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05/12/10 5:42 PM ET

Jays, Rangers to show they are contenders

When the Rangers and Blue Jays meet on Friday night, they may as well be looking in a mirror. Although the two teams' styles of play aren't necessarily similar, both squads are trying to show that they can contend in the American League beyond the first six weeks of the season.

The Blue Jays are coming off a road trip that saw seven wins in 10 games -- or the same number of wins they've accumulated in 17 games at Rogers Centre this season. Toronto is six games better on the road than at home this season even though its home and road splits reveal curiously little difference in the club's play. The Jays hit .237 at home and .236 on the road. They have scored 84 runs in 17 home games and 87 runs in 19 road games. Their ERA is 4.33 at home and 4.29 on the road.

The Blue Jays are 1-5 in one-run games at Rogers Centre. Whatever the problem is at home, the club has ample opportunity over the next three weeks to locate and solve it. Fourteen of Toronto's next 22 games are in its own ballpark, giving it a chance to work its way further back into the top tier of the AL East. That all starts with a Texas team every bit as eager to prove it belongs in the AL discussion as Toronto.

The Rangers have climbed over .500 largely on the strength of their pitching, and that includes Friday's starter, Rich Harden. After a rocky opening to his tenure in Texas, Harden has been excellent in his past three starts, earning his first two wins as a Ranger and allowing only five earned runs in 18 innings. His last road start -- May 3 in Oakland -- was by far his best of the season, as the right-hander shut out the Athletics over seven innings on two hits with a season-high nine strikeouts.

Harden will look to get some revenge on a Toronto lineup that waited him out in his first start of the season. In that game, Harden was at his inefficient worst, walking five and throwing 90 pitches in just 3 2/3 innings. He departed early even though he had allowed only one hit and had struck out eight Blue Jays.

Rangers: Cruz returning to lineup
Outfielder Nelson Cruz is expected back in the Rangers' lineup on Friday for the first time since April 26. Cruz has played two rehab games for Triple-A Oklahoma City to ease the return from the right hamstring strain that landed him on the disabled list. Prior to the injury, Cruz was hitting .323 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs. Manager Ron Washington said he plans to give Cruz one day off in Toronto to prevent him from playing three consecutive days on Rogers Centre's artificial turf.

"I played nine innings two days ago and I played nine innings [Wednesday]," said Cruz, who went 3-for-9 in his two rehab starts. "I ran the bases, I got a couple of hits and a couple of fly balls. It was pretty normal."

Blue Jays: Cecil looks to rebound
Brett Cecil will get the ball for the Jays on Friday, hoping to rebound from a subpar outing in Chicago. Against the White Sox, the left-hander didn't complete six innings for the first time this season and took his second loss of the year. Cecil's biggest mistakes were a pair of walks to Gordon Beckham; the first set the stage for a Paul Konerko two-run homer, and the second forced in Chicago's third run.

"I feel like I did an OK job. I could've gone a little bit deeper, but walks kill you, one way or another," Cecil said.

Worth noting
The Rangers and Blue Jays have split their season series each of the past three seasons. They split 10 games in 2007, eight in '08 and 10 in '09. Toronto took two of the first three this season in Texas. ... The Blue Jays haven't taken the season series from the Rangers since '01. ... Rangers right-handed reliever Darren O'Day, going into Friday's game, has pitched 13 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run. Colorado's Jhoulys Chacin is the only Major League pitcher with more innings and no earned runs. Chacin is at 15 1/3 innings entering Friday. ... The Rangers scored 10 runs on Wednesday, despite going 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. It's the most runs they've ever scored without a hit with runners in scoring position.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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