(Sports Network) - The New York Yankees hoped to be playing their best baseball in September, and the early returns of this month seem to indicate they may have reached that goal.
The defending world champions set their sights on a seventh consecutive victory in this afternoon's opener of a three-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays from Yankee Stadium.
After winning the final two tests of last weekend's three-game road set with the contending Chicago White Sox, the Yankees began their current homestand by taking all four meetings with the Oakland Athletics. New York capped the sweep behind a dominating performance from staff ace CC Sabathia, with the All-Star hurler firing eight scoreless innings of Thursday's one-hit shutout of the A's to become the first 19-game winner in the majors this season.
Sabathia (19-5) surrendered only a Mark Ellis single in the second inning and three walks during the 5-0 verdict to continue his impressive unbeaten streak at Yankee Stadium. The Bay Area native has not lost in 21 straight home starts and is 16-0 over that span, becoming the first Yankee pitcher to win 16 straight decisions in the Bronx since Ron Guidry (1985-86).
"[The AL East] is definitely the toughest division in baseball by far. To do what I can, it feels pretty good," said Sabathia following the game.
Curtis Granderson supplied the offense for New York with a pair of homers and three RBI, while Jorge Posada added a solo shot to help the Bronx Bombers move 1 1/2 games in front of idle Tampa Bay for the American League East lead.
Granderson entered Thursday's contest in the second inning as an injury replacement for outfielder Nick Swisher, who was removed after experiencing stiffness in his left knee. The 2010 All-Star reserve is considered day-to-day and questionable to play today.
If the Yankees prevail again this afternoon, they will have matched a seven- game tear from July 3-9 as their longest win streak of the season. The team will have to get past a very tough pitcher in order to get there, however, with the Blue Jays set to send out the surging Brandon Morrow in the opener.
Morrow is riding quite a lengthy streak of his own at the moment, as the right-hander is 5-0 with a 2.91 earned run average in seven starts since the All-Star break and is unbeaten over nine outings following a June 29 loss at Cleveland. He's faced the Yankees three times during that time period and registered a win and two no-decisions in those games.
The 26-year-old has produced mixed results in his recent meetings with New York, though. Morrow notched a win at Yankee Stadium on August 2 despite giving up five runs and two homers over 5 1/3 shaky innings, but limited the Yanks to two runs and four hits while racking up 12 strikeouts in a six-inning no-decision in Toronto on August 23.
Morrow, who also fanned a career-best 17 hitters in a one-hit shutout of the Rays less than a month ago, notched his latest win by tossing six innings of one-run ball with nine punchouts in a home decision over Detroit on Saturday.
The offseason acquisition is 1-0 with a 4.81 ERA in four overall encounters with the Yankees this season and 2-0 with a 4.46 ERA over 12 lifetime appearances (six starts) against New York.
The Yankees counter with a promising young pitcher of their own today in Ivan Nova. The rookie will be making his third start since a recent callup from Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre and performed well in each of the first two, including a matchup with Morrow at the Rogers Centre on August 23.
Nova also did not get a decision in that game, a 3-2 Blue Jays' triumph, but allowed just two runs on six hits and a walk over the first 5 1/3 innings. The 23-year-old followed up by holding the White Sox to a run in 5 2/3 frames and striking out seven this past Sunday in Chicago to earn his first win in the majors.
The right-hander compiled an outstanding 12-3 record and a 2.86 ERA in 23 starts for Scranton-Wilkes Barre prior to the promotion and makes his first- ever Yankee Stadium start this afternoon.
Nova will be taking on a Toronto squad that leads the majors with 202 home runs but didn't generate much offense in its last game, a 2-1 defeat at Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
The Blue Jays mustered just four hits and a run off David Price in the Rays standout's eight innings of work, with Rafael Soriano finishing things off with a scoreless ninth to record his major league-leading 40th save.
Toronto made it interesting in the ninth, however, as Vernon Wells tripled off Soriano with one out to put the potential tying run at third. However, the Rays closer struck out Adam Lind before John Buck flied out to the warning track in left field to end the threat.
"We just came up a little short," manager Cito Gaston told the Blue Jays' official site afterward.
Buck did not come up short on a fifth-inning solo homer off Price that accounted for Toronto's only run. Jays starter Shaun Marcum pitched well in a no-decision, yielding just one run and fanning seven in a six-inning stint.
The Blue Jays have lost three of their last four games and could be without three regulars for today's tilt. Shortstop Yunel Escobar (back) and first baseman Lyle Overbay (concussion-like symptoms) are questionable to return to the lineup after sitting out the entire Tampa Bay series, while outfielder Fred Lewis exited Wednesday's finale in the sixth inning with a strained right elbow.
Toronto has won seven of 12 meetings with New York so far this season, with the two divisional foes having split six bouts that have taken place in Yankee Stadium.