive indifference to set off a bench-clearing brawl.

Escobar, Rodriguez and Boston's Jonny Gomes were ejected in Joe Maddon's 700th win as Rays manager.

Longoria, who had eight hits in the series, went 6 for 15 with a homer and four RBIs in the April series versus Toronto. Brandon Guyer also looks to keep swinging a hot bat after going 6 for 10 in his last two versus Boston.

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