Toronto buzz says Blue Jays for real

NEW YORK -- A.J. Burnett knows the Blue Jays' mindset.

He has been in a home uniform in Toronto for games against the Yankees. He knows when the Bombers come to Canada the atmosphere is more NCAA neutral site than MLB regular season because so many New Yorkers flock north.

"It makes it packed for both teams," said Burnett, who will start for the Yankees against the Blue Jays on Friday. "You have cheers and boos. You get fired up."

This weekend in Toronto should be loud because it is an out-of-nowhere big series in June between the Yankees and Blue Jays. The Jays -- so far -- are competing with the big boys in the AL East.

The best division in baseball is a four-team race because the Roy Halladay-less Jays are hitting homer after homer and pitching.

"The most telling part is that it hasn't been one guy," said Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos.

The Yankees will face a Blue Jays team that leads the league in home runs. Toronto is approaching 100 homers, while most of the rest of the league is at half that many. Jose Bautista is the Jays' unknown slugger who has led the American League in home runs for most of the year, while a healthy Vernon Wells is finally justifying his nine-figure contract.

Anthopoulos -- who was born in 1977, the same year as the Blue Jays -- has watched a team that many thought would lose 100 games. Anthopoulos is quick to point out two things when discussing his team. First, it has been only two months and, two, his predecessor, J.P. Ricciardi, deserves much of the credit.

"It is a credit to J.P. Ricciardi because a lot of players he put in place all are here," said Anthopoulos, who was hired by Ricciardi.

Ricciardi, now an ESPN analyst, isn't taking bows, but he is closely watching his former team. Ricciardi hired the often maligned Cito Gaston, who once again has a team competing in the AL East.

"The home runs are absolutely incredible," Ricciardi said. "When you are out-homering teams you usually win. They aren't clicking on all cylinders yet."

Adam Lind and Aaron Hill have not hit yet, like they did last season. So maybe -- just maybe -- Toronto can stay in the hunt into October.

If the Blue Jays do, it will be largely because of their pitching. It begins with Ricky Romero, who starts Saturday. He is pitching like a front-line starter.

"He is living at your knees," the Orioles' Ty Wigginton said.

Shaun Marcum, who missed all of last year and whom the Yankees won't see, has been pitching to a less than three ERA. While Brett Cecil, who starts against Burnett on Friday, is 5-2 with a 3.81 ERA.

Still, from Anthopoulos to Ricciardi to Wigginton, everyone knows what Toronto is facing.

"There is a reason they call it the Beast of the East," Wigginton said. "You have to bring your A-game."

Ricciardi lost his job after last season, but he is right to point out that he had some good teams. The 2006 Blue Jays won 87, while that year's world champion Cardinals won 83. In Ricciardi's eight years, Toronto never could make the playoffs.

"The division is not going to change," Ricciardi said. "You can win 90 games and not make the playoffs."

Besides the standings, there's one way you will know that the Blue Jays are real contenders: When they play the Yankees and it gets loud only when Toronto does something well.

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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