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The Yankees just can’t figure out the Blue Jays

The new Yankee killers linger north of the border.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Yankees have begun their West Coast swing, starting with the Los Angeles Angels this weekend. Had this been a decade ago, Yankees fans would groan in unison at the thought of playing the Halos.

They were always that team the Yanks just could not figure out. Names like Howie Kendrick and Chone Figgins were thorns in the Bombers’ side for years, until the Yankees finally conquered their demons in the 2009 ALCS. Since then, the Yankees have a record of 30-19 against the Angels.

However, as one nemesis faded, another has emerged, and continues to give the Yankees problems. The Yankees have a new team that they just cannot put down. That team is the Toronto Blue Jays.

Since 2015, the Yankees have been able to beat the team up north just nine times in 31 games, being outscored by over 50 runs in that span. Their home record is just 4-12, as the Jays have taken advantage of hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium and have been having a field day with the long ball for the past two seasons.

For a moment, it looked like the Baby Bombers might help the Yanks turn the corner earlier this week, when an Aaron Judge RBI double and an absolute gem from Chad Green gave the Yankees a 1-0 win to start their latest series against Toronto. After Gary Sanchez out-slugged Toronto’s mightiest hitters in the first half of game two of the series and helped the Yanks jump out to a 5-0 lead, it seemed like the Yankees were on their way to making a major statement in the AL East.

Then it rained, and when it stopped raining, the Blue Jays started raining home runs of their own. The Yankees’ bullpen collapsed and the deflated fans watched a 6-0 lead evaporate into a 12-6 defeat, followed by another loss the next day. The Blue Jays left town with yet another series victory, leaving their record against the Yankees this season at 9-3 with seven games left against one another.

Sure, the Blue Jays are a great team with a devastating offensive attack, but their dominance over the Yankees of late is startling nonetheless. Even R.A. Dickey, the Toronto knuckleballer who had surrendered four or more earned runs in four of his last five starts, came to New York and stymied the Yankees for one earned run. It took Green pitching the game of his life to get the Yankees that win.

The Angels used to dominate the Yankees with a deadly dose of small ball, but the new Yankee killers simply spray home runs all over the field. Even without Jose Bautista, the Blue Jays rode the bats of Edwin Encarnacion, Russell Martin, and Troy Tulowitzki to take the series. The trio drove in a combined eight runs during their comeback in the middle game of the three game set.

The Blue Jays know they currently own the Yankees, and they show it on the field. The Yankees winning percentage against Toronto (.290) is worse than it is against any other team they have faced at least five times in the past two seasons. This is not just the fact that the Blue Jays have a better team right now. After all, the Yankees have a 7-3 record against the defending champion Royals over the past two seasons. This is another Angels-type case, where a team looks across the diamond at their opponent and feels a boost of confidence just from knowing how they have fared against them in recent memory:

Bautista did say the Blue Jays’ success — after so many years of struggles against the Yankees, especially in New York, where they once went two and a half seasons without winning a series — might be in the heads of both teams.

“It elevates your awareness on things that you can do to attack a team that have worked,” he said. “It can elevate your confidence, just like if you’re losing, you can become a little shy or wary of certain situations and maybe even panic.”

The Yankees showed signs of fight this week. For a game and a half, it looked like the tables were turning. Unfortunately, the game and a half that followed looked like what we have been used to seeing since last season. For now, it appears it will be two straight years of Toronto dominance. The Yankees have seen this before, when they went six straight seasons without a winning record against the Angels. It’s tough to swallow, and even tougher when the team is in your division, instead of on the other side of the country.

Many teams have one rival that just seems to have their number. The Yanks will have to wait until September to get another crack at changing the tide.