(SportsNetwork.com) - The red-hot Toronto Blue Jays take aim at their seventh straight win on Monday when they open a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre.
Toronto has moved two games up on the New York Yankees in the American League East and is atop the division this late into a season for the first time since July 6, 2000.
The Jays enter this matchup on the heels of an impressive three-game sweep of the AL West-leading Oakland Athletics. On Sunday, J.A. Happ tossed seven shutout innings, Jose Bautista knocked in two runs and Toronto rolled, 3-1.
Happ (4-1) scattered four hits, walked three and struck out seven, and Edwin Encarnacion homered in the Blue Jays' ninth win in 10 tries.
"We're playing together as a team, pitching good," Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes said. "Good defense behind the guys, timely hitting, winning teams do that kind of stuff."
The Blue Jays lead the majors with 70 home runs and have homered in eight straight contests. They haven't homered in nine consecutive contests since April 27-May 5, 2012.
One player who wouldn't mind a few longballs on Monday is righty Drew Hutchison, who'll be shooting for his third straight win. Hutchison followed up his first-ever shutout by beating the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday to improve to 3-3 with a 3.45 ERA.
Hutchison has split two starts versus the Rays, pitching to a 5.79 ERA in those meetings.
Tampa, meanwhile, will counter with veteran lefty Erik Bedard, who is 2-2 with a 2.63 ERA. Bedard has filled in nicely for the Rays in the wake of injuries to Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson and is 2-1 with a 0.96 ERA over his last five starts.
Bedard, though, absorbed the loss to Oakland on Wednesday, as he surrendered three runs (1 earned) and just one hit - a home run - over 5 1/3 innings. He also walked three batters.
Tampa comes into Monday's opener playing its best baseball of the season as well. The Rays swept the Boston Red Sox over the weekend and have won four in a row.
Tampa completed the sweep on Sunday, as Sean Rodriguez's three-run, pinch-hit homer helped power a five-run seventh inning, and Tampa Bay sent the Red Sox to their 10th consecutive loss with an 8-5 decision.
Evan Longoria went 3-for-5 with a homer and a pair of runs scored, and Yunel Escobar drove in two while setting off a benches-clearing incident late in the contest. The contentious victory was also Joe Maddon's 700th as Rays manager.
Joel Peralta (2-3), who blew a two-run lead in the seventh but was rescued by the Tampa offense, was credited with the win.
Leading by five in the seventh, Escobar stole third and the Red Sox bench started jawing at him from the dugout. He talked back and started walking toward their bench, before Johnny Gomes ran in from left field and both benches cleared.
Gomes, Escobar and Rodriguez were all ejected after the incident.
"What was the score, 8-3? It was a five-run lead in the seventh inning. So that's not even nearly as egregious as last year in the playoffs," Maddon said of the incident.
Tampa has split four games with the Jays this season.