yankees blue jays al east
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees-Blue Jays AL East rivalry will be a chippy one for the foreseeable future, and last weekend’s series at Yankee Stadium was just the first taste.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s immature trash talk is basically garnishing at this point. Everyone can see it independently of him and going back to before he was even a household name. The New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays don’t like each other. Now, just to pour more fuel on the fire, they’re in serious competition for the AL East crown.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, the Blue Jays won the first round and took two out of three over the weekend. No more divisional play means no more tiebreakers, meaning their ten remaining games just got more urgent for New York.

Yet, this series was also highly competitive. Just how well did the teams match up?

Hitting: Toronto outscored the Yankees 13-5 in the series and absolutely had the stronger lineup. However, as always, context is key. New York didn’t have Giancarlo Stanton’s powerful bat and Josh Donaldson is also still hurt. Even worse, Aaron Judge is stuck in a slump and batting .135 in his last 11 games.

Guerrero hit .364 with two home runs and four RBI in the series, and that basically carried the Blue Jays’ offense. Brandon Belt also broke out with a four-RBI game on Friday before vanishing the rest of the series. Toronto’s other big bats–namely Bo Bichette, George Springer, and a resurgent Matt Chapman–were non-factors.

In fact, they hit a combined .162.

Pitching: That’s because, despite a banged-up lineup, the Yankees stayed competitive thanks to their strong pitching staff. Their starters posted a 2.10 ERA. Saturday’s game was scoreless into the eighth inning and Sunday’s into the sixth.

Toronto’s starters also shoved, posting an astounding 0.45 ERA despite not having great control of the strike zone. Yusei Kikuchi threw 90 pitches Friday, but only 54 strikes and just eight first-pitch strikes to 22 hitters. Ace Alek Manoah only managed 11 first-pitch strikes to 24 batters.

It’s a small sample but shows the Blue Jays’ pitching can be both vulnerable and improved at the same time.

Who’s in the lead for the AL East? These two teams won’t face each other again until the Yankees visit Toronto in May. That’s good news for the Yankees because circumstances should favor them more by then. Harrison Bader’s elite center-field defense will be back along with his consistently good at-bats, and Donaldson could also be back in the lineup.

More importantly, at least one of Luis Severino or Carlos Rodon should be healthy when the Yankees and Blue Jays next play. Toronto’s strong lineup still needs to beat New York’s better pitching to win the division.

With ten games remaining, don’t be surprised if this season series proves to be a marathon instead of a sprint.

Follow ESNY on Twitter @elitesportsny.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.