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Blue Jays ready for tougher test

The May resurgence for the Toronto Blue Jays is about to be tested, as they embark on a gruelling nine-game, 10-day road trip just as their game finally seems to be coming together.


The May resurgence for the Toronto Blue Jays is about to be tested, as they embark on a gruelling nine-game, 10-day road trip just as their game finally seems to be coming together.

A 7-2 victory Monday afternoon completed a four-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals, and capped a 5-2 homestand during which they combined early offence, timely hitting and add-on runs with the strong pitching everyone has come to expect.

Now, after a dreadful 11-17 start in April, the Blue Jays are riding a five-game win streak to match their season-high and sit three games over .500 at 28-25 for the first time in 2008.

"We knew we were going to pitch, that was a given, we probably expected a little more power, but that's starting to come, we think that will come, and we knew we could play some defence," said manager John Gibbons. "We got off to that slow start but we picked it up and we're playing good right now."

Keeping it going is the matter at hand. After the game they departed for a swing through Oakland, Anaheim and New York that should offer a better measuring stick than the reeling Royals (21-30).

"We've got a big test this road trip, a true test for where we're at," said first baseman Lyle Overbay, whose RBI single in the second opened the scoring. "If we're going to compete the way we want to we've got to compete against these guys."

The Royals could offer little in the way of resistance before a crowd of 23,157, as they dropped their eighth straight game after getting swept in consecutive four-game series for the first time in franchise history. They were outscored a combined 23-4 in Toronto.

"We're not very good right now," lamented manager Trey Hillman.

A wilder-than-usual Shaun Marcum (5-3) battled through his self-inflicted troubles to allow just the two runs, one earned, in 7 1-3 innings on five hits, a walk and three hit batters. But thanks to an early cushion from the offence, this one was never in doubt.

The Blue Jays ensured it wouldn't be a suspenseful afternoon with a four-run second off Brett Tomko (2-6). Scott Rolen doubled leading off the inning and scored on Overbay's single. Marco Scutaro followed with a single that pushed Overbay to third and he came in on Brad Wilkerson's sacrifice fly. Gregg Zaun wrapped up the inning with a two-run shot.

A two-run double by Alex Rios in the fifth extended the lead to 6-0, and after the Royals put up a two-spot in the sixth, Scutaro responded in the bottom half with a solo shot.

"We're playing as a team right now," said Scutaro. "The pitching is good, we're scoring some runs, that's what it's all about. Especially with the pitching staff we have, if you score a couple of runs early, you know they're going to keep the game close."

The Blue Jays might have had a shutout if not for their sloppiness in the two-run, no-hit sixth. Marcum pegged both Alex Gordon and Jose Guillen to open the inning and after getting Billy Butler to hit a ground ball, he missed tagging the base at first to complete what would have been a 3-6-1 double play. Mark Teahen, who has Canadian citizenship through his father, followed with another potential double-play grounder to Joe Inglett, but the second baseman messed up the throw to Scutaro at short allowing Gordon to score. Miguel Olivo's sacrifice fly then brought home Butler with the second run.

"I don't think anyone's ever hit a six-run home run," said Marcum, "even if they do hit a home run there we still got a 6-3 lead, so I just wanted to go out and limit the damage."

The Royals were prevented from causing further damage in the eighth when Rios threw out Butler at home plate trying to score on Teahen's single up the middle. Rios also nailed Guillen at home in Sunday's 3-1 win.

The Blue Jays will need to continue that all-around strong play on the road as they're a combined 2-7 this season versus the Athletics, Angels and Yankees. They'll hope to build on a solid 13-14 away record so far, a vast improvement over the 34-47 they finished last year.

"You go to Oakland, the pitching is very good, Anaheim is the same way," said Gibbons. "They're the top two teams in the West, then of course you go to New York where it's always tough to play and they're starting to pick it up.

"It won't be easy, that's for sure."

Notes: SS David Eckstein (hip flexor) was to fly to Oakland on Monday to join the Blue Jays for their three-game series versus the Athletics that starts Tuesday. Eckstein will be activated from the disabled list before the opener. ... Eckstein's return means Scutaro will return to his utility role but manager John Gibbons says he won't be idle long. "I'll keep him playing, he's been playing great," he said. Some starts may even come at short to ease Eckstein back into the swing of things. "You don't want to kill him," Gibbons said of Eckstein. ... Inglett left the game in the eighth with a tight quad. The Jays will make a roster move for Eckstein once they know his status. INF Hector Luna figures to be the odd man out if Inglett is healthy. ... CF Vernon Wells (broken right wrist) and SS John McDonald both left for Dunedin, Fla., Monday to begin rehab assignments. ... Teahen ended an 0-for-19 run with a single in the fourth.

 
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