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Series Preview: Yankees @ Blue Jays

Lefty Brett Cecil, who will start for Toronto on Wednesday, has had the Yankees' number all season.

The Yankees clinched a tie for the Wild Card with their walk-off-walk win over the Red Sox on Sunday night and now need just one more win over their finals six games (or one Boston loss over their last seven) to clinch a playoff berth outright. That allows them to stop looking in their rear-view mirror and return their focus to the race for the division and homefield advantage, which they are still very much in with the Rays and Twins both having lost on Sunday.

Entering tonight's action, the Yankees are just a half game behind the Rays (one back in the loss column) and a half-game ahead of the Twins (tied in the loss column, but with one extra win). Don't get me wrong, the odds are still against the Yankees winning the division. While the Yankees travel to Toronto and Boston, the Rays are playing the Orioles at home then finish with four games in Kansas City, and the Twins are playing the Royals in K.C., then hosting the Blue Jays at the homer-devouring Target Field.

The location of the Blue Jays' series against the Twins and Yankees is no small matter. The Jays are a .573 team at home and a .463 team on the road. They're also an offense built around the home run almost to the exclusion of everything else. The Jays have hit 38 more home runs than major league runner up Boston, but their ranks in the 14-team American League in several other major hitting categories are as follows:

AVG: 12th
OBP: 12th
Hits: 13th
BB: 9th
SB: 14th
Runs: 8th

There have been just 93 home runs hit at Target Field this year, just one more than last-place Safeco Field, which hosts a vastly inferior offense. By comparison 211 fair balls have left the park at the Rogers Centre this year. To break it down even further, Twins pitchers have allowed just 54 home runs at Target Field while the Jays have hit 140 taters at Rogers Centre. So, while the Yankees and Twins both have three games remaining against the Blue Jays, the Yankees are facing a far more dangerous version of that team than the Twins will.

Ineed, the Yankees are 2-4 against the Jays in Toronto, but 5-4 against them in the Bronx, the latter record being a bit underwhelming because the new Yankee Stadium also favors home-run hitting teams. The good news for the Yankees in this week's three-game set north of the border is that they will miss the most of the Jays best young starting pitchers. Brandon Morrow was shut down after his last start against the Yankees due to a pre-determined innings limit, and Shawn Marcum and Rickey Romero will pitch in the Twins series, which might help even things out a bit, though the Yankees will still have to face big lefty Brett Cecil, who has had their number all season.

A.J. Burnett vs. Marc Rzepzynski (Monday, September 27, 7:07, YES/MLBN)

Burnett has had two of his last three starts shortened by long rain delays, so his grade for September is something of an incomplete, but relative to his brutal performances in June (0-5, 11.35 ERA) and August (0-4, 7.80 ERA), his work in his last five starts (1-2, 4.33 ERA) has been mildly encouraging. At the very least, he hasn't put a game out of reach for the Yankees since giving up nine runs in 3 1/3 innings in Chicago on August 27. This will be his penultimate start of the regular season.

Rzepzynski faced the Yankees twice across three starts in late August into September and was soundly beaten each time producing this combined line: 7 IP, 14 H, 11 R, 3 HR, 5 BB, 2 K. Since then he has posted a 3.86 ERA in three starts, but only once reached the sixth inning and only once struck out more than three men, both of those coming against the lowly Mariners in his last start. The encouraging news for the Blue Jays is that Rzepzynski has been unlucky, with opponents hitting .358 on balls in play despite a below-league-average line-drive rate, and hasn't allowed an extra-base hit to a lefty in 51 2/3 major league innings this season.

CC Sabathia? vs. Kyle Drabek (Tuesday, September 28, 7:07, Ch. 9/MLBN)

There's some confusion over the Yankees' rotation plans beyond Monday. Prior to Sunday they had planned to push CC Sabathia, who would be on his normal turn Tuesday, back to Friday to set up their postseason rotation, and to hold Phil Hughes for Wednesday to honor his innings limit, but the decision to pitch Hughes on schedule on Sunday has called those plans into question. As of this writing, the official plan is for the Yankee starters to stay on schedule, that means Sabathia Tuesday and Pettitte Wednesday, but that was last confirmed before they clinched a Wild Card tie Sunday night, so things could change again before Tuesday arrives.

A Friday start would put Sabathia on normal rest for Game One of the ALDS on Wednesday, October 6, and the Yankees' second and third starters (likely Pettitte and Burnett) could line up behind him in the final two games of the regular season on Saturday and Sunday, but doing that would require spot starters on both Tuesday and Wednesday of this week as Ivan Nova would be on short rest on Wednesday and Hughes just pitched on Sunday. Javier Vazquez and Dustin Moseley, the latter of whom was originally scheduled to start Sunday nights game, haven't pitched since the Rays series, so they seem like the likely candidates, but as of the publication of this preview, nothing had been announced.

Drabek, son of 1990 National League Cy Young award winner and one-time Yankee Doug, was the top prospect received from the Phillies for Roy Halladay and instantly became the top prospect in the Phillies system upon his arrival. He went 14-9 with a 2.94 ERA and 1.94 K/BB in Double-A this year and made his major league debut with a quality start in Baltimore on September 15. In his one start since then, he gave up three runs on a pair of home runs in five innings against the Mariners in Toronto. Though he's just getting his feet wet this month, he's a future front-end starter and a likely part of another solid young Blue Jays rotation next season that would also include Shaun Marcum, Rickey Romero, Brandon Morrow, and Brett Cecil.

Andy Pettitte? vs. Brett Cecil (Wednesday, September 29, 7:07, YES)

Cecil has faced the Yankees four times this season, twice at home, twice on the road, and each time he has turned in a quality start in an eventual Blue Jays win. Though he has twice struggled with his control, walking six back on July 2 and four in his last start against the Bombers on September 5, those walks didn't get him into trouble either time. The big lefty's season line against the Bombers in those four starts is 3-0 with a 2.22 ERA and just one home run allowed (by Marcus Thames, of course) in 28 1/3 innings (an average of just over seven innings per start). Since his last start against the Yankees, which itself was the weakest of the four (6 1/3 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 3 K), Cecil hasn't been particularly sharp (he has allowed 15 runs, one unearned, on 26 hits in 14 1/3 innings thanks in part to a 33 percent line-drive percentage in those three starts), but each of his last two starts was better than the one before it and his last was a quality start win over the Orioles.

Toronto Blue Jays

2010 Record: 69-54 (.519)
2010 Pythagorean Record: 70-63 (.526)

Manager: Cito Gaston
General Manager: Alex Anthopoulos

Home Ballpark: Rogers Centre

Bill James Park Indexes (2007-2009):
LH Avg-104, LH HR-115
RH Avg-107, RH HR-129

Roster changes:

• Edwin Encarnacion has been activated from the DL
• Jarrett Hoffpauir, Kyle Drabek, Shawn Hill, Josh Roenkicke, Robert Ray, and Brad Mills have been called-up
• Taylor Buchholz was claimed off waivers from the Rockies

25-man roster:

1B - Lyle Overbay (L)
2B - Aaron Hill (R)
SS - Yunel Escobar (R)
3B - Edwin Encarnacion (R)
C - John Buck (R)
RF - Jose Bautista (R)
CF - Vernon Wells (R)
LF - Travis Snider (L)
DH - Adam Lind (L)


L - Fred Lewis (OF)
R - John McDonald (IF)
R - Jose Molina (C)
R - J.P. Arencibia (C)
R - Mike McCoy (IF)
L - Dewayne Wise (OF)
R - Jarrett Hoffpauir (IF


L - Ricky Romero
R - Shaun Marcum
L - Marc Rzepczynski
R - Kyle Drabek
L - Brett Cecil
R - Shawn Hill
R - Brandon Morrow (inactive)


R - Kevin Gregg
R - Jason Frasor
L - Scott Downs
R - Shawn Camp
R - Casey Janssen
L - Brian Tallet
L - Jesse Carlson
L - David Purcey
R - Josh Roenicke
L - Brad Mills
R - Robert Ray
R - Taylor Buchholz

60-day DL:

RHP - Jesse Litsch (torn right hip labrum)
RHP - Dustin McGowan (setbacks after labrum surgery)
RHP - Dirk Hayhurst (frayed right labrum)
LHP - Rommie Lewis (left shoulder inflammation)

Typical Lineup:

L - Travis Snider (LF)
R - Yunel Escobar (SS)
R - Jose Bautista (RF)
R - Vernon Wells (CF)
L - Lyle Overbay (1B)
R - Aaron Hill (2B)
L - Adam Lind (DH)
R - John Buck (C)
R - Edwin Encarnacion (3B)