Jays begin division play in May vs. O's

Jays begin division play in May vs. O's

KANSAS CITY -- In Cito Gaston's eyes, it doesn't matter that the Blue Jays' 15-9 record in April came during a month when Toronto didn't have a single American League East Division opponent on its schedule.

Toronto beat the teams on its schedule, and that's that.

"I still think all teams are Major-League caliber," Gaston said.

And there wasn't much the Blue Jays could do. The schedule gave them a month of April with 24 games against Central and West Division teams.

The month of May, however, features a schedule packed with familiar teams. Starting Friday with a three-game series against Baltimore in Toronto, the Blue Jays will play 15 games this month against division opponents. They'll play the Orioles and Red Sox six times each, along with three games against the Yankees.

That's a lot of games in a division that many consider to be the toughest in baseball. And that's fine with Gaston.

"I think it really gives you a chance to sort out your destination," Gaston said. "It's right there for you. If you can go and play good in your division, then you've got a chance. You don't have to depend on other teams beat someone. You've got a chance to beat them and if you don't beat them, you don't beat them."

Last year, the Blue Jays finished a combined 41-31 against the Central and West Divsions, but were just 37-35 against the East. They still won 86 games, but in a division with the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays, that 86-76 record was only good enough for fourth place.

But Toronto might be opening up division competition against the right opponent -- and with the right guy on the mound. The Blue Jays went 12-6 against last-place Baltimore in 2008, and send ace Roy Halladay and his 4-1 record and 3.75 ERA to the mound.

"It's always great when Doc is on the mound," center fielder Vernon Wells said. "Obviously, the start of the series, and we get to play teams within our division. It'll be great to see No. 32 back on the mound."

But don't think the Blue Jays are overlooking the Orioles.

"Even last year, any time we went in to play Baltimore, and we played them a lot, we really had to go to beat them," Gaston said. "And they were considered a last-place team."

If the schedule looks a little tougher in May, the Blue Jays certainly took advantage of the month of April. And they're not apologizing if people want to describe their April schedule as "soft."

"You gotta start somewhere," Wells said.

The Blue Jays did start hot. Now it's on to the beastly American League East. And Gaston is looking forward to it.

"I think they have it correct that you play your [division] a lot," Gaston said. "If you're going to win, you gotta beat those teams."

Pitching matchup
TOR: RHP Roy Halladay (4-1, 3.75 ERA)
Halladay struggled to keep a few of his pitches in the lower half of the strike zone in his most recent start, but he recovered and pitched well enough to earn a road victory over the White Sox. In seven innings in Chicago, Halladay allowed three runs on eight hits, ending with six strikeouts, one walk and 119 pitches. Halladay is 18-4 with a 2.86 ERA in 28 career games against Baltimore.

BAL: LHP Mark Hendrickson (1-3, 5.40 ERA)
The left-hander had troubles with home runs and leadoff hitters in last Saturday's 6-5 loss to the Rangers. Hendrickson gave up homers to the leadoff hitters in each of the first three innings to help put the Orioles in an early five-run hole. He's had problems early in his last two starts, losses to the Red Sox and Rangers.

The Blue Jays finished the month of April with a 15-9 record, their best mark since starting going 16-9 in 2001. ... Marco Scutaro's leadoff home run on Thursday broke the Blue Jays' streak of five games without a homer. Scutaro's home run was his second leadoff homer of the season and the fifth of his career. ... Blue Jays farmhands Adam Calderone and Brian Dopirak both hit their fourth home runs of the season in a 5-0 win for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats on Wednesday.

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Up next
• Saturday: Blue Jays (David Purcey, 0-2, 7.01) vs. Orioles (Brad Bergesen, 1-0, 5.59), 1:07 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Blue Jays (Scott Richmond, 3-0, 2.70) vs. Orioles (Jeremy Guthrie, 2-1, 5.20), 1:07 p.m. ET
• Monday: Blue Jays (Brian Tallet, 1-1, 6.45) vs. Indians (Anthony Reyes, 1-0, 7.58), 7:07 p.m. ET

Rustin Dodd is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.