(SportsNetwork.com) - The Oakland Athletics head north of the border Friday night for a showdown between division leaders, as they take on the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre in the opener of a three-game series.
Oakland has gotten hot with wins in 11 of its last 13 games to claim the best record in the majors. The team began Friday with a 3 1/2-game lead over the Angels in the American League West. The A's, who are wrapping up a nine-game road trip with this weekend's series, own a major league-best 18-7 road record this season.
However, they are coming off Thursday's 5-2 loss at Tampa Bay in 11 innings.
A's starter Sonny Gray went eight innings and allowed just one run, but the offense could not help him out and the bullpen eventually imploded. Reliever Dan Otero yielded three hits in the 11th, including a two-out RBI single to Desmond Jennings to tie the game at 2-2. Luke Gregerson came on and promptly served up a walk-off three-run homer to Sean Rodriguez.
Toronto has won three straight and six of its last seven games overall to take a one-game lead over the Yankees in the AL East. The Blue Jays concluded an impressive three-game sweep over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park with Thursday's 7-2 victory.
Mark Buehrle tossed seven innings of two-run ball for his major league-best eighth win of the season. Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista went back to back in the first inning off Red Sox starter Jon Lester. Toronto tacked on five more runs in the second and went on to out-hit Boston, 14-7.
This marks the start of a 10-game homestand for the Blue Jays, who have gone just 10-11 at Rogers Centre so far this season.
Right-hander Liam Hendriks was promoted from Triple-A to make his Blue Jays debut. Hendriks, who was claimed off waivers from the Orioles during spring training, went 5-0 with a 1.48 ERA in nine games at Buffalo.
He'll look to the offense for some run support. Toronto leads the majors with 67 home runs to go along with an AL-best 168 extra-base hits. First baseman Edwin Encarnacion has been one of the main catalysts with 11 homers already this month.
"You can see how we've been making adjustments at the plate," Encarnacion said. "We've been looking for our pitch, we've been trying to be aggressive and trying to do our best to win games."
For Oakland, Scott Kazmir takes the mound after being ejected by home-plate umpire Jerry Layne in the second inning of his last outing against Cleveland for arguing balls and strikes. The veteran left-hander walked three and struck out one in 1 1/3 innings. Opposing hitters are batting just .215 off Kazmir this season, and that includes a .133 average with runners in scoring position.
Manager Bob Melvin decided to keep Kazmir on his normal routine between outings since he did throw 41 pitches before getting tosses.
"We're still trying to be careful and get him through the whole year," Melvin said.
Over the team's last 13 games, A's pitchers have posted a combined 1.58 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .185 batting average.
Oakland has won eight of the last 11 meetings in Toronto.