Yankees face big weekend in Toronto

TORONTO -- The New York Yankees would like to take a walk on the wild side during their four-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays that opens Friday at Rogers Centre.

It is a key series for the Yankees because the Blue Jays are where they would like to be, occupying an American League wild-card spot.

This series between American League East rivals could help sort out a tight wild-card race.

Left-hander Francisco Liriano will start Friday for the Blue Jays, who have 10 games left in the regular season, including the next seven at home.

"A lot of games are left and the position we're in, we just have to finish strong," Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista said after a 2-1 loss in 12 innings to the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday. "I think that should be the focus."

Right-hander Bryan Mitchell will start for the Yankees, who also have 10 games left after losing 2-0 to the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday. They dropped to three games behind the Detroit Tigers, who moved into the second wild-card spot after sweeping a doubleheader from the Minnesota Twins on Thursday.

The Blue Jays are in the first wild-card position, one game ahead of the Tigers.

The Yankees helped make the wild-card race that much closer Sept. 5-7 when they swept three games from the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium.

The Blue Jays have continued to stagger through September, going 7-12 so far despite winning two of three from the Mariners to end a seven-game trip at 4-3.

Toronto ended August with a two-game lead in the AL East but after losing six of their first six games in September, it had dropped two games behind the Boston Red Sox for the lead. The Red Sox lead reached 5 1/2 games after they completed a four-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday.

"Obviously we needed to start playing better, but I didn't sense a change in mood in the room," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "We like playing at home. I know our record the last homestand wasn't great (2-4), but we feel good there in front of the home crowd. There's not a lot of time left so we've got to play good. You've got to be optimistic."

The Blue Jays have played sloppy defense and their hitting has been inconsistent for the past few weeks. There were signs in a 10-2 victory over the Mariners on Tuesday that that there might be an offensive revival.

"My feeling has always been that with so many guys struggling this month that it was going to change, that it had to change," Gibbons said.

The Yankees had some bad news on Thursday. Masahiro Tanaka, who is 14-4 with a 3.07 ERA, has a forearm strain and will not be able to make his scheduled start Monday in the fourth game of the series against Toronto's 20-game winner J.A. Happ.

"It's very disappointing; we're making a push," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "This is a very important time for us. This is definitely not the time you want to skip anything."

Liriano will make his ninth appearance, and seventh start, for Toronto since he was acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates Aug. 1. He is 1-2 with a 3.89 ERA for Toronto. He has faced the Yankees once this season, a two-inning relief outing on Sept. 5 in which he allowed one hit and no runs while striking out three.

In 10 career games against the Yankees, including eight starts, he is 2-4 with a 3.72 ERA.

Mitchell will make his fourth start of the season Friday. He is 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA in four career appearances (one start) against Toronto. He earned his first major league win against the Blue Jays on Sept. 7. tossing five scoreless innings -- four hits, two walks and two strikeouts -- in his first start of the season.

"What we need to do is keep playing the way that we're playing now; keep playing hard, keep winning games," said Yankees rookie catching sensation Gary Sanchez, who became the quickest player in history to hit 19 home runs, doing so in his 45th career game on Wednesday.

"We've had a tough week, but we have to keep having fun," said Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, who is retiring at the end of the season. "We've got to play relaxed and have fun. That's why we were winning so many games, because we were enjoying ourselves, playing one game at a time and just trying to have fun out there."
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