The Yankees have played the Blue Jays six times since the All-Star break and won five of those contests. Their one loss came in Toronto in the last of those six games when Chien-Ming Wang had the worst start of his career. Since then, the Yankee have survived the tough part of their second half schedule and embarked on a current 9-3 pace which has launched them into a comfortable lead in the Wild Card race (now four games with the Tigers loss earlier today). The Blue Jays, meanwhile, have continued to be the .500 baseball team they've been all year, going 15-15 since the Yanks last left Canada. They come into tonight off a seven-game road trip on which they dropped series to the AL-best Red Sox and AL-worst Devil Rays as well as a make-up game against the Tigers last night.
One variable in this series is Troy Glaus, not because of the recent steroid allegations, but because he left yesterday's game after feeling something pop in his left foot. Glaus has had foot problems all year and has been battling plantar fasciitis, the same injury that put Jason Giambi on the shelf for more than two months (perhaps not coincidentally after a four game series on the turf in Toronto). Glaus has been tearing things up recently, hitting .372/.517/.721 since August 25. If he's hindered or unable to play at all (remember Toronto's DH slot is filled by the immovable Frank Thomas, though Glaus's bat has been much hotter of late), it will be a big break for the Yanks.
As for the Yanks, Derek Jeter is indeed in the starting lineup against Shaun Marcum tonight, as are all of the other usual suspects, with Giambi at first base, Damon in left, and Matsui at DH (though all three are struggling so much that I had hoped to see Wilson Betemit get the starts at first base against the all-righty Toronto rotation).
Marcum has gone 11-3 with a 3.45 ERA since entering the Toronto rotation in mid-May. Among his 22 starts this year are two quality outings against the Yanks in which he's posted this combined line: 12 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 5 BB, 7 K, but has only a loss and a no-decision to show for it (the Jays did win that first game). Marcum posted a 2.02 ERA in his first ten starts and has a 4.76 ERA in his last twelve, but his peripherals don't show a considerable change in effectiveness. If anything, he was a bit hit-lucky in those first ten outings, something which has ceased in the last 12, but his WHIP in those last dozen outings remains a solid 1.29, and, for what it's worth, his record has been 8-3 over those last 12 starts.
Opposing Marcum will be Phil Hughes who came up huge in the finale against the Mariners last week to pull out of a string of three poor outings. The key to that start for Hughes was a surge in his ground ball rate. Here's hoping that trend continues tonight as he faces the Blue Jays for the first time since his major league debut back in April, when he got the Blue Jays' bad hitter out, but got stung by their good hitters. The Jays are the first major league team to get a second look at Hughes.