Yanks begin critical set with Jays

To catch Red Sox, Yanks must bury Blue Jays

Winning is one thing. Winning at the right time is quite another.

The Yankees, it seems, have concocted the precise formula to do just that. Not only have they been winning at an otherworldly pace, they've been doing it at a time when the rest of the American League's elite is stumbling around them.

And so, with 10 games remaining, the Yankees have climbed closer to the division lead -- 1 1/2 games -- than they've been since April. They have a better chance of snagging that title than they do of losing the Wild Card lead, so what once was worry has since turned to quiet confidence, and -- even more recently -- newfound aspiration.

"I think we've changed," said manager Joe Torre. "We're not the same team as we were earlier in the year. We have different personnel. We have some young pitchers who have added to what we have. Some of the guys who were hurt are back. I think there were a lot of things that happened, even though that's not an excuse for being as bad as we were."

Yet what they were doesn't matter nearly as much as what they've become: a serious contender for the AL East title.

"Right now, we're playing well," Torre said. "But we can't take the time ... to pat ourselves on the back, because we still have work to do."

The Yankees will begin the remainder of that work on Friday night, when they kick off a three-game weekend series with the Blue Jays. It's their last home series of the regular season, which they'll follow with trips to Tampa Bay and Baltimore to close out the schedule.

There's little reason to believe the Yankees can't keep their streak rolling this weekend, as they enter the series with their most consistent starter, Chien-Ming Wang, on the mound. The Red Sox busted Wang's streak of five straight wins last weekend, but he still hasn't lost back-to-back starts since his first two outings of the year. With a win on Friday, Wang would tie his career high, with 19, set last season.

Yet even with everything seemingly tilted in Wang's favor, one serious obstacle remains. Toronto will be countering with its own ace, Roy Halladay, who has owned the Yankees throughout his career. In 23 starts and more than 150 career innings against his division rival, Halladay has lost just four times.

Halladay won for the first time in six starts last week, though he hadn't pitched particularly poorly over that stretch. Since the All-Star break, he holds a 3.13 ERA, and he hasn't posted a mark over 3.42 in any month since June.

If the Yankees can find a way to beat Halladay -- and if Wang is in top form, they shouldn't need many runs to do it -- they'll at the very least keep pace with the Red Sox in the East. And though Torre couldn't be happier that he finally has his rivals in sight, he's not about to anoint his own team the champion, either.

"I am surprised what's happened to them," he said of the Sox. "Then again, it hasn't happened yet."

Pitching matchup
TOR: RHP Roy Halladay (15-7, 3.82 ERA)
Halladay allowed the Orioles just one run in seven innings last Saturday, and in doing so, nabbed his 15th win for the second straight season. The right-hander has been sharp against the Yankees this season, winning one of his two starts and posting a 3.21 ERA. For his career, he holds a 3.14 ERA in the Bronx.

NYY: RHP Chien-Ming Wang (18-7, 3.82 ERA)
Wang struggled against Boston last weekend, allowing five runs in 5 2/3 innings and losing for the first time in seven starts. That was his shortest outing since the Blue Jays handed him his worst loss of the season, tagging the right-hander for eight runs in just 2 2/3 innings on Aug. 8. Wang hasn't beaten the Jays in more than a year.

Player to watch
Jays second baseman Aaron Hill has had little trouble slapping around Wang's sinker, as his six hits -- including two doubles and a triple -- in 11 career at-bats can attest. He is batting .359 in September.

 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• MY9

On radio
• WCBS, 92.7 WQBU (Español)

Up next
• Saturday: Jays (Shaun Marcum, 12-6, 4.15) at Yankees (Ian Kennedy, 1-0, 1.89), 1:05 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Jays (Dustin McGowan, 11-9, 3.84) at Yankees (Roger Clemens, 6-6, 4.18), 1:05 p.m. ET
• Monday: Jays (A.J. Burnett, 9-7, 3.40) at Yankees (Phil Hughes, 4-3, 4.75), 1:05 p.m. ET

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