Series Preview:Yankees (55-35) @ Blue Jays (48-44)

The Yankees close out the first half of their season by heading to Toronto to face the division-rival Blue Jays. The Jays have slowed down their offense of late. After surging out to the league lead in runs scored, they have since given way to Boston. Their recent lack of production has caused a 2-10 slide and has made them more vulnerable than ever. The Yanks, looking to close out the first half on a high note, will try to take advantage of the Jays' sputtering lineup.

The Jays and Yanks have already faced each other 11 times this year, and the Yanks have won six of the games. The Yankees swept the Jays in Toronto to open the season, then took three of four at the Stadium before being swept on their home turf at the end of May. That sweep led right up to the turning point of the Yankees season, the no-hitter they suffered at the hands of the Houston Astros. Since that series against the Jays, the Yankees are 26-14 – a .650 winning percentage.

Toronto has made some changes to their roster over the last few days, placing Josh Phelps on the disabled list and demoting Doug Davis and Jeff Tam to AAA. To replace them on the team, they recalled pitchers Corey Thurman, Dan Reichert and Wasdin. The Jays also recently got back one of their key players from last year, 2002 Rookie of the Year Eric Hinske. Hinske had been on the DL from May 27 to June 27. Since returning he is hitting .272 with four homeruns providing some much-needed stability to the Jays lineup.

The Yanks are on a bit of a slide themselves lately, and are just 3-5 since having their eight-game win streak snapped in Baltimore. But with Bernie Williams back in the lineup, the team is closer to the one that swept the Jays early in the year. This series could definitely go either way, and one team sweeping the other certainly isn't out of the question.

Yankees Road Record: 30-16
Blue Jays Home Record: 22-22

Probable Pitchers:

Friday: Andy Pettitte (10-6, 4.51) vs. John Wasdin (0-0, 0.00)
Pettitte is on a roll lately. He has won five straight starts since June 8, and he pitched a gem in his last outing. Against Boston, he threw eight innings of four-hit, one-run baseball, walked none and struck out a season-high ten batters. If Andy can cool off the red-hot Boston offense, he should be able to handle Toronto. The bad news is that the Jays smacked around Pettitte when he faced them on May 22. But that was almost two months ago, and Pettitte has been pitching like a different player recently.
Wasdin hasn't pitched in the majors since 2001, when he was a member of the Baltimore Orioles. In the minors however, he threw a perfect game against the Albuquerque Isotopes and led the Pacific Coast League in strikeouts, earning a major league call up. In seven major league seasons – mainly as a reliever – Wasdin is 31-29 with a 5.07 ERA.

Saturday: Mike Mussina (10-5, 3.14) vs. Roy Halladay (12-2, 3.48)
Mike Mussina can't catch a break lately. In his last start he had to duel Pedro Martinez, unquestionably one of the best pitchers of this era, and now he has to deal with a pitcher who hasn't lost since the Carter administration. Mussina has a habit of playing to his competition. In his last start against Boston, he lasted eight innings and allowed one run on two hits and a walk. He retired 21 Red Sox in a row at one point, but didn't get a decision. Mussina took a loss in his last start against the Blue Jays, but he pitched reasonably well.
Halladay hasn't lost since… hold on, I'm checking… ah, here it is: April 15, against the Yankees no less. Since that time Halladay has gone 16 consecutive starts without losing, a mind-blowing number. A nice combination of excellent run support and his own very good pitching has helped propel Halladay to the highest win total in the AL after starting the year 0-2. He lasted nine innings in his last start against the Red Sox, but the game went into extra innings, denying Halladay his 13th win. In his career against the Yanks, Halladay is 4-3 with a 3.90 ERA.

Sunday: Jeff Weaver (4-7, 5.52) vs. Kelvim Escobar (5-5, 4.27)
Weaver is coming off of two straight solid outings. He won two starts ago against the Mets, and then ran into Billy Traber's near-perfect game last Tuesday. Weaver doesn't normally produce well against the Blue Jays however. He has a 4-7 record with a 5.49 ERA against them in his career, and was defeated by them earlier in the year.
Escobar will be starting on three-day's rest against the Yankees, who he held to one run in his first start of the year. Since joining the rotation for Toronto, Escobar is 4-4 with a 3.39 ERA. His strikeout rate has dipped slightly, but his opponent's batting average went down 80 points since the change. Escobar hasn't won since June 19, but he's pitched well, lasting at least seven innings in three of his four starts since then.


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