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Yankees look to Red Sox for a hand against Blue Jays

TORONTO -- Three of the best friends the New York Yankees could possibly ask for as they try to overtake the Toronto Blue Jays in the standings this weekend: Mookie Betts, David Ortiz and (surprise) Pablo Sandoval of the Boston Red Sox.

Betts is moving to right field this weekend against the Blue Jays for the first time this season, with Jackie Bradley Jr. in center, but it's not Betts' glove that concerns the Jays, it's his bat.

Betts comes into the weekend as the only hitter in the big leagues batting better than .400 against the Blue Jays this season (minimum 30 at-bats). He's batting .417 (25-for-60) with a .444 on-base average and .717 slugging percentage, generated by five doubles, two triples and three home runs.

Betts has hit safely in all 17 games in which he has faced the Jays this season and has two or more hits in 10 of those games. In his career, he has faced the Jays 20 times; the only time he didn't get a hit was Aug. 27, 2014, when he went 0-for-3. And he'll be coming into Rogers Centre well rested: Interim manager Torey Lovullo gave him Wednesday night off in Baltimore, and Thursday was an off day.

Ortiz is tied with Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles for the most home runs against the Jays, five, while his 17 RBIs rank No. 1. Betts is third with 12 RBIs, Sandoval is fourth with 11 and Xander Bogaerts sixth with nine.

Sandoval is batting just .215 in the season's second half and in recent days has been trying to play through a pulled muscle in his back, but the sight of the Blue Jays might perk him up. Sandoval has put up better number against the Jays than any other opponent, with a higher average (.350), more home runs (three) and RBIs (11) against Toronto than anybody else.

The Jays enter this weekend's three-game series against the Sox with a 3½-game lead over the Yankees with 16 games left. The Yankees are in Flushing, New York, this weekend to play the Mets, who are trying to take care of business in the NL East.

But while the Jays' 38-16 record in the second half is the best in the majors, the Sox showed last week in Fenway Park they could still be a handful in a three-game set against the division leaders, winning two games while scoring double digits in runs; their only loss came in extra innings.

At the time, Dustin Pedroia was just shaking off the rust of a six-week layoff caused by a strained right hamstring. Pedroia played the last two games of the Jays series, homering in the series finale. He crosses the border swinging a torrid bat since his return: 11 hits in 29 at-bats (.379), including three home runs and three doubles.

"I feel good, I feel strong and I feel healthy," Pedroia said after hitting two home runs Wednesday night, his third multi-homer game of the season, matching the number of multihomer games he'd had previously in his nine-year career. Pedroia has a dozen home runs this season.

The other player given a day off Wednesday was Xander Bogaerts, the 22-year-old shortstop who has played in a team-high 139 games this season. Since May 31, Bogaerts has started all but three games at short. Two were started by Brock Holt; rookie Deven Marrero gave Bogaerts his first day off since Aug. 19 and had three hits.

"That was pro, huh?" Pedroia said. "There's only a select few of us that get a chance to go there, so it was pretty cool. He played great. He's a great player. Defensively, he knows what he's doing, and his at-bats have been really good, picking and choosing when to try and drive the ball and when to go the other way. It's been pretty cool to watch."

Marrero was playing side-by-side with fellow Arizona State alumnus Pedroia.

The Sox will go with veterans Rick Porcello and Wade Miley in the first two games, but with Joe Kelly shut down for the season, the Sox have the option of pitching rookie Eduardo Rodriguez or veteran Rich Hill, or go with a bullpen combination. Lovullo was holding off on a commitment.

The weekend poses a bit of a test for Bradley. Not in the outfield. Everyone knows he's a superb center fielder. But since his 4-for-4, four-RBI performance against the Blue Jays on Labor Day in Fenway, Bad Jackie has resurfaced at the plate: one for his past 27 at-bats, 15 K's and one spiked bat after one of his two whiffs Wednesday. The Sox were reluctant to move Betts out of center field while trying to figure out whether Bradley was a keeper; he needs to show he can fight his way out of this slump before the cycle of doubt starts all over again.

And before the weekend is over, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman might want to text David Dombrowski and tell the Sox president that it might be nice to see Hanley Ramirez pinch-hit before the season ends. Ramirez has been taking batting practice regularly for days but hasn't appeared in a game since Aug. 26; it's truly bizarre that he's on the disabled list in September when you don't have to put a player on the DL.