The first two games of the Blue Jays' series against the rival Yankees this weekend have served as a stark reminder that this season has not gone as planned for the revamped Toronto squad.
The Blue Jays will look to avoid a home sweep at the hands of the Yanks when the teams meet for Sunday's series finale at Rogers Centre. Toronto enters the contest at 7-11 and mired in a rough stretch of late.
"I've said that a few times in the past week, one step forward, two steps back," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. "That's kind of what's going on."
In fact, Gibbons' club has followed that pattern quite literally over the past week.
The Blue Jays took a step forward Monday, starting the week with a series-opening win against the White Sox. They then dropped two straight to the Sox before ending the series with a victory on Thursday. That win was promptly followed by the back-to-back losses against New York, clinching yet another series loss.
While Toronto has managed just one series victory in its first six, the Yankees clinched their fourth straight series triumph with Saturday's 5-3, 11-inning win. Now, the Yankees have their sights set on their first three-game sweep of the year when they send right-hander Ivan Nova to the mound for Sunday's tilt.
Nova, making his third start of the year, is coming off his first win since last Sept. 15. The righty limited the D-backs to two runs off seven hits on Tuesday, though he needed 94 pitches to get through his five innings of work.
"It feels really good," Nova said of notching the victory. "I was joking with the guys -- I don't remember when the last time was that I won a ballgame. I know that I didn't go far enough in the game. It's something we will keep working on. Hopefully, this is a good sign for me."
It was certainly a step forward for Nova -- something Gibbons is hoping his team will take yet again on Sunday. However, with the Blue Jays playing their next 11 games, including Sunday, against American League East rivals New York (five times), Baltimore (three) and Boston (three), they can't afford to keep taking two steps backward.
"You have to play good in your own division, you play them so many times," Gibbons said. "I still think the American League East is top to bottom the toughest division in baseball. The whole American League is strong, don't get me wrong, but you have to beat the teams in your division if you want to do anything."
Yankees: Wells continues strong play
Outfielder Vernon Wells continued his resurgence with New York on Saturday, crushing a solo home run to put the Yankees on the board en route to their extra-inning victory.
Wells also scored the game-deciding run after leading off the 11th with a base hit, finishing the day 3-for-5. After posting just a .230 batting average with 11 homers in 77 games with the Angels last season, Wells is now hitting .310 with five long balls in 15 games with the Yankees.
"Obviously it didn't go the way I had planned or the Angels had planned," Wells said about the two seasons he spent with the Angels. "I would have loved to have played better there, but it didn't happen. You learn from the mistakes that were made and the time that you spent in that clubhouse and on that field, and you get better from there."
Wells signed with the Angels prior to the 2011 season after spending the first 12 years of his Major League career in Toronto. As a Blue Jay, Wells made three All-Star appearances, nabbed three Gold Glove Awards and surpassed the 20-homer plateau seven times in his nine full big league seasons.
"I'm seeing a lot of the same guy," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said when comparing Wells now to the Toronto version. "He has swung the bat very well, I don't think he has chased a lot of bad pitches. I think he has played a very good left field for us. I think he is really close to the same guy that we have seen."
• Kevin Youkilis left Saturday's game with tightness in his lower back. Youkilis, listed as day to day, went 1-for-3 with a two-run single Saturday before being replaced in the bottom of the sixth inning by Lyle Overbay.
Blue Jays: Johnson after first Toronto win
Josh Johnson will take the mound in Sunday's series finale still searching for his first win as a Blue Jay.
Though winless through his first three outings after being acquired from the Marlins in this offseason's blockbuster trade, Johnson made impressive strides this past Tuesday against the White Sox. In an outing that Gibbons called "terrific," Johnson allowed just two runs on four hits while striking out a season-high eight batters over seven innings of work.
"I was just more aggressive overall," said Johnson, who was the only Blue Jays starter to complete seven innings before Mark Buehrle also accomplished the feat Saturday. "Fastball, curveball, slider, everything was going -- not just to the catcher but through the catcher and through the zone. That was the main focus for this start, and it worked out."
• Players currently on the Blue Jays' active roster are hitting a collective .352 (25-for-71) with six home runs against Nova. Edwin Encarnacion leads the way with a .400 average (6-for-15) to go along with four RBIs.
• The Yankees are just 9-10 against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre over the past two seasons, compared to 14-4 when playing the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium during that same span.